Tightly managed Grayline Inc. of Waukesha, Wis., aims for growth markets and focuses on lean manufacturing practices and critical product compliance in making and selling flexible tubing and sleeving.
``We want to grow our company, maybe with new and innovative products for the wire harness industry,'' said Mike Mason, president since 1999. Current products utilize flexible heat-shrink and nonheat-shrink PVC, polyolefin, polyurethane and braided fiberglass.
``We are branching out into markets other than our traditional wiring harness tubing business,'' Mason said. ``For example, our PU tubing is used in the pneumatic tool industry, the medical/diagnostic apparatus industry and as parts in machines such as snowmobiles where demanding environments are a factor.'' Most output is used in wire harnesses for automotive, appliance and electronic applications.
Grayline said June 22 that independent testing laboratory Toxikon Corp. of Bedford, Mass., issued a test certificate to Grayline for GS-80 medical-grade tubing after completing an analysis of tubing samples.
While most Grayline volume involves electrical-grade product, the firm has supplied material for use in musical instruments, sporting goods and protective and handle covers. ``Sometimes it is an aesthetic thing with inline printing,'' he said.
As with most plastics processors, resin pricing has challenged Grayline. ``In late 2005, we had a small price adjustment for the first time since 2000,'' Mason said.
Grayline ships product to Asia for some customers relocating operations. In some cases, ``people tried to use offshore product, but it did not perform or meet specifications,'' he said. ``We have some businesses that stayed with us because quality is the same as they have gotten for years.''
At its 50,000-square-foot facility, Grayline uses a kanban-type pull system on certain high-volume jobs. During the work in process, ``the final department pulls material and triggers events upstream, telling us to make more tubing,'' Mason said.
In another lean tactic, Grayline uses a visual trigger for assembling packaging ahead of time; vacant floor space in certain color-coded areas prompts the work. In addition, Grayline has shadow boards for tools where needed.
Grayline anticipated an upcoming restriction on material content. ``We were ahead of the curve,'' Mason said.
Effective July 1, a directive in the European Union restricts distribution or use there of any new electrical or electronic product or equipment containing hazardous materials. Other locales and countries are considering similar restrictions of the use of certain hazardous substances.
More than a year in advance, Grayline managers purged inventories of tubing containing lead or other banned substances and worked closely with compound suppliers in developing RoHS-compliant tubing materials.
Grayline said it achieves an on-time delivery rate in excess of 99 percent and an indication of customer concern in less than 0.5 percent of shipments.
Safety is important. Grayline's most recent lost-time accident occurred in the early spring of 2004.
Employment has been stable for the past two years. But from three to six years ago, Grayline ``cut the production force,'' Mason said. ``Through improvements, we ship as much product out the door with fewer people'' today.
Grayline employs 50.
Grayline has annual sales of about $10 million and is certified to ISO 9001:2000.
The Gray family founded the business in 1966 and sold it to a small group of investors in 1987. The company moved to its current location in a 1995 expansion.