rovito-square-230by Rich Rovito, WMEP Industry Reporter

Continuous improvement must involve a fundamental change of a company’s overall business philosophy in order to be effective.

Getting employees to buy into continuous improvement can lead to an array of benefits, but often comes with numerous challenges because, let’s face it, many of us tend to be resistant to change.

A trio of presenters tackled the issue of continuous improvement at the recent Manufacturing Matters! Conference held at the Hyatt Hotel in Milwaukee. They shared their stories during a sold-out conference break-out session. Each company was at a different point in implementing continuous improvement initiatives, making for an informative session for the crowd of 100-plus people attending the session.
CI-panelFor J&R Machine Inc. in Shawano, embracing the concept literally played a major role in saving the company. Through continuous improvement efforts, J&R Machine has been able to fight off competition from Chinese manufacturers and break a damaging cycle of doing business in the same manner that placed it in financial jeopardy in the first place. J&R Machine had been producing commodity products such as bushings and pins that its Chinese competitors could make for a fraction of the cost.

J&R Machine owner and chief executive officer Tim Tumanic shared his company’s story and offered an often blunt assessment of the situation J&R found itself in before it began its continuous improvement journey. As part of its efforts, J&R adopted lean manufacturing practices that allowed for a more efficient production process. A shift to producing more complex products made J&R Machine less susceptible to foreign competition.

Today, the company is on much more solid financial footing, having grown to have annual revenue of more than $10 million while operating in a much more efficient and productive manner.

Getting all personnel to buy in to the concept of continuous improvement often is a challenge. The presenters admitted that sometimes, if certain employees are so resistant to change that it becomes a detriment for the company’s initiatives, a change in personnel may be in order. In other cases, according to the presenters, employees whom they figured would create road blocks in the implementation of continuous improvement ended up not standing in the way at all and in some cases became leaders in the cultural changeover.

In the case of Wildeck, a Waukesha supplier and manufacturer of industrial steel work platforms, vertical metal lifts, and safety guarding products, the shift toward continuous improvement has involved having its executive staff, middle management and other key employees take part in Lean Leadership training, said Keith Pignolet, the company’s president.

Steve Hipp, president of Athea Laboratories/Packaging, a contract chemical packaging company in Milwaukee, said the company is in earlier stages of continuous improvement implementation but that the company is experiencing benefits associated with the transition.

The presenters pointed out that the adoption of continuous improvement isn’t always smooth but in most cases the benefits more than outweigh the challenges.

View video on how Continuous Improvement China-Proofed J&R Machine.