Moving Closer to the Completely Connected Factory

November 17, 2017

Stalwart Tauber Team sponsor Stanley Black & Decker presented its 2017 challenge: introduce Smart Factory Technology to the Stanley Engineered Fastening warehouse, to achieve $400,000 in savings. The Tauber Team responded by improving processes to more than double the savings target.


Stanley Black & Decker, Inc., a Fortune 500 American company, manufactures industrial tools and household hardware, and provide security products and locks. In alignment with Industry 4.0 principles, Stanley has made the Smart Factory a key part of their strategy. Stanley Engineered Fastening (SEF), their North American Automotive Plastics plant located in Chesterfield, Michigan, launched a Smart Factory initiative in early 2016 centered on the manufacturing plant, which manufactures injection molded fasteners and has 95 molding machines operating 24x7, as well as 16 assembly workstations. The successful implementation has earned the facility selection as one of two Showcase plants among the more than 100 Stanley Black & Decker sites worldwide.

SEF engaged a Tauber Team to help expand the Smart Factory initiative to its warehouse operations, to fulfill the vision of a completely connected factory. An intuitive warehouse operation would yield data and information that would enable workers to act with minimal intervention by supervision and management. The team’s goal: a 20% increase in productivity, for approximately $400,000 in savings. The scope of the project was four-fold:

  • Value stream map warehouse shipping processes
  • Benchmark best-in-class warehousing operations that use Smart Factory principles
  • Identify opportunities to increase operational efficiencies by optimizing processes and incorporating Smart Factory tools
  • Develop a Smart Warehouse implementation plan and begin to realize savings by deploying priority projects


The Tauber Team’s recommendations are estimated to save the SEF distribution center more than $910K in one year—more than double the original savings target. Here are some of the ways they did it:

  • Reduced cycle time by 45% by automating scanning verification process, after identifying product verification process as bottleneck
  • Improved information flow: provided supervisors with real-time data to promote intuitive decision-making, and developed three dashboards to help supers track order status throughout the distribution center
  • Improved the picking process through use of wearable scanners and voice technology
  • Evaluated solutions for an automated line for weigh-packed product
  • Recommended Kanban and an organization redesign to help manage inventory levels, reduce out-of-stocks, and improve communication with manufacturing plant


The People Factor

While the scope of work described in this project could apply in many environments, it is the people involved that makes each situation, each outcome, unique. The Tauber Team project at SEF benefited from exceptional individuals and interpersonal dynamics across the board. Students Noe Anzaldua (Master of Supply Chain Management), Mindy Jaffe (Master of Business Administration), and Nicha Viraporn (MSE Industrial and Operations Engineering) turned the challenge of their differences into an opportunity.

Mindy Jaffe noted, “Much of our success is due to having a high-functioning team. We each came in with very different backgrounds, but our unique skill sets complemented each other well, and helped us achieve all that we did.”

The team’s work also benefited from the nature of the involvement of Stanley Black & Decker. Noe Anzaldua believes “the support and engagement of Stanley’s management team was key to [us] getting up to speed with the particulars of their business.” Nicha Viaraporn commented on the high level of engagement and support of Stanley executives; the team did a short presentation for Stanley Black & Decker President and CEO James Loree, SEF President John Wyatt and several VPs. She also noted the willingness of employees at the SEF plastics plants, which already had some Smart Factory technology, to share advice about implementing it. Faculty advisor Peter Lenk asserted, “The level of support at Stanley Engineered Fastening has been incredible, and it provides a benchmark for Tauber sponsors.” This support allowed the team to quickly understand the situation, and draft appropriate, effective recommendations.

The Tauber Team was also grateful for the mentorship of David Sachs, a Tauber alumnus at Stanley Black & Decker, who helped them navigate the environment and culture of SEF, and shared tips for a successful Tauber project.

Unusual Aspects, Common Challenges

Faculty advisor Dennis Blumenfeld pointed out that, because of working in a plant environment rather than in an office, “the team were able to dive into addressing improvements to the company’s processes practically from Day 1, and already have had an impact on the operations.” The team learned quickly that the SEF business is very customer-focused, with significant customization for each order. This added complexity to their project, but offered a great opportunity for implementing smart technologies.  

A challenge faced by the Tauber Team on this project is common to many endeavors involving changes in technology: an overburdened IT department. New technologies require hours of testing, in several rounds, and the team needed to adjust its expectations and recommendations to accommodate the schedule for moving the new technology through testing and implementation. The team was careful to leave clear, actionable recommendations when they concluded the project.


In addition to the obvious advantage of doing significant work at a top-tier company while still a student, team members named these elements: being pushed out of my comfort zone; becoming more comfortable with ambiguity; learning more about what I’m looking for in future roles; being able to see what is in the industry; combining previous work experience with newly acquired knowledge from the classroom, and putting it into practice.


Student Team
Noe Anzaldua—Master of Supply Chain Management
Mindy Jaffe—Master of Business Administration
Nicha Viraporn—MSE Industrial and Operations Engineering

Project Sponsors
Mark Cornish—Vice President of Operations, Stanley Black & Decker (project supervisor)

Faculty Advisors
Peter Lenk—Ross School of Business
Dennis Blumenfeld—School of Engineering


Each two- to three-person Tauber Team consists of graduate students in Engineering, MBA, and/or MSCM programs. Along with receiving high-level corporate support from the sponsoring company, each team is advised by a College of Engineering and a Ross School of Business faculty member, and overseen by a Tauber Institute Co-Director. The projects begin on-site in May and continue for 14 weeks. Students present the results of their projects and compete for over $40,000 in scholarships at the U-M Tauber Institute’s annual Spotlight! event, held each September in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Spotlight! provides outstanding opportunities for students and corporate partners to establish relationships while exploring innovations in operations and manufacturing.

The 2017 Tauber Team Projects resulted in $575 million in savings according to sponsoring company calculations, an average of $18.5 million per project over three years.

To learn more about the Tauber Institute for Global Operations, visit or call us at (734) 647-1333.