In 1947 in St. Louis, two brothers, Harold and Sydney Guller, founded a company in their father’s basement. In the last seventy-three years this company, Essex Industries, has grown to six facilities located in St. Louis, Missouri, Milford, Connecticut, and Huntington Beach, California, encompassing 250,000 square feet of manufacturing space and over 450 employees.
And what has driven this incredible growth? A laser-like focus on continuous improvement. It was this focus that led them to partner with the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College.
Seth Voelker, Continuous Improvement Manager at Essex, described what led Essex to contact the college. “I remembered George Friesen, a Lean Performance Consultant with the college, from work he did eight years previously with me for another company. Also, I did a web search for organizations that could provide training for our machinists and came to St. Louis Community College through this search.”
Voelker continued, “I knew about George and his passion for continuous improvement and his knowledge of Lean. My hope and expectation was that, as an outsider, George would be a person they could trust. One of our lead machinists, Earl Livermore, who was quiet during much of the training really took hold of what George was discussing and emerged as a leader in driving continuous improvement in the Quick Changeover process used by machinists. It became obvious that Earl appreciated the work George was doing in sparking quality conversations and instilling more passion in the machinist group in upgrading their thought processes toward quality and organization.”
Then COVID-19 forced a quick pivot from on-site to Zoom-based remote training and coaching. The four training sessions that had been conducted on-site greatly facilitated this. The change was also aided by many hours of video that had been shot of the Quick Changeover process prior to the pandemic.
Commenting on the forced move to remote training, Voelker added, “It was pretty clear that George had a very well-organized process to put it together. It turned out better than we ever expected.”
Improving the Quick Changeover Process involved moving as many steps as possible in the process from internal tasks to external while a part was being run. Parts needed during changeover had to be staged for quick access. Robust visual controls had to be used to ensure the smooth flow of work with as few pauses in the process as possible. Finally, a standardized work checklist had to be developed to ensure that the same process would be consistently used by machinists.
The improvements in the changeover process were made to achieve these goals:
They were achieved.
Commenting on the training and coaching provided by the college, Corey Waldman, Value Stream Analyst, added, “Now we have a core group of people who are good at setup. And the positive resolve and engagement among the machinist group was probably the biggest win.”
Reflecting on the quantitative impact of the college’s training, Waldman said, “We know the amount of time reduced on setup is very significant; to the tune of at least 300 hours on an annual basis”
Voelker observed that “Our machinists now see themselves as more than just operators. They see themselves as masters of their production processes with the ability to drive continuous improvement.”
Waldman continued, “Because of the training St. Louis Community College provided for us, our team would definitely be ready to have George return to do more training. I know there’d be more engagement from the beginning.”
It is well known that St. Louis Community College is committed to providing high quality educational services for its students. The college is equally committed to serving adults, many of whom are former students, working for companies in its region.