Charlene Yauch on Quick Response Manufacturing

Charlene Yauch is the Director of the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing. Dr. Yauch is an experienced engineering educator and practitioner with extensive experience in Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) and improving manufacturing operations. In this interview, she explains the concepts behind QRM, why it’s especially relevant for the current supply-chain crisis, and why lifelong learning is essential.

Rebecca Jamieson: What was your background before coming to the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM)?

Charlene Yauch: I was a graduate student at UW-Madison in the late nineties, and I got a PhD in industrial engineering. At that point in time, I was introduced to the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing. I did a couple of projects for the center, and it was a good fit with my own research interests, which were related to cellular manufacturing and manufacturing systems design. Once I finished my degree and went into academia, I would regularly teach classes related to manufacturing systems, and I would always be sure to cover some Quick Response Manufacturing content in those courses.

Rebecca Jamieson: I’m wondering if you could briefly describe what QRM is, for folks like me who may not have a deep understanding of it.

Charlene Yauch: The core idea behind Quick Response Manufacturing is to take a process and the total elapsed time that it takes to get through that process and compress it so that it goes faster. Most of that compression comes from the delays and the waiting time in between.

If you think about a process with multiple people, the biggest gaps are not in the time that you actually spend working on it—it’s the waiting time until the next person picks it up and gets to it. Whether it’s an office process or a manufacturing process, we’re trying to compress that overall total flow time. And a lot of that is trying to attack the waiting time in between so that there are very fast transitions from step to step.

Rebecca Jamieson: Thank you—that makes a lot of sense. I’m also curious if you can talk a little bit about how the pandemic has affected QRM and if there is more need for QRM given the disasters in the supply chain and how vulnerable they’ve been during the pandemic.

Charlene Yauch: the world is getting more dynamic and manufacturing companies need to be more adaptable. A way to do that is through having faster processes.

If you can cut your flow time for the process down, that’s going to make it easier for you to accommodate changes in the dynamic nature of business today. I think companies are likely going to increase their use of these types of tools and techniques, and more and more companies are going to realize that they need to do better with respect to the speed and flexibility of their processes.

Rebecca Jamieson: QRM was founded in 1993 but only became part of InterPro in July of 2021, joining other organizations like the UW E-Business Consortium (UWEBC) and the Transportation Information Center. Now that QRM is officially part of InterPro, what is your vision for cross-collaboration?

Charlene Yauch: I think InterPro is a really good fit for QRM because of the natural overlap between our topics. Within the E-Business Consortium for instance, there is a supply chain group that seems to be a close fit to the kind of work that we’re doing. We’ve already been collaborating with Jenny Patzlaff of the supply chain group and trying to make sure that we engage each other’s members when we can. We’re talking about doing a parallel conference with UWEBC this year which will be on September 20th.

I think there’s also the potential for sharing with non-credit professional development courses in the leadership area or the manufacturing area. I’ve started brainstorming which speakers might present at the conference in September, and I’m thinking about what topics are taught in the non-credit professional development side that might be complementary to QRM.

Rebecca Jamieson: That’s great, and hopefully the conference can actually be in person this year! Switching gears just a bit, what is your favorite thing about your job, or what is something interesting or surprising about your job or your field that most people might not know?

Charlene Yauch:  I split my job into two parts. My job is partially the Director of the QRM Center, and I’m also an educator and teach traditional industrial and systems engineering classes.

I would say the best part on the QRM side is being able to engage with people who are really struggling with the day-to-day of how to get problems solved and being able to give them some new ideas—things to try that are sometimes counter to the conventional wisdom in manufacturing. One of the things we always try to point out in our training classes is that the traditional manufacturing mindset is part of the problem. And if you are doing things in that traditional way, you are likely making decisions that are making your processes longer rather than making them shorter and faster. It always feels good when you get somebody who goes, “Oh, I didn’t think of it that way,” and they get to go out and try something new.

On the teaching side, it’s always fun to work with people who are at the beginning of their careers. The students are a really nice combination of super intelligent but still a little naive because they don’t have a lot of experience yet. They just have an interesting way of looking at the world.

Rebecca Jamieson: Why would you encourage someone to pursue professional development through InterPro, whether that’s with QRM, getting an online degree, or taking non-credit courses?

Charlene Yauch: I think it’s really important to be exposed to new ideas. I think sometimes, working with traditional students, they get to the end of their bachelor’s degree and they feel so exhausted that they might not necessarily be ready to learn more. But after taking a break of a year or two, you really need to get back into engaging with new content and new ways of thinking.

If you’re only exposed to your own organization, you’re probably missing out on something. I think that you need to pursue outside classes that enable you to interact with folks in other industries and other companies so that you can find out what you don’t know and hear about those ways that other people are doing things.

Rebecca Jamieson: Changing gears a little bit here—what is your favorite book, movie, or TV show and why?

Charlene Yauch:  My favorite book is one by John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany. Why is it my favorite? It’s just a very interesting, well-written story. Irving’s always a little bit quirky, and his characters have always amused and interested me. There’s some religious context to the book, but it’s more about how the universe operates and why things happen the way they do. I’ve read it probably at least twice, maybe three times.

Rebecca Jamieson: I’m adding it to my book list! Ok, last question. What’s a fun fact about you?

Charlene Yauch: I’m not sure if this is a fun fact, but I love to travel. I’m actually hoping to retire a little bit early so that I can do more traveling and not have to worry about academic schedules. That’s of course assuming this pandemic goes away so that we can easily move around again. If things work out, we’re hoping to go to Belgium in 2023. We like the history and getting to see some of the World War One and World War Two sites, but also, you know, the great chocolate and romantic setting.


To learn more about the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing, visit their website.