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Business Stripped Bare

March 21, 2010

Filed under: entertainment,review — Terry Wohlers @ 07:30

Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur is written by British industrialist Sir Richard Branson. He is responsible for launching 360 companies under the Virgin brand over the past more than 30 years. At the time of the book’s publication (copyright 2008), the Virgin Group was valued at an estimated 12 billion British pounds. In today’s dollars, that’s more than $18 billion. Not bad for a guy who left school at age 16 and never attended college. He is the 261st richest individual worldwide, according to Forbes’ 2009 list of billionaires.

I met Branson, sort of, at SolidWorks World 2009 in Orlando, Florida. He spoke to those attending the event in a keynote session and then answered questions at a press conference that I attended. The guy comes across as being genuine and humble, both in person and in the book. That’s when I got a copy of Business Stripped Bare, compliments of Branson himself, and I finally got around to reading it.

Like a dose of Ambien, some books put me to sleep. Not this one. It is anything but dry and had my attention from start to finish. The writing is excellent, to Branson and his editor’s credit. He writes in first person and shares intriguing, often gripping, stories and anecdotes about his business dealings and some of the astonishing people he has met.

Branson talks mostly about his companies, nearly all of which are relatively small. He said he never wants to run a large corporation. Branson takes risks and often uses his natural instincts to make important business decisions. As one would expect, Branson presents most of his Virgin companies, employees, and culture in a favorable light, yet he did not come across as boastful in the book. The 330 pages convinced me that his companies offer some of the best products and services that money can buy.

Not all is rosy at Branson’s companies, however. Last Thursday, I read a USA Today article about some very unhappy passengers aboard a Virgin America flight from Los Angeles to New York’s JFK. The flight circled New York for two hours due to bad weather and then was diverted to Newburgh, New York. After landing, the 126 passengers were kept on board for 4.5 hours, and then the flight was canceled. Passengers were livid and said they were treated rudely by the flight crew.

Overall, I believe Branson and the Virgin Group are top notch. His recent work on attacking HIV/Aids and climate change is noteworthy and he’s done a remarkable job creating the Virgin brand. He offers helpful words of advice to entrepreneurs and is a source of inspiration when encountering challenges and taking risks. I found the book entertaining and stimulating. Get it and read it. You’ll be glad you did.

U.S. Manufacturing in the Future

March 7, 2010

Filed under: additive manufacturing,future,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 07:48

An estimated 1,200–1,300 injection molding machines shipped in the U.S. in 2009, according to editor Bill Bregar in the December 7, 2009 issue of Plastics News. Contrast this with an estimated 1,886 additive manufacturing (AM) systems sold in 2008 in the U.S. and 5,060 worldwide, according to Wohlers Report 2009. (Figures for the 2009 calendar year are not yet available.)

Undeniably, more AM systems are being sold and installed in the U.S. than injection molding (IM) machines and this came as a surprise to me. I understand clearly that the 1,200–1,300 IM machines are producing far more parts than a greater number of AM systems. However, the AM systems are producing a much larger variety of parts than the IM machines.

What I find most interesting about this is where it might lead U.S. product development and manufacturing in the future. Additive manufacturing is about flexibility and relatively low volumes, while IM is about locking in on a design and producing relatively high volumes. AM permits highly complex shapes and geometric features, even assemblies, in a single build. Fairly complex parts are possible with IM, but cost rises accordingly. AM can product high-value parts without tooling, while most IM parts are relatively low in value with tooling.

What does all of this mean? The U.S. is positioning itself, without even knowing it, to become a producer of low volume, high value, and high margin products. This bodes well for the aerospace, defense, medical, and dental industries where products typically fall squarely into this category. It also presents the opportunity to produce expensive replacement parts for the military, as well as high-margin custom and limited edition products for consumers. China, India, and other countries may eventually follow to some degree, but I believe American creativity, inventiveness, and entrepreneurial spirit will prevail and clinch an advantage in this area of manufacturing.