The U.S. temperature measurement market is highly competitive. More than 200 companies design and manufacture temperature sensors, and annual sales of the overall temperature measurement market are over $1 billion annually. Commodity production of sensors has moved overseas, with U.S. producers like Probes Unlimited supplying the demand for specialty products, smaller runs and faster delivery times. According to Probes Unlimited Owner Ernie DeLany, “Our customers want the price to go down every year, even if our raw material prices go up. We had lost a few jobs because we could not meet price or delivery requirements. We didn’t want to get squeezed out of the market.” After speaking with a customer who had achieved dramatic improvements through Lean manufacturing methods, Ernie contacted DVIRC.
DVIRC introduced Probes Unlimited employees to Lean through Lean 101 training at the company workplace, beginning a five-year journey that continues today. During the past five years, Probes Unlimited has organized work areas using Lean 5S techniques, used Value Stream Mapping to track work processes, conducted Kaisen events to identify waste and streamline operations, and transformed manufacturing and assembly operations to more efficient cellular systems. “But, it was a tough sell at first,” notes Ernie. “There was a lot of push back from employees. They thought Lean meant cutting staff.” To encourage buy-in from the workers, Ernie promoted the fact that production would be more organized, and would reduce workplace stress caused by delivery expectations and production realities. One of the first successes Probes experienced was in identifying what DVIRC called an “inch worm” mentality. Orders were shipping piece meal, with a tremendous amount of work in process, but not a lot of actual production. By changing the process to work cells, employees immediately saw that better organization led to reduced stress, faster turnaround and greater productivity. In one Kaizen event, a job that previously took five people eight hours to complete, was reduced to just 1 1/2 hours. Another Kaizen event on an epoxy process reduced cure times from a full night, to just 2-3 hours, with less wasted material. Over the course of five years, Probes Unlimited has experienced continual success with Lean in all areas of operations, including production, assembly, inventory management and space utilization. An employee reward system was established that encourages continuous improvement by offering time off for time-saving work practices. Ernie Delany notes that the work atmosphere has gone from one of high stress to one that is “almost Zen-like” with employees working as teams and jobs progressing faster than ever. Two employees are now Lean Level 1 certified. More importantly, Probes Unlimited is highly competitive, and is winning business and gaining market share.
- Over five years, the company has increased output by 90% without adding staff or expanding space.
- The company’s products are produced using more than 1100 parent parts. By consolidating part numbers, stock inventories, costs and space utilization were significantly reduced.
- By standardizing production methods, several hundred different set up operations were reduced to five or six.
- Five years ago, Probes Unlimited was considering renting additional space for production operations. Through Lean, the company has dramatically reduced wasted space in their existing facility. The company now has enough room to accommodate operations and growth for the next 4-5 years.
- Despite the recession, Probes Unlimited has maintained stability, with zero layoffs.
- By reducing the labor content per part, reducing waste and streamlining production, the company has been successful in lowering pricing. In addition to growing in the domestic market, Probes Unlimited is moving closer to being competitive with overseas producers, while offering the added advantage of fast delivery of small orders.
Probes Unlimited is a manufacturer of temperature probe assemblies and related devices for measurement of liquid, air and gases. The company produces custom-designed products for OEMs in a variety of industries including scientific and analytic instrumentation, computer chips, energy management, commercial cooking and more. Probes Unlimited operates out of a 10,000- square-foot facility in Lansdale, Pa., and employs 30 workers.
DVIRC has done more than 20 Lean project sessions with us over five years. Their expertise is highly valued.” “Our DVIRC consultant had great expertise in both manufacturing operations and Lean techniques. He could identify a problem in just one or two visits.” “The DVIRC experience was very positive. Our consultant had a way of working with our people and making them feel comfortable.