Producing a quality, energy efficient product is the main goal for Cindi Hicks and Andy Loosberg and their company, U.S. Energy Sciences. However, when Hicks and Loosberg moved the company from Florida to Vidalia, Ga., four and a half years ago, their process for manufacturing energy efficient commercial lighting products was anything but efficient.
“When we moved to Vidalia, we were able to acquire a building, but the manufacturing process had never been designed,” recalled Hicks. “Materials didn’t flow from one end of the factory to the other and we had an overwhelming amount of inventory scattered everywhere.”
To overcome these and other challenges, Hicks and Loosberg sought the counsel of Matt Oxley, an entrepreneur outreach specialist with e2e Works, a Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute program supported by the OneGeorgia Authority and the Georgia Rural Economic Development Center. Entrepreneur outreach specialists are charged with helping existing and startup companies in rural Georgia grow their businesses by supplying expertise in business management practices, technical assistance and access to a variety of industry-specific resources.
“When I came in, U.S. Energy Sciences was different from 99 percent of the companies I usually work with,” Oxley said. “They had plenty of sales, but were having a difficult time managing their resources and manufacturing the product in a timely manner.”
Since October 2005, Oxley has assisted the company with a number of projects, including a plant layout, lean manufacturing technology in the assembly department, key employee training, inventory reduction, information technology work to customize scheduling program and reports, assistance in a competitiveness review, development of company rules and policies, and mechanical design engineering for customizing manufacturing equipment, among others. Oxley tapped EII project managers Alan Barfoot, Mike Brown and Mark Heflin to complete this work.
As a result of Georgia Tech’s assistance, the 70,000-square-foot plant has been completely reorganized, assembly lines have been converted to lean manufacturing concepts and software applications have been implemented.
“Before we implemented lean manufacturing principles, we would run an order on a machine, break the machine down, run the next order and break the machine down again. We were back and forth, back and forth,” Hicks noted. “Now, we’re batching like items together and we’re able to put our hands on product so we’re not buying product that we already have. We work by the just-in-time principle, an inventory strategy implemented to improve the return on investment by reducing in-process inventory and its associated costs. Our turnaround time also helps us to be able to take advantage of our vendors’ discounts.”
The company’s hard work has yielded impressive and tangible results. Setup times have been reduced by 80 percent, cost of freight has decreased by six percent and inventory has been slashed by one-third. In addition, U.S. Energy Sciences has increased its ability to meet order deadlines by nearly 60 percent. Productivity has doubled with the same number of employees – 60 – but with much less overtime.
The company’s products – efficient lighting products – are marketed to energy contractors. Major product lines include reflector retrofit kits and luminaires, which greatly enhance the efficiency of light fixtures by delivering the same amount of light (and sometimes more) with fewer lamps. By utilizing reflecting technology, products reduce electricity consumption by nearly 30 percent without affecting the quality of the work environment.
“The most proprietary asset we have is our collective skill set. As with most companies in our industry, much of what we do here could be replicated,” noted Loosberg. “The best way to stay ahead is by capitalizing, embracing the technologies and continuing to be lean. Our skill set becomes what is proprietary and what will allow us to succeed.”
Loosberg and Hicks both appreciate the assistance U.S. Energy Sciences has received from Georgia Tech, help that has made a difference to the company financially.
“It’s automatically a credential when Georgia Tech comes in to your business,” he said. “We are undoubtedly the most manufacturing-efficient company in our industry.”
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright