Author Archives: Alistair Munro

Munro & Associates (USA) Announces Strategic Benchmarking Agreement with MarkLines (Japan)

Munro & Associates Inc. USA announced today that it has reached an agreement with MarkLines Co. Ltd. to be their first Strategic Benchmarking Data Supplier. Munro & Associates will contribute benchmarking and quality data to the MarkLines web portal to add value and unique data to its existing services.

We are very excited about becoming the first benchmarking center supplying data to industry leader MarkLines,” said Sandy Munro, CEO of Munro & Associates. “We look forward to developing our relationship with MarkLines and supporting their subscribers with the unique Munro insights and data from our benchmarking process.”

MarkLines President & CEO, Makoto Sakai, said “We believe this alliance offers major synergies between our companies and will bring great benefits to our expanding client base by adding value to our website and by giving out customers in the Japanese automotive industry access to data from a renowned benchmarking organization.”

Unlocking the Secrets Of BMW’s Car Of The Future

Joann Muller of Forbes fame recently visited Munro & Associates with her camera crew for an exclusive tour of the BMW i3 teardown and reverse engineering project.  For the last several months the team at Munro have slaved away tearing down and analyzing this high-tech vehicle, uncovering one new technology after another.

Joann describes the scene as, “…a nondescript industrial building in suburban Detroit, (where) a $50,000 BMW is lying in pieces. The place looks like an illegal chop shop, where stolen vehicles are disassembled to be sold as parts.”  Muller goes on to explain though, “But A. Sandy Munro is no car thief: he paid full price for the BMW i3 he subsequently tore apart. Nor is he selling it for parts. He is, however, selling information about this remarkable car to anyone who is interested. And rest assured, a lot of people in the auto industry want to know its secrets.”

Amongst many of the new technologies and process uncovered in this teardown, Muller emphasized the overall importance of these breakthroughs, “to cope with a confluence of troubling trends — global congestion, pollution and, yes, high fuel costs — that threaten the long-term viability of the automotive industry.”

To see the video and article click here.

Or to download the BMW i3 Report Prospectus click here.

The Future of Cars Looks Very Different

The last few months have seen a flurry of activity at Munro & Associates as the team has been undertaking the massive task of dismantling, recording, and analyzing the BMW i3 in minutia for one of the largest and most comprehensive teardown benchmarking and reverse engineering studies the company has ever seen.  This has attracted a lot of media attention, including from the prestigious Wall Street Journal.  Journalist Joseph B. White was one of the visitors who got the full tour of what innovations and secrets this breakthrough vehicle holds.

“Seeing the battery-powered i3 in pieces puts into perspective how far this industry has come over the past quarter century…” , remarks Joseph White in his article.  “The i3 combines some of the auto industry’s oldest ideas with some of its newest”, White reminisces, impressed with the idea of the classic “body-on-frame” concept adapted using the latest carbon fiber technology to achieve a lightweight yet strong structure that is leading the industry.  “BMW’s carbon-fiber city car is an important marker for anyone trying to figure out the future of an industry that is still a centerpiece of the global economy after more than a century.”

White describes Munro as a place where the team “…takes apart cars, seeking clues to design and manufacturing tricks he can sell to manufacturers eager for a cram course on their competition.”

Click here for a link to the original article.

Or to download the BMW i3 Report Prospectus click here.

Design Profit WeRMS App Gets Featured In Design News

Today’s design engineers have the added challenge of looking for innovative ways to save weight while enhancing safety and functionality as fuel prices and emissions standards are constricting and augmenting the market place.  They are also constantly looking for new ways to speed up and refine the design process to cope with the added pressures of quick turn-around.  The Design Profit Weight Reduction Material Selector (WeRMS) app may just be the thing the savvy engineer is looking for.

“Energy efficiency is critical and most industries, from automotive, with its need to prepare for increasingly stringent gas mileage standards, to aerospace, with its continual need for improved fuel efficiency. A big part of the drive for efficiency comes down to finding lighter materials that match the strength of steel.”, says Rob Spiegel, Senior Editor of Automation & Motion Control for Design News.

The WeRMS app gives the product design engineer just the edge they are looking for in regards to weight reduction comparisons, especially on the fly.  It’s easy to use interface makes short shrift of comparing materials – a job that is much more tedious and arduous by traditional means.

“We try to make tools by humans for humans – not Vulcans”, is how Andrew Cordoni (a programmer at Design Profit) puts it.  By making the app simple to use and fast, it frees up the engineer time – a commodity in short supply.

Click here for a link to the original article.

Or to download the app today click here.

“Choose to Solve Problems in the Design Phase” Update

This month, Munro & Associates and Lean Design Canada was honored with not one but 2 articles in the esteemed Medical Device and Diagnostics Industry Magazine.  Below is a quick excerpt from the article.

“With an ever expanding global market and certain internal forces such as a “benevolent” FDA peering down on the American entrepreneurial medical device industry, how can R&D and innovation be free to move the new market without strangling itself?  Unfortunately or fortunately, manufacturers from different manufacturing industries rarely talk or share technologies and manufacturing techniques. This enables the savvy company to borrow from dissimilar industries or practices to create game-changing evolutions that meet quality, manufacturing efficiency and innovation leaps effortlessly while also solving existing unanswered industry needs.”

For the full article, please visit MDDI Magazine online.

“Kaikaku: Manufacturing Re-imagined” Update

Just over a year ago Manufacturing Engineering Magazine published the article “Kaikaku: Manufacturing Re-imagined”, which turns out was one of the most widely read articles of 2012 and one of the most discussed.   Since this time I have fielded many questions and had several conversations on this article and the full Kaikaku process which is much too involved to get into here.  That being said, for those of you who missed it, below is a short excerpt from the original article with a link going to the original.  Also, in the months to come we will focus on more Kaikaku related topics.

“Unlike kaizen, which is continuous improvement/incremental minor change, Kaikaku means radical change or a great reform to the system. While both Kaizen and Kaikaku can be applied to production, Kaikaku goes beyond production to break the existing paradigm and create a breakthrough using a new system or model.

There are many ways to create change within a company.  TPS or lean manufacturing improvement on an incremental  basis tends to come from middle management choice, identifying traditional wastes (seven wastes) from the production system and encouraging the day-to-day regular amount of placeholder or quota change that companies may require from their “lean” leaders.

There is a fundamental limitation with this in a typical western company, however.  Most managers only feel comfortable meeting internal demands by removing low hanging fruit, which is generally accepted and does not require a larger cost. Fundamental change, or that which requires executive approval, could possibly land the manager in a compromising position (jeopardizing their job or ability to advance within the company). Therefore, Kaikaku has to be a “top down” change. In fact, just as Kaizen is fundamental to the Toyota Production System, Kaikaku is the fundamental concept to the little talked about (or understood) executive system used at Toyota.

One of the biggest struggles for many manufacturing companies is getting executives to truly understand the vital importance of not only how much manufacturing details and systems can change profitability, but moreover, how they can impede it.

This comes down to one of the basic principles discussed in the book “Good to Great.” As Jim Collins wrote, it is all about having “the right people on the bus.” And this is particularly true at the executive level as they tend to influence culture within the company the most.”

For the full downloadable .pdf of the article just follow the link here.

Are Polymer Solar Panels Commercially Viable?

We get a lot of interest from different start up or R&D houses about how to bring new technologies into the market place and Munro & Associates is well known among its clients for bringing innovative technologies and ideas into new designs, but there is a fine line between interesting and profitable/commercially saleable.

solar-panels-chartFor instance, UCLA announced a 10.6 percent efficient (a new world record for polymer cells as recognized by NREL) from their new tandem organic polymer solar cells after adding a new infrared-absorbing polymer layer from Sumitomo Chemical to the research group’s already 8.6 percent efficient cells. The idea is that the new solar cells are a combined layer approach, stacking together to cover sensitivity to different absorption bands thereby capturing a wider spectrum than single-junction solar cells and thereby harvesting more energy.   The trick however, is not to just add two solar cells together, you need to couple with compatible materials – in this case a specific low-band-gap–conjugated polymer for the solar cell structure.

“Envision a double-decker bus.  The bus can carry a certain number of passengers on one deck, but if you were to add a second deck, you could hold many more people for the same amount of space. That’s what we’ve done here with the tandem polymer solar cell.” said Yang Yang, a professor of materials science and engineering at UCLA Engineering and principal investigator on the research. “Everything is done by a very low-cost wet-coating process,” and “the process is compatible with current manufacturing,”

UCLA NEWSROOM ARTICLE

Professor Yang Yang is confident that 15% efficiency will be reached in the next few years.

UCLA is not the only kicker at this cat, a €14.2 million European research project under the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program (FP7) is also working to develop more efficient, flexible, plastic solar panels.

There are just 2 problems:

“These things are unstable in air and water,” says Keith Emery, who manages NREL’s cell and module performance characterization group.  It appears that although a breakthrough, the cells still fall short of something that can withstand the elements.  This is probably not something that could survive on a double decker bus at the moment.

The next problem, of course comes in the form of competitiveness in the market place, competing with market changers such as Solar Junction who boasts 43.5% efficiency (a commercial world record set last April) and Semprius which now has a 33.9% efficient CPV cell both using multi-junction solar cell architecture.  Not to mention, there is the ever decreasing cost to set up these more established higher efficiency technologies vs. higher set up, lower life span or organic polymer technologies.  When you calculate the cost of purchasing, set up and maintenance of a commercial giant like Solar Junction at 43.5% efficiency vs. that of an organic polymer cell at 10% efficiency, you would have to pay the customer to buy polymer cells to be profitable.  “It’s one thing to make them harvest energy and conduct electricity, but it’s another thing to make them stable and then another to figure out how to package them into a commercial-scale alternative,” says Keith.

New technology is always alluring and R&D is always an important expense of innovation, but companies and individuals always need to be wary of decisions that “make sense” versus ones that make “cents”.