GenMet Corp., a Mequon custom metal fabricator, first turned to the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership nearly a decade ago to allow it to better compete in an increasingly global environment. “Manufacturing became globally competitive,” GenMet President Mary Isbister said. “We had to figure out how to transition ourselves into that global economy and how to compete.”
Isbister recalled one especially difficult global challenge that prompted GenMet to consider revamping its operations – the extremely high costs of raw materials due in large part to booming demand in China. “It was very difficult to get raw materials and prices were skyrocketing,” Isbister said.
The array of challenges convinced GenMet management that it needed to build a new culture,” GenMet CEO Eric Isbister said. “We were having trouble at that,” he said.
That’s when GenMet turned to WMEP
GenMet’s transformation started in 2003, when the company realized it needed a long-term competitive advantage to compete globally. GenMet desired faster turnaround times and the development of more complex, highly engineered products.
Lean manufacturing was deployed to attack waste and inefficiency. As a result, lead times were cut in half and productivity doubled. The efforts led to the creation of culture of continuous improvement at GenMet. “We did a lean manufacturing (course) that worked out very well,” Eric Isbister said. “The WMEP representative became one of us.”
Gen Met has found great benefit in repeating that training course every two to three years. This allows new employees to receive training while serving as a refresher course for workers who already have gone through the program, he said.
The relationship with WMEP also has given the GenMet the tools to not only survive, but thrive, in the face of a prolonged economic downturn. Improved efficiency became a key factor.
“In order to do things efficiently, you need a team,” Eric Isbister said. “When you go through something as a whole company, then it’s applied.”
Employees are encouraged to be active participants in the company’s success by contributing ideas and driving change relentlessly throughout the organization. Good ideas are rewarded with recognition or higher year-end bonuses. Mary Isbister is convinced that GenMet has been able to retain its top-performing talent because the company consistently challenges its employees.
Lean culture champions employee advancement, she said. In addition to employee training, GenMet has invested heavily in state-of-the-art equipment in order to further bolster its ability to be competitive on a global scale.
The steepness of GenMet’s growth curve is evidence of the value of the partnership with WMEP, Mary Isbister said.
“WMEP has a direct bottom line effect,” she said. “Everything from reducing our inventory on the floor, to higher inventory turns and very significant drops in lead times. Ultimately all of that leads up to being more competitive.”