Industrial Mold & Machine provides a great example of systems savvy’s value in a medium-sized industrial company.  They’d tried other technology solutions to bring all parts of the company together and kept trying until they found a combination of hardware (iPad), software (Socialtext), and organizational practice (pull model of implementation) that worked.  They knew one size wouldn’t fit all and so kept making adjustments until they wove together a full system that supports the productivity and collaboration they were looking for.  That’s systems savvy.

I learned of Industrial Mold and Machine when Scott Schnaars of Socialtext shared the link to Tom Kaneshige’s recent article describing Industrial Mold & Machine’s use of the iPad and some related tips. I then had the pleasure of talking with Lawrence Housel, Industrial Mold & Machine’s knowledge and information manager at last week’s Enterprise 2.0 conference. Housel described the company’s forward thinking and open approach to management.  

Founded in 1988 and a leader in high tolerance innovative molds for the plastics industry, Industrial Mold & Machine was looking for a way to support both the front office and the shop floor with greater collaboration and access to information.  They’d tried a kiosk approach (stand-alone computer on the shop floor) and email, but it wasn’t working for them.  

When the iPad came along they saw a tool that was more focused, worked out of the box, and was easy to incorporate into the rigors of a production facility. Note that they started with a goal, then started testing technology options.  

They understood that the work needs of the office were different from those of the shop floor. They tried one solution and watched the results. They then tried another solution and worked to integrate the hardware, with the software, with the people... and they haven’t stopped.

The company practices innovation throughout their processes.  They follow Kanban quality practices, have a strong focus on analytics, share reviews of new management books, and push their processes for continuous improvement.  Their motto is, “Build Better Together.”

Participation in the iPad program is on a voluntary basis -- but requires a commitment.  Everyone who requests an iPad receives one and is then expected to contribute to the users’ group with follow-on discussions and efforts to find other innovations.

This is American manufacturing at its best (see prior stories about Nucor Steel for more examples).  I also think it may be an example of the next big wave, the “next big thing,” that so many tech pundits are looking for.  This is a hardcore, family-owned, industrial company pushing innovation like the best of the dot coms.  I can’t wait to see what they, and other companies like them, do next. Can you share other systems savvy examples that don’t fit the normal modes we see in Wired Magazine or Fast Company (though we should)?