——John Lanning, Sany America
By Shufen Zhou
“I can only do two things: designing crawler cranes and eating food,” said the American senior engineer John Lanning.
Mr. John Lanning joined Sany in January 2010 to serve as head of the crawler crane BU’s American department, which specializes in R&D of high-end crawler cranes for the European and North American markets.
A veteran designer at the American crawler crane giant Manitowoc, John Lanning has a habit of listening carefully to what the customers say. Before the start of the current SCC8300 project, for which he was director, he spent 6 months visiting and interviewing customers. He traveled from Europe to North America, and from Guangzhou to Shenyang and collected large amounts of data regarding customer needs.
His investigation revealed that, in the EU and North American markets, it is mandatory to limit the weight of the main body of a crawler crane within 45 tons, meaning 16 tons of extra weight has to be deducted from Sany’s SCC3200. This is way too difficult, said Mr. Hua Wan, the project’s director for main structure. Mr. Lanning responded: We must do it.
For this purpose, John Lanning had a cross-functional team set up composed of people from the departments of commerce, quality assurance, manufacturing, and so on. The cross-functional team hold a designing review meeting every week, chaired by the head of R&D Instituted of Sany’s crawler crane BU, Sany Science and Technology company. John Lanning also talks very often with productive workers to seek their opions.
“We always go over all the details again and again, to figure out where things can be adjusted or removed. Through countless improvements, we made it. It was incredible!” said Mr. Hua Wan.
What are the basic procedures for designing a new product? For a Chinese engineer, they normally consist of “study the benchmarking company’s product, imitate their design, and follow their trends”. However, this attitude gets some Chinese engineers into trouble in front of John Lanning.
At the beginning, the cross-functional taskforce followed their habit. They presented the drawings to Lanning, which they themselves are hardly happy with. Lanning would listen calmly. When the team member was about to finish, Lanning suddenly fired questions at him like a machine gun. The numerous “why” questions made the engineer red all over. When the engineer was too embarrassed to talk, Lanning laughed and gave him a piece of “Prosperity” brand rice cake.
Lanning told the team that to seriously design a good product, one must change his or her mindset entirely. Design is not to imitate blindly, nor do something mechanically. One must ask him or herself: What goals do I want to achieve with the product? What structure can allow me to achieve this goal? Are there better methods? The engineer can only design a successful product when he knows the product thoroughly.
After some time, things began to change quietly. John Lanning’s tough approach hadn’t made himself an unpopular person, but the most popular person. The young and dynamic team liked mental challenges and their work began to be more creative and more life-like.
Lanning is a source of happiness for the SCC8300 project team. Like many American people, he is a fan for coke and hamburger. After coming to China, he also fells in love with “Prosperity” rice cake, a well-know local brand. He told those around him: “I know the Prosperity rice cake is kids' food. But I like it.”
One March 22, 2011, John Lanning brought his SCC8300 to the ConExpo held in Las Vegas. An American customer said to him: “This is the best looking and best designed crawler crane I have ever seen.”