When the leaders of Groov-Pin, a manufacturer of engineered fasteners, were thinking of ways to improve the company’s business, they went all the way to China. Ironically, the 2007 trip was made to determine how Groov-Pin could remain competitive – against similar Chinese manufacturers.
“It’s tough to be profitable today when you’re up against the rising cost of metals and the availability of labor. When Asian manufacturers came onto the scene, they were able to make inserts like ours for less money,” said Scott Bunn, Groov-Pin’s operations manager. “Four of us took a trip to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to see how they were doing business and the kind of equipment they were using. We came back and decided the way for us to be more competitive was to deliver faster.”
After returning from Asia, Groov-Pin President Scot Jones asked Bunn to attend a lean manufacturing seminar. Bunn discovered Georgia Tech’s lean boot camp, a four-day class led by the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) that teaches participants how lean techniques impact profit, lead-time, inventory, quality and customer service. By the end of the course, he knew that he and others within the organization could map current and future value streams, identify appropriate techniques for improvement, develop a lean strategy and plan the application of specific lean techniques, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations.
“I really liked the hands-on aspect of the Georgia Tech training. We sat in a classroom and went over the literature, but then we actually did a factory simulation,” Bunn recalled. “It demonstrated how, if you made some simple changes, you could become more efficient at doing things.”
The Georgia Tech class generated enthusiasm among the Groov-Pin leaders, and at corporate headquarters in Smithfield, RI, they decided to initiate the company’s lean journey. Groov-Pin worked with Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services (RIMES), a nonprofit organization funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that works with small- and medium-sized manufacturers to improve operations, increase efficiency and raise profits. When it came time to implement lean solutions in the Newnan facility, Bunn contacted EI2, which operates the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership, similar to RIMES.
Sam Darwin and Bill Ritsch, EI2 lean specialists, visited Groov-Pin in March 2010 to assess the company’s needs, and they proposed a series of kaizen events. Kaizen, or rapid improvement, is a focused activity on a particular process or activity that identifies and quickly removes waste. The first event was held in April around Groov-Pin’s scheduling process.
“The first day you tear apart the whole process and ask yourself what things aren’t working. The second day you take those ideas and brainstorm ways of doing new things,” Bunn noted. “It was so simple what we did with scheduling that it blew everyone’s minds.”
Prior to the scheduling kaizen event, Groov-Pin was scheduling the production of orders based on when they were required by customers and by putting a priority on orders with the highest dollar value. Now, the shop floor workers use visual scheduling boards that provide visibility of all orders and machine capacity over rolling five-week blocks of time. The scheduling boards allow everyone to see when every order in the plant should run, not just those within a two-week timeframe.
“We started to see results in just a couple of weeks. Before, we just looked at the due date, but we were also focused on how many dollars we could get out the door for the month. It was all about sales,” explained Bunn. “Georgia Tech helped us realize that if you’re producing on time, the sales are going to come.”
As a result of the scheduling kaizen event, Groov-Pin’s Newnan facility improved its on-time performance by nearly one-third, to 94 percent. Bunn also notes that staff mindset has changed considerably as a result of the project.
“Some of these guys have been working here a very long time, more than 20 years. When they see something grinding away at the same pace and not improving, that’s tough to do every day. But when they come in and see that some change has been made that makes their lives easier, those are improvements that people really think are fantastic,” Bunn observed. “It’s still a push to get people to do things above and beyond what their regular job is, but when they see progress, they are more apt to do it. That’s part of what we see as Groov-Pin’s culture change.”
In addition to the scheduling kaizen event, Groov-Pin conducted additional events in setup reduction, outside services and parts flow – all with impressive results. Setups that were taking eight hours and four hours have been slashed to 50 minutes and 30 minutes, respectively. Bunn also projects production and sales increases, and says that as the economy rebounds, Groov-Pin will add jobs.
The team also applied 5S (sorting, straightening, shining, standardizing, and sustaining), a method for organizing the workplace. After the company’s last business meeting, managers and sales staff from across Groov-Pin’s two locations toured the Newnan facility and were impressed with what they saw.
“We have a 25-year-old building with a machine shop and it can be a dirty, oily environment. We really cleaned the place up, made it brighter, and made a lot of improvements and we showed people the improvements we made,” Bunn said. “Georgia Tech has helped us do in less than a year the things that we tried to do for years and couldn’t get done. The proof is in the pudding. On-time performance is up, lead times are beginning to go down and setups are now being done in a fraction of the time. That’s measurable.”
Groov-Pin Corporation was founded in 1926 to address a growing market for patented press fit fasteners used in a wide variety of industries, including food processing, irrigation, automotive, aerospace and military, among others. Over the years, the company has played a leading role in establishing commercial and military standards for engineered fasteners.
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright