The Superior Tube turnaround took hold in 2006, when the company negotiated a revolutionary, interest-based collective bargaining agreement with its union workforce, one that laid the groundwork for an unprecedented commitment to a shared vision and company-wide cooperation. With this agreement in place, Superior Tube was ready to fully commit to initiatives aimed at growing the value of the company. Jost had been working with DIVRC Business Development Director Jeff Gossner. “Jeff understood our business and our goals,” Jost said. “When we were ready to move ahead, his insights enabled us to connect with specific DVIRC capabilities that could help drive our efforts.”
DVIRC provided a package of initiatives designed to address both bottom-line and top-line goals, including training, coaching and project implementation for both Lean and Six Sigma training methodologies. Lean focuses on eliminating waste to improve process velocity and flow, while Six Sigma seeks to reduce variation in the output. Implementing both Lean and Six Sigma together helps drive broad cultural change, create a common operations language and place great emphasis on creating the internal capability required for continuous improvement.
Six Sigma Training and Project Implementation
Six Sigma uses a data-driven methodology to help employees understand processes and make sense of the data that surrounds a process. Understanding this data enables better decision-making. DVIRC’s Sr. Advanced Manufacturing Specialist Manny Veloso guided Superior Tube in introducing and implementing Six Sigma methodologies. A Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Veloso provided Green Belt training and project guidance focused on tools that support the Six Sigma DMAIC philosophy (Define, Measure, Analyze, Control, Improve). Four Superior Tube employees have achieved Green Belt Certification so far.
DVIRC’s “learn and do” approach enables trainees to apply new skills and tools to value-added projects within the company. This immediately provides an ROI and helps build enthusiasm as employees see the results that can be achieved. Six Sigma projects implemented at Superior Tube included improving tooling, reducing energy consumption, increasing product yield and quality of a cardiac tubing product, and increasing scrap yield return. All projects resulted in process improvements and generated significant bottom-line benefits.
Lean Enterprise Coaching and Training
To prepare for the introduction of Lean waste-reduction initiatives, Superior Tube established an Operational Excellence Team, co-chaired by labor and management, and consisting of 10 employees who worked on the team part time. This team was tasked with guiding Superior Tube’s first steps on the Lean journey. DVIRC then introduced Lean to the organization and helped employees develop both the technical and team skills needed for Lean success.
DVIRC developed a custom Lean initiative that focused on education in Lean methodologies, consultation as the company took ownership of the process, and robust training that assisted in driving cultural change. As part of the approach, Jeff Kopenitz, DVIRC Director of Advanced Manufacturing, worked side by side with Superior employees throughout the process. A certified Lean Master, Kopenitz has in-depth expertise and certification at the highest levels of Lean,
One of the first steps suggested by DVIRC was visiting other area manufacturers who had been successful in implementing Lean Transformations. Twenty-five Superior Tube employees participated in the visits. The benchmarking resulted in the establishment of a Superior Tube Kaizen Promotion Office (KPO), a group of five employees who work full-time on identifying needs and implementing Lean initiatives. The KPO consists of two hourly employees, two management employees and an industrial engineer hired specifically to support the efforts.
Winning Teams Training
In September of 2010, DVIRC began delivering its Winning Teams Training program to Superior Tube employees. The program helps participants develop technical skills, problem solving abilities and cooperative, team building strategies – a combination that is critical to the success of Lean efforts. DVIRC training focused on applied learning and creating immediate value for Superior Tube. Cross-functional teams of five or six people were assigned to a specific task. Training sessions continued over the past year, and are ongoing.
DVIRC helped Superior Tube update its sales support materials, creating four new brochures, each focused on a different product segment and target market. “Our sales representatives found these very helpful,” notes Jost. “We also used them during orientation sessions for new employees.”
Although Superior Tube had a few international customers, Jost notes that “we had no proactive game in export.” To better position the company for a possible sale, Jost recognized the importance of developing an export capability. He and three other Superior managers are now participating in ExporTech, a program presented by
DVIRC in partnership with the U.S. Export Assistance Center of the U.S. Department of Commerce. ExporTech is a group program that assists companies to develop a simple, actionable international growth plan, with the support of a coach and through connections with international business experts.
Superior Tube has taken advantage of the DVIRC CEO Forum to support staff development. A selective, small group of leaders from a variety of manufacturing companies meet monthly to share challenges, solutions and ideas. “The very idea of sharing across companies and industry boundaries is the real key to the value of the forums, “Jost says. “It gets you out of thinking about just your own company.”