Georgia Tech Helps Pickens County Manufacturer Implement Quality System, Lean Principles

Smith Tool and Design – a small, 16-employee, high-tech manufacturing facility located in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains – normally wouldn’t have access to cutting-edge technology, innovation and research. However, through Georgia Tech, the company was able to tap into the resources of the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), the largest and most comprehensive university-based program of business and economic development assistance in the United States.

Since 1979, the Jasper, Ga.-based Smith Tool and Design has been supplying its customers in industries as varied as medical, dental, cryogenics, automotive, electronics and aerospace with CNC machined parts, components and assemblies. Despite its success since starting in the basement of the founder’s home, there was room for improvement.

“We’re basically a manufacturing company. We don’t build any particular product and sell it; we have several customers that build products and we build the components for their products and distribute to them,” said Brian Smith, plant manager. “We wanted to streamline our system, and ‘lean’ was the big buzz word.”

David Apple and Andy Helm, both project managers with EI2, conducted a lean manufacturing assessment and a business competitiveness review for Smith Tool and Design. While they both saw many positive aspects to the business, including well-maintained, capable equipment, clean and neat work areas and a near-perfect record in on-time delivery, they still suggested opportunities for improvement.

“We needed to improve inventory and production control,” recalled Jenny Caudill, director of sales. “We also needed to reduce the company’s dependence on our largest customer by increasing sales to other customers and gaining new customers.”

Following up on advice from Apple and Helm, Caudill took a two-day course at Georgia Tech, Understanding ISO 9001. ISO 9001 is an international quality management system that certifies the application of formalized business processes. The standard takes a systematic approach to managing the organization’s processes and ensuring a consistent product that meets customer expectations.

“We have several customers that we’d been doing work with for several years and we had been grandfathered in on their ISO policy, although they did strongly recommend it,” Smith explained. “Between that and the fact that ISO helps to streamline our business and potentially gets our foot in the door with new customers, we decided to go for the certification.”

Craig Cochran, a quality specialist with EI2, first began working with Smith Tool and Design in October 2009. He conducted a gap audit to identify areas of improvement, and helped the team develop an implementation plan. He also trained the staff in quality issues and internal auditing, helped them meet project milestones and reviewed all company documentation.

“After the initial audit, we made all of the recommendations suggested to us by Craig,” Caudill recalled. “Our registrar came in December and we passed our certification with flying colors.”

As a result of the lean and quality implementations, Smith Tool and Design has seen a number of improvements, including the development of a new web site, a more diversified customer base and a better-trained workforce. Since then, Smith has seen significant enough business opportunities to justify purchasing more than $350,000 in new multi-tasking type equipment to allow for turning, milling, and Swiss capability improvements. The new equipment has vastly increased quality and efficiency and the flexibility to better help with customer’s needs.

“With help from Georgia Tech in initiating these programs, our sales have increased by approximately 15 percent in an economy where many businesses have had to fold up,” Smith said. “We have several new customers now, and the entire shop has a new energy level.”

Caudill also noted that she would recommend Georgia Tech’s quality services to any manufacturer seeking ISO certification.

“Before Craig came to help us with ISO, we had a consultant work with us for several days. It wasn’t a disaster, but it was overwhelming. When I met Craig, the light bulb went off,” Caudill said. “I would tell anyone wanting to implement ISO that their lives would be a lot easier if they started with Craig and Georgia Tech.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:

The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

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Writer: Nancy Fullbright