Back in the first wave of the pandemic, I expressed concerns here about the long term erosion of corporate productivity and camaraderie due to the transition to remote work. I believe interaction at the office helps share systems knowledge, solve complex problems, and build relationships that make people happier. Fast forward and from March through July 2021, 19 million workers quit their jobs in what is being called “The Great Resignation.” There are a ton of factors that contribute to a trend like this; my theory is that with a more distant connection to where you work, a job becomes more transactional. And when a collective mission is reduced to an individual transaction, one is more likely to ask, “Is this worth it to me?” - and the follow-up, “Can I do better?”
On LinkedIn, I see a lot of people post about remote work saying they are more happy and productive than ever, but I wager there is a bit of self selection going on. It takes courage to admit to being anything but productive on a social media platform for professionals, especially one that you know your manager is on. Meanwhile, amongst friends and in The Prepared’s Members’ Slack, there are more honest conversations being had about maintaining purpose and avoiding burnout. Because while this has been a challenging time for companies, it has been an even more challenging time for the people who build them. Companies that acknowledge this and take steps to support their employees have the opportunity to convert burnout into loyalty.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~22% of opens) was an analysis of the unintended consequences of plastic bag bans in California. In the Members' Slack this week, we've been speculating about the impacts of plastic resin shortages and sharing strategies for soundproofing rooms so babies can nap.
Planning & Strategy.
- Forbes’ list of the 300 Best Employers for Women in 2021. There are only 6 manufacturing companies on the list, the highest of which is Siemens (at #97). The highest aerospace & defense company is Northrop Grumman (#116); the highest auto company is BMW (#163); the highest electronics company is Dell (#110); the highest construction company is Burns & McDonnell (#70). The highest heavy industry company overall is BNSF Railway (#6), the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary whose CEO, Kathryn Farmer, is the first female chief executive of a Class I US railroad.
- While electric vehicles promise to create a more sustainable future, mining and recycling precious metals for all the batteries pose environmental challenges.
- Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was excited about the promise of a high-speed rail connecting SF to LA. But after 13 years of construction delays and cost overruns, not a single section of the route has been completed. There is hope for high speed rail in the USA; Texas is implementing Tokyo’s Shinkansen system to connect Dallas and Houston by 2026.
Making & Manufacturing.
- A humanoid bento-box filling robot complete with individual fried chicken piece recognition and a manga comic to help market it to potential buyers.
- An overview of the evolution of the Tesla retractable door handle, a great example of design for manufacturability and reliability as 4 mechanical sensors are replaced with a single magnetic one.
- I chose what company to buy a kettlebell from based on a video of their manufacturing process; they also have a pretty cinematic video of their barbell manufacturing process. Consumers would think twice before buying if they had to first see the factory conditions where cheap stuff is made.
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
- The NYTimes’ fantastic interactive walkthrough & forensic analysis of the recently collapsed Surfside Condo.
- A good retrospective on the 40-year anniversary of the Hyatt Regency Skyway Collapse, one of the most commonly cited engineering disasters. After the structure had been designed (and after the original project engineer and senior designer had left the firm), a fabrication engineer requested that one long suspension rod be cut in two - not realizing that this effectively doubled the load on a rod-to-box-beam connection.
Distribution & Logistics.
- Most chips today are built on 200 mm or 300 mm silicon wafers. 200 mm wafers are used to manufacture chips based on mature processes, while newer 300 mm wafers are reserved for advanced chips. Auto industry chips fall into the mature category, which is why their shortages will be resolved by existing 200 mm foundries more than recent investment into new 300 mm production.
- The price to ship a container from China to the US West Coast has gone up 13x from pre-COVID levels. Even once it makes it there, railroad bottlenecks, truck driver shortages, and warehouse capacity have all become hurdles to getting products to their final destination.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- An interesting paper on the inherent demographic bias in big data from social media platforms. For example, women are more likely to be on Facebook and less likely to be on Reddit.
- My dad’s insurance company sent him a letter saying he needed a new roof. How did they know without sending someone to inspect it? Insurance companies are starting to use satellite imagery and AI to evaluate properties. Since the wait was months to send an actual inspector for a second opinion, my dad was forced to reroof the house to keep it insured.
- The Waffle House Index is an informal measure for the severity of a storm. It’s based on Waffle House’s impressive ability to stay open during severe weather conditions - or reopen quickly after them.
p.s. - Disagree with my intro? Would love to discuss.
p.p.s. - We care about inclusivity. Here’s what we’re doing about it.