Stryker Instruments

A division of the company, Stryker Instruments, is a surgical equipment manufacturer that has maintained an in-house apprenticeship program that is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. Stryker Instruments has also used Tooling U-SME-SME online training for approximately six years. Mike Brown, Sr. Machinist / Manufacturing Specialist for Stryker Instruments took the time to elaborate on Stryker's training program, along with some of the key attributes that have helped its continued success.

Stryker's Expertise
After talking to Mike Brown, it is quickly apparent that Stryker views production as more than a simple machine shop. Given strict FDA regulations for medical components and the design requirements for medical manufacturing, Stryker distinguishes itself by a tight relationship between engineering and production. As Mike Brown states, "We have engineers and product design in the same facility with production. This lets us work with engineers to develop a product and a process that fully meets their criteria but also cuts down on costs."

Stryker also positions itself as a leader in the market by leveraging training to bring expertise on the shop floor. Mike Brown stresses this need for knowledge. "So many times on the shop floor, I've personally heard that it's 'magic' or 'mystery' or 'voodoo' but when someone says something like that, it's a sign that the person doesn't know what's actually happening to the part or the tool when the part is being machined. If they understand the science, then it’s not magic or voodoo." Mike Brown also adds that knowledge leads to better decisions. "When they are standing in front of a half-million dollar machine, we want them to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. We want them to make thoughtful and logical conclusions about machining. Without that knowledge, they are just guessing. But if we can give them that depth of knowledge, they can draw on that knowledge when there is an issue on the floor, and the result is better decisions."

Stryker's Training Structure Stryker's apprenticeship program combines structured, scheduled online training with a significant amount of hands-on practice. The program contains six modules focused on different job categories. Online training provides apprentices with manufacturing theory, and the hands-on component includes troubleshooting, part production mix, knowledge of the control, and machine maintenance. On the floor, each apprentice is paired with a trainer, and they work side by side. The trainer gradually distances from the process as the apprentice continues to learn and gain skills and decision-making ability.

Six years ago, Stryker turned to Tooling U-SME-SME to provide manufacturing theory via online training. According to Brown, "We were very good at providing the hands-on experience. But where we needed help was the theory and the science of manufacturing. That combination of the science and the mechanics of machining with the hands-on practice is key for our program to help the decision making." Stryker's apprentices take online classes sequentially, following a specific calendar throughout the year with clear due dates for each class. Because the training is online, apprentices can take the training from any location with a computer. Adds Brown, "With online training, they don't have to drive anywhere to take their training. If it's Sunday morning and they have the time, they can still take a class."

The theory component of Stryker's training program depends heavily on Tooling U-SME-SME's catalog of online classes as well as online assessment tests. Mike Brown stresses that the catalog of 400+ classes requires careful selection. As Brown states, "The sheer variety of content is challenging, because I want them to take everything. That's not possible, so the hard part is choosing classes that offer the best 'bang for the buck.' I combine the assessment results and my own preferences to choose the best curriculum. Of course, that list continues to grow as Tooling U-SME-SME keeps adding new classes." In this manner, the assessment tests function as a selection tool for individually tailored curricula, and these results are combined with Brown's own knowledge of the content and needs of the apprenticeship program.

Brown also stresses the importance of an objective needs analysis for training, and he sees Tooling U-SME-SME's assessments as a vehicle for this information. Says Brown, "The assessment tests are valuable tools that I use all the time. It’s very useful to have an outside and objective source that says, 'here's where this person is at.' It's not management's perspective, it's not my personal opinion, it's there in black and white."

The Advantages of e-Learning By adding online training to the mix, Stryker has gained some unique benefits. Previously apprentices learned theory from video tapes. According to Brown, "Videos were not doing the job. It was good information, but there was no way to verify that the info was sinking in." An individually tailored web-based curriculum helps to communicate manufacturing theory and also document results. This importance of documentation is another advantage that Brown emphasizes, particularly for a federally registered program. According to Brown, Tooling U-SME-SME training offers "...documentation on what each person has been trained on, as well as proof that each person understands what has been trained. Auditors want to see that training took place, and that the training was effective. Tooling U-SME-SME helps me document that fact with an online examination. We have proof of that training."

It is also clear that online training works best in a program that has a sustained management commitment. Says Brown, "We make sure we select motivated candidates for our apprenticeship program. That's very important. It's an expensive program. Both the apprentice and trainer are in training mode, not a production mode. But this cost in the present seeds much better production for the future. That investment in lost productivity today allows us to have skilled machinists on our shop floor tomorrow."

The Real Impact of Training After talking to Mike Brown, it is apparent that Stryker's apprenticeship program has provided concrete benefits. The apprenticeship program yields a steady stream of informed, skilled machinists that can solve problems. But more importantly, this knowledge on the floor leads to productivity, error prevention, and cost savings.

Stryker's apprenticeship program also has had an impact beyond the shop floor. According to Brown, "Our apprenticeship program is really a feeding ground for the rest of the corporation. Our apprentices don’t necessarily stay on the shop floor. We have an experimental department that works with R&D, and half of those people have gone through our apprenticeship program. We've also got apprentices that are in quality control and that have gone on to be supervisors and managers."

In particular, the training of the production team has strengthened the relationship with R&D by adding real-world pragmatism to design concepts. Says Brown, "The engineers are not machinists. They have good ideas, but these ideas can be time consuming or expensive. With the knowledge our people gain through Tooling U-SME-SME and the hands-on training, we can guide the engineer to remove some costs or make a better product. That’s a crucial piece of the process that engineering typically does not have in their background. They don't have the hands-on; they’re engineers. They rely on us to help guide them in the actual manufacturing of what they have designed."

Next Steps What is next for Stryker regarding training? Brown anticipates that the company will expand the audience for their web-based training initiatives. According to Brown, "Our next goal is to spread the training through the whole shop. This is obviously very valuable for our apprenticeship program. But now we want to disseminate this through the shop as a whole to bring the entire knowledge level up a notch." By ratcheting up the knowledge base of other groups in the company, Stryker hopes to capitalize on the knowledge they have learned about training practices through their apprenticeship program.