It’s always a pleasure to come across articles on companies that are successful manufacturing from U.S.-based factories. Instead of wasting time complaining about exchange rates, trade barriers, and regulatory hurdles, these companies focus inward and improve their efficiency, quality, and service to a point that offsets those competitive burdens.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette had an article Sunday describing one such company, a metal fabricator appropriately named Metal-Tech.
State-of-the-art equipment, skilled employees and efficient, quality processes have propelled Fox Valley Metal-Tech Inc. to the front rank of metal fabricators. Metal-Tech is one of 63 Wisconsin businesses nominated for the 20th annual Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Awards to be presented Thursday at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee. The awards recognize Wisconsin companies that demonstrate a commitment to business excellence.
What do they do?
Metal-Tech services include laser and waterjet cutting of materials up to 6 inches thick, product design and assembly in the paper, printing, food-processing, custom-machine-building and ship-building industries, to name a few. Metal-Tech workers complete about 600 jobs a week, from the smallest parts to larger structures like cabs for Manitowoc Co. cranes, deckhouses for U.S. Navy patrol boats and electrical control boxes for new Navy aircraft carriers.
As with most truly successful companies, they realize their strength is derived from the knowledge, experience, and creativity of their people. Their hiring processes are very defined to find and train the best.
Metal-Tech is providing on-the-job training for four Northeast Wisconsin Technical College students who they hope will decide to stay with the company after they graduate. They also have a representative on NWTC’s welding advisory committee and have worked with the school to develop training programs for workers, such as blueprint reading. Potential Metal-Tech workers must pass blueprint reading and math tests, and take a Wonderlic test, such as National Football League teams give to their quarterbacks. "If someone has a high Wonderlic (score) but not a high skill set, if they are a hard worker, we know we can train them," West said.
The results speak for themselves.
Metal-Tech sales grew from $11 million in 2004 to $22 million in 2007, and it foresees continued growth. The company standard is to schedule and program every job the same day it arrives. It has seen improvement in on-time delivery, reduction of time spent on rework and improvement in manufacturing efficiencies. West said the company’s rework cost — having to remake a part — is less than one-half percent.
But I do need to find at least one point to nit-pick them on:
"We have 50 percent of our year already in backlog," said John West, company president.
Although a common metric for job shops, is that really something to be proud of? Sure it helps provide a sense of security to stakeholders, but does it add value to customers? Which customers are having to wait six months for an order? What value would a much shorter lead time provide? Will some other fabricator jump in and supply that value?