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To 3M, a center of excellence means the ability to engage in centralized decision-making, says Olson. The company had been relying on local processes and data, but growth was making that practice an impediment to efficiency and control. The solution was to bring together a number of individuals with strong supply-chain expertise, overseeing operations from a regional perspective. “Before,” Olson says, “each country would have been making independent decisions. We want to be local, but [also] want the fleet all operating in the same direction.”
The initiative led to creation of three centers of excellence, covering Europe, the Americas and Asia. The biggest challenge, says Olson, was changing business processes to accompany the move. The individuals in charge put together a “playbook,” with the help of external consulting expertise. The goal was to strike a balance between high-level control and the need to take a localized approach with customers. From plan to realization, the centers took 18 months to get up and running.
They resulted in the centralization of global capacity planning. Many individuals relocated to the centers to staff the centers. “People wanted to be part of something really special,” says Olson.
3M used Lean and Six Sigma techniques as the basis for improving the quality of its operations and products. Specific actions were based on input from customers, then translated into the applicable technology and engineering specifications.
Among the results were major improvements in 3M’s line of coated abrasives. Research and development yielded some significant product innovations. Then the company had to build enough capacity to support the resulting growth in sales.
“Nothing is more fun than going to a customer with a new and improved product,” says Olson.
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