Sometimes retaining existing companies and helping them grow can be as important to development officials as attracting new firms, as a new Maryland program aims to demonstrate.
Two Baltimore plastics industry firms, Novatec Inc. and Harbor City Plastics Inc., are part of a Maryland state effort that kicked off in April to help firms improve their manufacturing techniques.
Novatec has redesigned its process for making microdryers. Previously, 14 employees made 1.3 machines a day; now eight employees make five machines a day. And in its blender manufacturing unit, Novatec doubled output with only a third of the workers it needed before.
The company applied a Japanese process for eliminating waste, called kaizen, that it learned about as part of the Maryland program, said John Doub, vice president and general manager.
Forty-five companies paid $2,000 each to join the Maryland WorldClass Manufacturing Consortium, where they study the best manufacturers and try to apply the results to their company.
Novatec is trying to revamp the rest of its operations, including administrative functions, Doub said. It has shifted any employees whose jobs were eliminated to other positions in the company, a key factor in getting employee participation and support, he said.
A consultant led a team of employees in analyzing the microdrying and blending operations to streamline them, he said. They videotaped manufacturing, drew flow charts and asked employees why they did things a certain way, Doub said.
One of the changes was keeping gaskets and silicone caulk guns right next to employees who needed them rather than in storerooms farther away, saving time, he said. The redesign also cut the amount of space used to make the microdryers by more than a third.
Custom injection molder Harbor Plastics is just starting what it thinks will be a five-year process of revamping how it operates, said President Ray Seward.
``It changes our system from a batch system to a single flow system,'' Seward said.
A batch system tends to wait until customer orders get large enough and production begins, while a single flow system responds more quickly to orders, he said.
That change in manufacturing will force changes in other departments, like switching from cost accounting to a process called lean accounting, said Bruce Nelson, vice president of sales at Harbor.
Thus far, the company is looking at material flow and has redesigned its ultrasonic welding process to cut cycle time by 75 percent. It is bringing employees onto teams to review the manufacturing process in the same way Novatec did.
The normal reaction of workers is to worry about job security, Seward said. ``You have to assure them they will not lose their jobs.''
The consortium wants to both retain companies and be a resource to lure companies to Maryland, said Roger Satin, coordinator of the consortium, which is part of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.