If your business isn't doing as well as you'd like—and whose is these days—there may be internal factors that are making an already tough situation even worse. One likely suspect is waste. I know, you probably are so very tired of hearing about lean manufacturing, and you may think you're leaner than you want to be, at least in terms of employee count, as well as business coming in and product going out the door (not exactly what lean proponents had in mind).
You may be equally sick of hearing about Six Sigma, the data-driven business management discipline, and how it can help transform your company.
I'm not here to beat the lean or SS drums, but I do want to pass on a story I ran across in my search for bright spots in manufacturing. (Believe it or not, they aren't all that difficult to find.) This story is an interesting read and a good example of how one company benefited by adopting these strategies and learning to speak the same language.
Here's the story &
Acting as a consultant to Hebeler Corp., Ken Snyder paid a visit to GE Energy in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1998. Seeking to gauge customers' perceptions of Hebeler, Snyder found the answer in a sign posted on the wall.
"Hebeler was on a list of 10 poorly performing vendors. As ominous as that was, at least Hebeler wasn't one of the two names crossed off.
"'When you were on that list, you were targeted to be removed,' Snyder recalled.
Much has changed since he made that trip in 1998. Snyder has gone from consultant to company president. Hebeler has quadrupled its revenues. And the company won a 2008 'supplier excellence' award from GE.
"Snyder gives a lot of the credit for the company's turnaround to an ongoing relationship with The Center for Industrial Effectiveness at the University at Buffalo, known as TCIE. Hebeler's partners at UB, including students who work on projects at the company, have helped the company identify and eliminate waste, and improve its processes using the principles of Six Sigma, the data-driven business discipline.
"They've been so instrumental in helping us change our culture here and our organization," Snyder said.
According to the article, Hebeler's revenues have risen to $80 million from $20 million in 1998. Snyder and John Coleman, CEO, acquired the company in 2001. It employs 150 employees in Tonawanda, and operates another plant in Port Colborne, Ont.
"Hebeler designs and fabricates projects for industries including power generation, oil and gas. Presently about 70 percent of what it makes goes overseas, including to the Middle East."
The article quoted TCIE's executive director, who said "Our center was designed to be a bridge with industry and to utilize us to the fullest."
Here's how it works &
Undergraduate and graduate students from the engineering and management schools, sponsored by employers, participate in TCIE's program. (Sponsorship for the 2009-10 academic year is $4,900.)
"A professional 'master black belt,' or expert in the system, mentors the student and consults with the employer and student during the project. Students who complete the program, which includes an exam, are awarded a black belt certification through UB's Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
"One Six Sigma graduate, now a project manager at Hebeler, examined the company's inbound freight for her project. As a result, Hebeler sharply reduced the number of carriers it used, generating an annual savings of about $150,000. Hebeler said the savings have grown since its deliveries have increased.
"Hebeler would have eventually studied the freight issue, but the UB program allowed for a focused, detailed look at it, said Ahmed Lahrache, chief operating officer.
"Hebeler has worked with TCIE over the years on implementing both Six Sigma and 'lean manufacturing,' which takes aim at waste in a company. In addition to the Six Sigma students who work on-site, a number of Hebeler employees have gone through Six Sigma classroom training.
"Six Sigma has helped Hebeler come up with methods to ensure its improvements and savings are sustained, Lahrache said. 'If you use the right tools and the right processes, those opportunities will not be lost.'"
"Snyder said Hebeler has changed the way it functions. Instead of areas like purchasing, engineering and production operating in their own 'silos,' they work more collaboratively, he said.
"'(Coleman) and I call it depth,' Snyder said. 'We have a way to communicate and make decisions that is going deeper and deeper in our organization, so everyone is talking the same language.'"
Follow Vicki Bell, fabcomlady, on Twitter.