Jon Klinger has a thing for data. He likes analyzing data and he likes tracking it. What kind of data does he track? Everything from his paycheck’s allocation to the hours of sleep he gets each night. It was Klinger’s data-tracking obsession that led to him saving one manufacturing company up to $5,000 per week on operational costs—all during an internship.
How did Klinger wind up as an intern advising a manufacturer on how to run its assembly line more efficiently? That story begins in the back supply room of a Target.
Dropping Out and Dropping Back In
Like most kids these days, Klinger entered college straight out of high school. He was accepted to the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts. His fascination with numbers made him think a math major would be a great fit. But after realizing the limitations of a BA simply in math, he dropped out of college at the University of Minnesota to get a taste of the real world and discern on his own what he might be interested in studying for his BA. He found a job working in a logistics position at a Target, navigating weekly inventory and stocks, tracking numbers and making orders. And what he discovered was—he really liked it.
So in 2013, Klinger returned to the U and entered the Manufacturing Operations Management (MM) program at the College of Continuing and Professional Studies, and dove headlong into courses that ran the gamut from Quality Engineering and Process Improvement to Regulated Industry Compliance.
“I was the abnormal one in my MM courses because I was a more traditional-aged student,” Klinger says. “Pretty much everyone else was going back to school to get a certificate or advance in the jobs they already had.”
A Shoo-In for an Internship
As it turned out, being surrounded by operations professionals who already worked in the field was an advantage for Klinger. In one of his group assignments, Klinger had the opportunity to go to a group member’s facility for a class assignment. The facility was called Nilfisk, a manufacturer of industrial and commercial cleaning equipment. Two months later, Klinger applied for an internship there and was accepted without even having an interview.
“Turns out the guy in my group was a manager there and he recommended me so highly that I got in solely based on his recommendation,” Klinger says. “I was glad to get the position; getting an internship can be quite challenging.”
And getting a quality intern can be hard, too. But luckily for Nilfisk, they got more than just an intern learning the ropes—they got a serious production line efficiency evaluation, along with some serious savings.
“In my internship at Nilfisk, I saw that what I was learning in my MM classes was directly applicable to what I was doing on the job,” Klinger says. “This is what manufacturing actually is all about.”
Klinger was assigned to work on the production side at Nilfisk, assessing the company’s assembly line for inefficiencies, or opportunities to save time, cut waste, and save money. Klinger dove in head-first, writing up a plan for tracking the production of machines over the course of three months. He would do this in a lo-fi way, using a simple timesheet that would follow each new machine from beginning to end, and workers on the line would be required to track start and end times for work they contributed to the machines.
Proving the Numbers
By the end of those three months, Klinger had a massive dataset as well as 70 hours of video surveillance, so he could see just how workers were physically moving each machine along its journey to completion. At the end of his analysis, Klinger saw that with a number of systematic and process changes to the line, Nilfisk could hasten its manufacturing output from three-and-a-quarter machines per day to five machines per day. He also added that, with possible extensions and limited cost, Nilfisk could up their capacity to six machines a day.
“I presented my line assessment to the Production Manager and the Plant Director as well as the Advisory Board for the U’s MM program,” Klinger says. “Everyone’s reaction was very positive.”
That’s an understatement on Klinger’s part. Nilfisk implemented many of the suggestions that Klinger posed through his internship, which resulted in the company saving between $1,500 and $5,000 in weekly overtime wages. Nilfisk offered Klinger a full-time job as well—before Klinger had even graduated from the MM program. Klinger accepted and is now a Process Engineer at Nilfisk, tracking the line and making sure it runs smoothly with as few inefficiencies as possible, while managing new product development and process improvements.
“I love what I’m working on, and I love the people I’m working with,” Klinger says. But maybe most of all, he loves tracking the data and applying what he’s learned about operations in the MM program on a daily basis.