Jim Masters joined the Ariens Company just over a year ago and is bringing more than 30 years of new product development, demonstrated innovation, and world-wide engineering experience from such established industries as automotive, aerospace, military and commercial environments. He now holds the position of Vice President of Ariens Engineering and Quality.
We sat down with Jim to discuss his role at Ariens and how he makes sure Gravely equipment lives up to the quality standards the brand is known for.
Gravely: Can you please describe the quality standards set in place at the Ariens Company, and the quality process that is used when manufacturing machines?
Masters: This is a very involved question, and depending on the detail – could take one to two sentences or require a novel. Something that differentiates us from our competitors is that Ariens quality embeds its discipline at each initial stage of product and process conception, revision/modification and certainly design. With an alignment of the quality discipline under engineering, we have assured ourselves that our quality eyes are focused properly throughout the product's construction and assembly, and furthermore, throughout each and every product's lifespan. We also work very hard to incorporate the voice of our customers into these quality and design efforts. We have found over the years that where the blade hits the turf – that's where the real experiences surface.
Of course, assuring that our products are manufactured to specific requirements remains our utmost priority; however, almost equally as important for us is that our quality vision and long standing culture is embedded into our designs and processes. Having this type of early involvement by our quality team assures us and our customers that at every stage, and at every level, we have a significant member of that team focusing totally on the Ariens quality experience. It's the way it should be, but very few actually do it.
Gravely: You're in charge of engineering for new product development. Can you talk about how you've restructured your team and what it means for the future?
Masters: Of course! We have recently restructured our technical talent base into two discrete functions: one that is dedicated to the product line itself (Engineering Platform Management), and another that is responsible for the technology (Engineering Centers of Excellence [CoEs]). This concentration has and will continue to produce more products more efficiently, as well as turbo-charge our innovation efforts – all to provide even better results to our customers.
The organization is in full swing now at the Ariens Company, and has made exceptional strides not only by improving our new product development efficiency, but by now providing a continuous stream of new solutions and ideas in a timely manner. It's very exciting.
Gravely: Describe your vision and philosophy on new product development.
Masters: This is simple-- lead! I believe we really do understand the landscape commercial market, as well as all of the other markets we provide products and solutions for. I also believe that we are now properly aligned to take advantage of this knowledge, to continue to ask the right questions, reach the right field environments to get the feedback we need to continue our understanding, and then to produce what I feel are both evolutionary and revolutionary new products. This is a very exciting time for me, and I believe for the Ariens Company, as well. Stay tuned – I guarantee you some exciting stuff is in the near future.
Gravely: What goals do you have for "critical to quality" projects? Can you describe what some of those projects are?
Masters: Here at Ariens, we have fairly detailed methods to ascertain a "critical to quality" (CTQ) product. We have mechanisms and triggers in place throughout multiple disciplines (i.e.: sales, dealer channel, customer service, end users, etc.) where issues can and are reported – and depending on the internal trigger criteria established in each of these areas, a CTQ will be generated. There isn't one issue, when brought to the attention of any of these groups, that doesn't get surfaced in some way or another for review and understanding. It is very important for us to keep all of these channels open and to encourage both internal and external feedback on our products.
Once an issue does trigger a CTQ, it gets classified into one of three alerts. A red CTQ alert demands a team on the issue immediately. These may pertain to equipment that is down or has become non-functional for some reason, or may involve a safety or operational concern. Red CTQ's are very rare at Ariens. The next level is a yellow CTQ, which gets submitted to the proper engineering platform manger and is then assigned to the appropriate technical team (with other representation from the company as needed).
These are entered and tracked on real time internal electronic dashboards and are available for Ariens employees to view at any time. The boards contain just what the CTQ/concern is, what is being done to resolve it and when we expect to have it solved forever. The last alert level contains the rest, which are issues that have not triggered a red or yellow CTQ, but are still of significant importance to the company. These are reviewed in detail when we perform a product enhancement, or are evaluating a product or product line. Of course, my goal is zero CTQ's, and that is why I personally review every potential and current CTQ.
Gravely: What are you most excited about for this upcoming lawn and garden season?
Masters: Everything! I don't know how not to be. Every season is exciting, isn't it? It's another chance to get our equipment out into the field, performing to and hopefully beyond our expectations. It's also another opportunity to get in touch with our dealers and end users to continue to even better understand their real world perspectives of living and working with our equipment over time. Best of all, it's another chance to spend quality time with our customers, and to honestly enjoy the satisfaction of our combined efforts during the off season.
What is there not to be excited about every year? Not only is spring traditionally celebrated across the country as a desired seasonal time change, but for Ariens, spring is much more than that. It's a very special time indeed. Just this year we will have launched the new Atlas JSV, a totally different type of 4-wheel workhorse that is specifically designed for the commercial and professional customer. Currently, we are launching the Gravely ZTX, with a whole new look and some very impressive upgraded functions that I am anxious and excited for our customers to see and experience. We're looking forward to this lawn and garden season!