Do You Want to Be an Operator – Or an Expert?



blueprint-cad.jpgIn my role as a Business Solutions Manager at The Center, I get the opportunity to speak daily with many Michigan manufacturers. While this typically means I get to connect with companies and hear about their successes, it also means I get to learn about the challenges and obstacles they’re facing in the modern industry landscape. And as an increasing number of small manufacturers start to invest in innovative technologies, I’ve seen one critical issue arise in several companies: they don’t have the basics in place before implementing advanced technology.

Many businesses are so eager to invest in new technologies, due to the improvements they promise, that they fail to implement them in the best way possible. For example, one of my clients, a Tier I automotive supplier, relies on software to perform all their designing and modeling tasks. None of their workers have any experience in blueprint reading or GD&T, and the leaders have no interest in investing in training, since the software can presumably do everything they need.

To understand the importance of having fundamental training in place, I had a discussion with my friend and colleague Bob Jenkins, Quality Program Manager at The Center, about why the basics are critical in manufacturing.

Tricia: Since you work closely with manufacturers in your role as a consultant and instructor, what have you witnessed as being the biggest shortcomings of those planning workforce training?

Bob: First, I think knowing where to start is a big problem. Many companies have smart, young people who can draw a product in a program like AutoCAD without understanding how to read a blueprint. They don’t know the rules the program uses to draw the print.

Tricia: In speaking with my clients, many of them have mentioned that their workers who review part specifications do not know how to read a blueprint.

Bob: Exactly – and that is a critical skill they should still be learning. Blueprints are still heavily used in shops as an inspection and build reference. Just like how, “You don’t know your players without a program,” at a baseball game, you don’t know your product without the blueprint.

Tricia: So aside from blueprints, what other key skills should people in manufacturing environments learn?

Bob: Problem solving and Statistical Process Control (SPC) are some of the most important things to learn in manufacturing. 

Tricia: I raised two kids, so I know all about problem solving. What does the problem-solving process look like in manufacturing?

Bob: Rather than choosing a solution at random to fix a problem, isolating the root cause first is essential. There are many problem-solving tools workers can use to get to the root cause. This also enables them to explain to customers why they chose one solution over another, rather than just using the justification, “Because I said so.” Although, that still works with the kids!

Tricia: That makes sense – issues are constantly arising in manufacturing operations and all workers should know how to solve problems efficiently and effectively. But what about SPC?

Bob: To me, SPC should be basic knowledge everyone has because everything in life varies. SPC provides a deeper understanding of how and why it varies. Understanding how variation works is key to understanding how to reduce it. When customers perceive variation in your parts, they start to question the capability of your organization. Often, those who get the parts you make might not even know if your parts are satisfactory. They may only recognize they are different in some way. That’s why we have to understand and control variation.

From my discussion with Bob, it became even clearer to me why manufacturers must have basic skills, such as problem solving, blueprint reading and understanding variation, in place before looking to advance operations. Essential learning in quality tools and Lean methods can make the difference between simply showing up to work, or truly supporting processes and continuous improvement efforts. Skills such as these enable workers to contribute more effectively and strategically to operations, while providing a comprehensive and robust understanding of all processes.

To help ensure your company’s improvement efforts are a success every step of the way, our experts at The Center can help. For more information on how The Center can support your improvements, visit or contact me at!


Onesian_T-web.jpgTricia Onesian, Business Solutions Manager
Tricia started at The Center in January 2016 as a Business Solutions Manager. Previously, she spent six years as a Sales Executive/Relationship Manager for a highly successful commercial cleaning and building maintenance company. Her customer service passion began more than 25 years ago in various customer service and management positions with paper manufacturing and warehousing companies including Westvaco, Abitibi-Price and Toledo Harbor Warehousing. She also is enthusiastic about helping customers in their individual fundraising efforts that support health and community service programs.

jenkins_b-web-PREFERRED-2020.jpgBob Jenkins, Quality Program Manager
Bob Jenkins is a Quality Program Manager at The Center. In his role, he manages and delivers training and implementation assistance to organizations in the field of quality improvements. As an Exemplar Global Certified Auditor, Bob assists clients with Quality Management System implementations such as ISO 9001:2015 and IATF 16949. He provides internal auditor training and consulting services for various groups, including production, production management and corporate management, in disciplines involving the automotive core tools of quality systems consisting of FMEA, PPAP, APQP, SPC, MSA, and Root Cause Analysis/Problem Solving. Bob also teaches blueprint reading.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Advanced Manufacturing, Continuous Improvement, Industry 4.0