20 Years of Tailored Improvement Solutions

Twenty years ago, I started a training and consulting company called The Luminous Group.  It was 1999. I was married with two young daughters, ages 5 and 2.  It was a scary move, but I was passionate about seeing clients make improvements in their businesses using strategies, methods and tools in which I had a great deal of confidence.

Before starting The Luminous Group, I worked extensively with FMEA doing work with General Motors Powertrain Division and saw it as an amazing technique to look deep into the process and learn from Operators and Skilled Trades. By looking at the big picture (risk profile) through the lens of FMEA, I could help managers and leaders see where to invest resources and controls to prevent problems. Additionally, in my experience with Quality System compliance requirements, I felt there was greater value in knowing and understanding the ‘why’ rather than just checking off the compliance box.

As I started The Luminous Group 20 years ago and grew my team, my goal was to make accessible the quality tools and methods that I had a passion for so managers, engineers and other professionals could get more things done ‘right the first time.’  I believed showing those tools in a different light could help clients improve productivity and quality both short-term and long-term and get more net income for their companies.

Today, my girls are 25 and 22, college graduates, starting off in their own careers.  And I’m slightly older, engaged to be married next month.  I’ve had the pleasure of running and growing The Luminous Group for two decades and am proud to say, we’ve helped hundreds of companies improve their bottom-line.

Client Relationships and Results

Looking back, I’m most proud of the relationships and the results.  We’ve had great employees and contractors who have been fun to collaborate with toward the goal of serving our clients.  Many of those clients have become professional friends and a few have become personal friends.  And the work of helping more teams and companies get more things ‘right the first time’ has been very rewarding.  These results have been achieved through training workshops with applications to current problems, as well as through customized and facilitated consulting solutions to high-visibility issues.

A staple in our industry is training, and we have facilitated several hundred training workshops in the past twenty years.  Most popular have been:  FMEA, Root Cause Problem Solving, Project Management, Layered Process Verification (aka: LPA) and Internal Auditing (QMS and EMS).  We’ve also provided personalized training for GD&T, DOE, Jump-starting Projects, Leadership Development, Microsoft Excel, SharePoint and MS Project and a few specialized quality software tools.

High-Impact Tailored Solutions

The most interesting and rewarding projects for me have been our customized solutions that take a problem or a need and tailor a facilitated approach that best fits the team or company’s culture.  Clients have ranged from a few that were less than 50 employees, to many who are multi-plant enterprises with 1,000s of employees.

I think this portfolio of projects, like facets of a gem, defines The Luminous Group.  Here are some highlights that come to mind:

  • Provided our facilitators for the rollout of problem-solving training to a Tier One supplier’s plants
  • Led a two-pronged intervention to bail-out a vehicle manufacturer’s supplier after a poor new product launch, reducing defective parts per million from double digits to low single digits.
  • Facilitated component engineering teams responsible for developing Process-FMEAs for a new engine program.
  • Facilitated development of Bill of Process, including best-practice Process-FMEA for a vehicle final assembly, that was leveraged to future programs.
  • Undertook a project to train hundreds of an OEM’s North American Supply based in Layered Process Auditing. We rented a large conference facility and facilitated four ½-day sessions of up to 25 participants in each, running four consecutive days.
  • We ‘thought out of the box’ and innovated and published a training product called “LPA-in-a-Box” to give companies a jump-start in their implementation of LPA.
  • As a catalyst for an OEM’s quality requirements for Suppliers, we customized training to not only convey the what and how, but also to illuminate the ‘why’, and help top management through front-line work understand not only the task requirements, but why it’s important to them and to their team and organization.
  • Brought insights and knowledge of FMEA to a major lighting company ramping up the complexity of their product design and certified their Process and Design FMEA trainers.
  • We developed a replicable Kaizen-like program focused on improving outcomes and reducing cycle time for tooling/equipment changeover between jobs.
  • I served as a volunteer on the AIAG committee to revise the Automotive industry guidebook for planning and conducting Layered Process Audits (which I still prefer to call “Layered Process Verifications”!).

And more recently,

  • Documented key processes that were haphazard and then helped the HR department of a global financial services company improve their recruiting and employee development functions.
  • Worked with a distribution company to refine their process flow and incorporate techniques to minimize problems and streamline workflow.
  • We continue to service as an OEM approved auditor, trainer and coach to help their suppliers develop effective Process-FMEA and Control Plans early in their APQP cycle.
  • We helped a rapidly growing company that designs, builds and tests equipment used for oil extraction from hemp; to have a consistent, repeatable, efficient process for design of new equipment.
  • We developed and facilitated a customized PDCA workshop and job aid for sales managers to monitor and improve KPIs in a more consistent and effective fashion.
  • We served as the subject matter expert and designer for a global engineering professional society’s eLearning course for structured problem solving.
  • Several times a year we run an open-enrollment live-web seminar in 8-Step Problem Solving, for individuals or departments.

All of these were a lot of fun, even under sometimes tight deadlines and client pressure – and resulted in The Luminous Group growing our capabilities and our reputation.

Looking toward 2020

In this past year, we’ve had the opportunity to work with new clients in industries that are new to us, and that’s been great.  That includes: a national airline, two property and casualty insurance companies, a designer of extraction equipment used by hemp processors, an aftermarket parts sales organization, a local college and a non-profit job placement community organization.

All these organizations want to get more things right the first time, and every time, and we’re glad to help.

As The Luminous Group starts our third decade, I want to thank our many clients over the years (and our fans that read this far down in my blogs) for trusting us to provide solutions, insights and our own experience to help them see a clearer path to process excellence.

Demystifying GD&T

Dimensional control is not always easy with complex part geometries and pressure to get the product out the door.  To better define a part, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) is often used as a symbolic way of showing specific tolerances on drawings.  GD&T is a valuable tool that effectively communicates the design intent to manufacturing and inspection.

Those who do not understand GD&T often ridicule it as a mysterious language that the engineer or designer uses to hold tight tolerances.  But a geometric tolerance can actually give more tolerance than a conventional tolerance.  Once the hurdle of learning GD&T is overcome, this mysterious language can make quality control a more effective process.

GD&T originated during the 1940s, when precision military parts needed to be produced more efficiently.  The GD&T system has evolved over the last sixty years as new symbols have been added; the official standard that governs GD&T is ASME Y14.5, published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.  The growth of GD&T was spurred by the need to overcome three disadvantages of traditional coordinate tolerancing:

  • square tolerance zones
  • constant tolerance values
  • implied datums

A simple example is shown below.  The hole is located from the two edges using traditional plus/minus tolerancing.

First, notice the shape of the tolerance zone that controls the location of the axis; it is an imaginary square of 0.5 x 0.5 mm.  That means that we could manufacture a hole whose axis is at the very corner of the tolerance zone, but if we have a hole off by the same amount to the side, it would be rejected.

This doesn’t make sense; if the hole at the corner was acceptable, then all holes produced at the same radius from center should function just as well.

Using the GD&T symbol for position, we can translate that square tolerance to a circle of diameter 0.7 mm.  By using the GD&T method to position this hole, we have increased the tolerance by 57 percent!

The second problem with the “old-fashioned” tolerancing method is that it holds the same tolerance value for each part, regardless of the actual size.  In our example for the hole, let’s assume that it is simply a clearance hole that a pin will drop into.  In that case, a smaller hole should be held more accurately, but a larger hole could be allowed to drift more off center, and it would still function properly.  In the GD&T system, a modifier called “Maximum Material Condition” could be added to the callout to indicate that the tolerance will increase as the hole’s size increases.

The last disadvantage of this type of tolerance is the confusion about which side is to be set up on for inspection.  If the part is perfectly square, it would not matter; but what if the part is made with a slight angle between the two sides?  If the part is set flat against the bottom surface, then the hole should measure 24 mm from bottom, and the 24 mm from the side would have to include the gap.  If we set the part flat against the side, though, we might find that the hole is only 22 mm from the side, and 26 from the bottom.  Is it a good or bad part?

With geometric tolerancing, the designer would establish datums from each of the two surfaces, and label them on the drawing with letters.  Those datums would then be identified in the GD&T callout in their order of precedence.  (For parts such as our example, the back face might also be identified as a datum to ensure perpendicularity.)  Now every inspector would know how to set the part up without question!

It is important to note that GD&T does not necessarily replace plus/minus tolerancing; rather it complements regular tolerances.  Our example could use the GD&T symbol for position to locate the hole; while other specs such as the hole’s size would still be shown with conventional tolerances.  In all, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing has fourteen symbols, each defining a different type of tolerance.  While this may seem confusing at first, it allows a more precise definition of a part by giving us more tolerancing tools.  It is therefore important that everyone involved in design, manufacturing, and inspection be fluent in the GD&T language.  The Luminous Group offers customized courses in GD&T for your group; contact us for more information or a price quote for an on-site class for your group.


John-Paul Belanger is a Senior Consultant with The Luminous Group. He is an expert in the application and interpretation of GD&T (geometric dimensioning and tolerancing), and has extensive experience in FMEAs, control plan development, error-proofing, and bill-of-materials creation.