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The Founder of The Jefferson Project and the forthcoming Jefferson Institute of Technology, Tom Borkes, sat down with me at SMTAI and provided his well-researched plan to bring manufacturing to engineering undergraduate students by bringing students to manufacturing, through a hands-on, real world learning experience.
Patty Goldman: Tom, I understand you founded the Jefferson project, why don’t you start by telling me what that’s all about.
Tom Borkes: It’s a very ambitious project. I wrote a paper years ago and coined the term ‘concurrent education’ because it became clear to me that there was this gap between academic preparation and industry need, that kept widening as the assembly technology got increasingly more complex. Obviously, schools are not able to respond to the needs of our industry in a timely fashion. I thought the only way to change that was to merge the two worlds – wrap a school around a for-profit contract manufacturing business. That’s what we’re in the process of putting together now. Students will be studying and working for four years towards a bachelor’s degree in applied design and manufacturing sciences and will have the opportunity to be educated in the real world for all four years. They will take all of the traditional courses needed for accreditation, but they will take them in the context of a for-profit, high tech, electronic product design and assembly business.
Goldman: Is the Jefferson Project a non-profit entity?
Borkes: The Jefferson Institute of Technology, the school part, will be a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, but it’s important from the students’ preparation point of view that they receive their education in a real world, for-profit environment. One of the big problems, as anyone who’s gone to school and then gone out to the real world knows, is the long learning curve that one has to go up to become fully productive. We’re merging two environments that have been traditionally kept worlds apart.
Goldman: Are your goals, besides education, to get more and more people involved in this
Borkes: Yes. It turns out what we’ve done for the last five or six years really drills down into this issue about how to compete if you’re in a high labor rate market. In other words, if you’re in the United States you can pick up any newspaper and see the amount of manufacturing jobs that have been lost to low-labor-rate markets. It bothered me to hear and see that happen. What I tried to do was study in detail what the actual facts were surrounding this exodus of manufacturing jobs. It turns out you find that there is another way to reduce labor costs, other than just finding sources of low labor rate workers - and that is by reducing labor content. You do that through automation. Now, it sounds easy and obvious and I can give you examples. It is easy to pontificate about, but implementing is another story. In fact, the paper that I’m here to present this week addresses some important aspects of automation, because you find that it’s not enough to simply buy hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment like we see here on the show floor. If you don’t have a workforce that can be successful in developing statistically capable processes and successful in maintaining those processes during a production run, you will fail. You will end up with a lot of products that have to be reworked. That rework consists of applying your high labor rate to troubleshooting, reworking, repairing, and then retesting a significant percentage of each product.
Goldman: You’ve also screwed up your cycle time and everything else.
Borkes: Absolutely. It occurred to me that we used to be very happy with 91% first pass incircuit testing, but that when you think about it another way of saying this is nine out of every 100 things we build have defects. You can’t do that and survive. Back in the ‘70s, and I talk about this in the paper, you could get away with that because there weren’t those low labor rate sources where you could throw labor at the product.
Goldman: People were more careless about improving because they didn’t have to.
Borkes: It started in the automobile business when Dr. Deming was shunned by Detroit and he ended up creating a manufacturing juggernaut in Japan.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of SMT Magazine.