Willington Nameplate PRIME Program Case Study
Willington Nameplate, a family business with the entrepreneurial roots of its founder Marcel Goepfert, celebrates 50 years in business in Connecticut’s Quiet Corner – Stafford Springs. Characterized by the taking of (smart) risks and commitment, the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well at Willington Nameplate today.
Michael Goepfert, Marcel’s son and current President, made the decision in 2007 to try the PRIME Program to help make manufacturing operations more productive and formally begin their Continuous improvement/lean journey. The PRIME Program (Process Reengineering for Increased Manufacturing Efficiency) was offered by Connecticut Light & Power (now Eversource) with funding from CEEF – Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund.
The PRIME Program provided classroom education and training on the concepts and tools of process improvement immediately followed by hands-on application to lock-in the teachings. These process improvement (kaizen) events have the added benefit of delivering results quickly, which are then reinforced. Six PRIME PI – Process Improvement events were completed across the company including the manufacturing and office areas. No areas were exempt in the search for waste elimination.
In keeping with company culture, top management was involved and committed to the success of events. Management’s participation made it clear this was no ‘flavor-of-the-month’ program. Kaizen teams presented their ideas and findings daily during events. This made it easier for all employees to present and propose ideas for change. Each team would implement quick changes during the event, with larger more complex tasks being completed in the following days and weeks.
Early events emphasized the importance of the basics, 5-S Workplace Organization, and ‘Learning to See’ waste. Progress was made in each event and soon new visual management and controls were developed along with KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to track and show progress – continuous improvement. Every employee could view the company dashboard metrics and progress towards goals, which were posted by the employee entrance. Engaging all employees was key to progress and success.
In less than six months, Jessica Mitchell, a new employee and quick learner, and Mark Rainaud, a skilled long-term employee with extensive shop floor experience, both demonstrated natural skills and abilities with an affinity for continuous improvement to become the early internal “Lean Leaders”. They would take the program to the next level by facilitating kaizen events without help from outside consultants in 2008. Having a new employee and tenured employee working together duringlean events resulted in a broad view of improvements that were needed in the process.
The PRIME Program provided the seed, the idea, concepts, and tools. It established the format and triggered the start of a successful continuous improvement journey. Management nurtured it, providing the support and challenge for all employees to find a better way. It was a safe environment where mistakes were accepted as part of learning a new way of working, and no one would lose their job because of continuous improvement.
The commitment to continuous improvement was real and early results were more than encouraging – they were exciting. Customer service as measured by OTD (On Time Delivery) jumped up to a consistent 95% from the mid 70% range, and Inventory levels were reduced, while sales consistently beat the business plan.
Within less than a year of starting their continuous improvement journey, Willington Nameplate had adopted and adapted to Lean. They created their own ‘Lean Olympics’ as a way to engage the whole company in a part time kaizen event. Continuous improvement can be fun and new ideas don’t need to take a long time to implement. This, among other things led the University of Connecticut to recognize Willington Nameplate as one of the Best Family Business of 2008.
All of the lessons learned prepared Willington Nameplate for the rocky economic times to come in 2008 and 2009. Perhaps the most important lesson was how to use lean as a growth strategy. Employees used influencing skills honed in kaizen to tell the company story. There were newsletters, blogs, open houses, plant tours, and trade shows. Employees challenged themselves, venturing outside of their traditional roles and comfort zones to share the stories and learnings from their part of the continuous improvement journey.
Fast forward almost nine years, and Willington Nameplate’s continuous Improvement journey, continues. They maintain a sharp focus on meeting the needs of their customers and exceeding their expectations. They have proven their ability to meet the rigorous requirements of the International Standards for ISO 9001, AS9100, ISO/TS 16949, and ITAR. Quality, continuous improvement, and sustainability are integrated into their quality management system.
Not surprisingly, Willington Nameplate has enjoyed organic growth and several acquisitions. There has not been a layoff. Morale is high. The future is bright.
Not willing to rest on its laurels, big plans are in the works. Investments have been and continue to be made in employee education and training, new computer systems and shop floor equipment and capabilities. Employees remain empowered to work together to achieve solutions.
This family business remains true to its culture and continues to treat people with respect, like family.
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