Constant evolution of a product range is a hallmark of a company thriving in the fast lane—but none of them would be there without their customers, says Mr. Loadlink.
Henry Ford’s quote about horses needs closer examination. You know the one, where he says he wouldn’t ask his customers what they want because they would reply, “faster horses”.
I’m not sure it even exists in a directly attributable form but many versions of the tale go that the founder of the Ford Motor Company sneered at the idea that his audience—prospective drivers of automobiles—held the key to development of his business. The suggestion is that if his marketplace were responsible for its own advancement it would have considered a thoroughbred programme long before it looked beyond riding on horseback to powered transportation.
Whether Ford uttered these words or not, it would be a mistake to hold them up in isolation as a pearl of wisdom. And I’m sure even he wouldn’t do so. To suggest a market, consumer or otherwise, is blind to its potential is naive. Of course, it sometimes takes the innovation of manufacturers or suppliers at the sharp end of their sectors to drive certain change (surely Apple was innovating at a faster pace than its customers dared even dream, for example) but audiences mustn’t be viewed as a brake or anchor, holding back progression.
Take the “faster horses” quote literally and it implies the secret to a company’s success is darkened windows, high walls, and the type of switchboard that never actually delivers a caller to another human being. It champions isolation and arrogance—not characteristics we hope our own businesses are known for. Further, the theory renders market research useless and customer feedback a waste of time.
I certainly wouldn’t want to run my company without the valuable input of those distributing and consuming our equipment.
In fact, it is in unison with the marketplace that Straightpoint (SP) continues to pioneer the development of force measurement technologies, principally in below-the-hook applications but also through diversity in other sectors. Sometimes an innovation is conceptualised independent of industry in our workshop, while oftentimes a shortcoming of an existing product or opportunity for enhancement is put to us by an individual or demographic in the market. In a sense, the driver and passenger roles are switched, as should be the case on any long journey. Tiredness kills, as highway safety messages tell us.
Preaching to the choir
We don’t preach that we’re, “Making the lifting industry a safer place,” to an audience at odds with the concept; we’re united in our quest. Safety isn’t our idea. I don’t know how much the brilliant Ford Motor Company’s customers have had to do with development and evolution of the automobile but I reckon it’s been quite a lot. It’s unlikely that every knob, button, feature, dial, and gizmo has been produced without market input, as Mr. Ford would agree.
One could argue that modern-day Ford remains somewhat autonomous in approach. A tagline on the company’s website reads, “Our People Move Us”, although that could be taken two ways. It adds, “We don’t just build vehicles—we shape the future. Our team creates inspired products and services that help make people’s lives better.” There’s certainly some consistency there with firm’s history but just as I believe it always has, Ford cares passionately about its customers and listens to them intently. An article on its site talks about measuring customer satisfaction through quality surveys to that end.
I have no intent, and certainly no agenda, in shining a spotlight on Ford, nor does SP have any particular synergy with the car manufacturer. But it serves as a signpost to the fact that the best companies innovate, almost insatiably, to improve the lives of those that use their products. And they nearly always get help doing so.
My current trip to Asia—I’m on the last leg in Thailand, having already visited Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, and Singapore—is proof of that.
Rising in the east
Here in the east, our new two-year warranty programme, as standard; DNV GL Type Approval Certificate; and Bluetooth app, for example, have been welcomed by a marketplace that can take huge credit for driving our business forward. SP’s ingenuity and craftsmanship alone wouldn’t have been enough; we may have been stuck with the fastest horse. To truly lead a curve and / or change the way an industry works, it’s a two-way street.
Sho Hiramatsu, of RUD Lifting Japan Co. Ltd., and the team are just one example of an engaged, regional partner helping us transfer feedback from the coalface into product innovation.
The DNV GL Type Approval Certificate, which says our Loadlink plus, Radiolink plus, and Wirelink plus products comply with DNVGL-ST-0378, the standard for offshore and platform lifting appliances, was a collective achievement with offshore professionals that use SP kit. In turn, we offer such purchasing decision makers even greater confidence in the load cells’ performance on all vessels classed by DNV. We already had 100% faith in the products’ ability to perform even in the world’s most demanding industries but what DNV approval does is verify to end users that our entire operation, from the smelting of the aluminium we use to application of product on site, meets certain requirements.
While our new Bluetooth app for smart devices, named after our Handheld plus display unit, is set to revolutionise the way data is captured and supplied in below-the-hook and other force measurement applications, we can’t take all the credit. Distributors and partners have lauded its ability to send reports from the same device that captures the data, and noted the inherent convenience of having the app on a smart device that is on their person, largely because they inspired such features. Sho’s market is particularly receptive to the technology.
Birds of a feather
My latest Asian tour has reinforced two facts: one, the fastest growing, most dynamic companies in the lifting marketplace are also the most innovative; and, two, distributorships note hallmarks of leading companies and find products of similar manufacturers to sell alongside them. It’s no coincidence that in Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and many other places, I see SP equipment in workshops alongside the wares of fellow pioneers, such as Modulift, William Hackett, Crosby, and Elebia, to name just a few.
Regardless of the culture or customs of a geography, a reliable way to measure the success of a company visit or strength of a relationship is by the type of questions one is asked. When I’ve finished a product demonstration or introduced a new concept to a dealer, if an awkward silence precedes a boilerplate question like, “Is the Radiolink plus still your favourite product?” I immediately sense that the level of buy-in is much less than when a host of hands shoot up and I’m quizzed about the specifics of DNVGL-ST-0378 or the detail that can be included in the reports sent by the new Bluetooth app.
That goes back to the crux of this blog; customers drive a business forward. The string of record quarters we’ve had wouldn’t have been possible without feedback from the market—and travelling to get it first hand helps too.
On the tools
I’ll conclude with news that my son, Isaac, has joined Marcus MacDonald as an apprentice in our machine shop. As I blogged about last month, last time Marcus worked with an Ayling as an apprentice it was 1986 and we were on the same course. I wish Isaac (and Marcus!) the very best of luck.
Now, back to my view of Chiang Rai.
Every week should be National Apprenticeship Week, says Mr. Loadlink, as he prepares to help shape the future of another young professional.
It’s National Apprenticeship Week here in the UK, where government, employers, and apprentices come together for five days of visits and events in an attempt to encourage more people to choose apprenticeships as a pathway to a great career.
Underscored by the tagline ‘Apprenticeships Work’ and widely discussed on social media at the #NAW2018 hashtag, it’s a great initiative. But next Monday should mark the start of another apprenticeship week. And the Monday after that. And the Monday after. Every week should be apprenticeship week.
Of course, everyone involved with #NAW2018 would agree—they champion the year-round benefits of apprenticeships for individuals, employers, the community, and the
wider economy—but my sense is that schools and the education system remain obsessed by academic subjects and don’t really embrace those, like me, who might demonstrate an aptitude for more practical content. I’d go as far as to say there’s still a stigma attached to being an apprentice, as though someone has been forced to go to Plan B or take an alternative route.
As I hope #NAW2018 is reiterating, a young person is not an oddball if they’re more at home assisting with DIY projects or putting up shelves in their bedroom than they are in the classroom trying to remember the causes of a battle that took place hundreds of years ago. I’m not snarling at education per se—it clearly has an important role in shaping society—but it’s too heavily weighted towards people of a certain persuasion. Equality and diversity issues have never been so prominent (about time!) but I don’t feel our schools and colleges are altogether inclusive.
Like father, like son
It’s a conversation I have with my son, Isaac, a lot. He’s at an age where he’s got to make career decisions but history is repeating itself in that his skills are undervalued. He might not have been top of the class in English or history, but he could take a motorbike apart and put it back together again before most of his friends could boil an egg. It’s not easy to give that type of savvy a score or mark it in a test, so it’s demeaned.
Why should someone with such practical aptitude not be given the same breadth of opportunity as another whose skill-set will better equip them to take a written assessment on a balmy summer’s day in a school hall?
I’m not suggesting we replace school desks for workbenches. Part of the problem is the education system’s apparent inability to apply theories to the practical environments where they might be utilised. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning materials, for example, are too often isolated in a classroom. Trigonometry (something about lengths and angles of triangles) used to pickle my brain but when similar theorems were applied to machining products, components, or parts, they came to life. All of a sudden there was a point to it.
Phil Worsley, teacher of technology at The Joseph Whitaker School, understands. Late last year, we circulated a press release about Mr. Worsley’s after-school STEM club using a 5t capacity Radiolink plus wireless load cell in support of their attempt to send a rocket car through the sound barrier later this year. Much of what they explore is in a textbook somewhere but it’s lifted from those pages by a dynamic, inspirational teacher that I wish had taught me when I was younger.
Mr. Worsley says: “STEM is difficult to learn from a book. It has to be experienced through some medium that allows students to see, hear, and feel something and have ownership over changes that they create. STEM is best understood through discovery learning.”
Isn’t this apprenticeships in a nutshell? #NAW2018 could even use it on their marketing materials.
It’s not, er… rocket science.
My company is a proud member of PETA Ltd. (formerly known as the Portsmouth Engineering Training Association), through which we have welcomed three standout apprentices—Jessi Boskovic, inside sales; Zoe Silk, inside sales and hire; and Josh Young, calibration technician—all of whom have gone on to take full-time positions here. As PETA says, and I’m sure Jessi, Zoe, and Josh would agree, “an apprenticeship is an achievement to be proud of.” Hear, hear!
As I hope they would also concur, apprenticeships are an effective tool for sharpening one’s people skills. Getting out of the educational environment into a workplace for a period of time each week offers a priceless opportunity to engage with professionals of different ages and backgrounds. It’s not necessarily a component of more academic studies where it’s a missing link. Think of the head-start an apprentice has by the time they qualify and take a full-time position versus someone who has spent the last 15 years of their life in a classroom, sat next to people their own age, listening to a teacher or lecturer.
We’re hoping to fold another apprentice into our fabric later this year, likely to be based in our new machining area under the guidance of Marcus MacDonald, machine shop supervisor. Marcus and I just about remember our own apprenticeships; we met on the same course back in 1986. A fabulous opportunity awaits a young person to work in arguably the most fascinating division of our operation, which houses a computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine, lathes, manual turret mill, band saw, hydraulic press, and more fun stuff besides.
Since acquiring a new unit for the machine shop and on-boarding Marcus last spring, the added in-house resource has performed even beyond our own high expectations. We’ll circulate a press release about it in due course but we’ve recently shipped our largest ever order to Asia, which comprised nearly 80 load cells, weighing 7t in weight—yes, weight, not capacity. All products in the shipment were machined in the shop, adding profitability and efficiency to delivery of the landmark order.
It’ll be a prerequisite for our new apprentice to be interested in the product centricity of our business and the machine shop is a perfect place for that intrigue to flourish. Further down the supply chain, that equipment is applied in diverse applications across the world. Last month (February), Wayne Wille, national business development manager, and I launched one such new innovation, CableSafe, to plumb and tension professionals at the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) annual event, Unite, which took place in Nashville, Tennessee.
While the new apprentice won’t have many opportunities, at least initially, to engage with the end user community as Wayne and I did at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, Marcus will be sure to apply the work in his machine shop to, in the case of CableSafe, measuring synthetic rope tension in the real world. What the machine tools do isn’t really the important part; it’s about why they do it and what solution that helps to present to, say, a broadcast and telecommunications tower erection, service, or maintenance professional.
Thank you for reading!