Two Wisconsin plastics firms are among those that have improved their competitiveness with the help of Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a nonprofit consulting agency.
Blow molder N.E.W. Plastics Corp. has cut its changeover times by about 10 percent, which also helped cut lead times and fixed costs, estimated manufacturing manager Steve Prefontaine.
N.E.W. began working with WMEP about a year ago and ``the results are starting to show now,'' Prefontaine said in a telephone interview.
``We weren't following a process. We didn't have a team effort,'' he said.
Changeovers are a big issue with N.E.W. because the custom blow molder does a lot of short runs with containers ranging from 2 ounces to 3 gallons. The Luxemburg, Wis., firm's plastic lumber business was not part of the WMEP exercise.
N.E.W. also has introduced lean leadership throughout the company under WMEP's tutelage. Now it and WMEP are working to extend the lean approach to include other areas such as 5S for manufacturing: sort, shine, set-in-order, standardize and sustain.
Prefontaine said WMEP gave classes for employees and worked directly with management. After efforts were under way, WMEP personnel had follow-up visits to help keep the program on track.
WMEP executive director Michael Klonsinski said fees charged by WMEP are designed to be affordable to small and medium-size businesses, the target of the programs. Fees typically are half to two-thirds what private consulting firms charge.
WMEP is one of more than 60 Manufacturing Extension Partnership programs across the United States. The MEPs receive some federal and state funding to top up what they charge companies.
``Rates vary, from as little as $300-$100,000 when extensive lean transformation is undertaken,'' Klonsinski said.
``Our personnel have work experience. It's not done by just following a textbook,'' he said. ``They turn theory into practice and results.''
Wisconsin Thermoset Molding Inc. of Milwaukee was another plastics firm WMEP said it has assisted.
The firm is implementing lean techniques to help it manage strong sales growth. It makes heat-resistant parts for electrical, automotive and power industries and initially wanted to address inventory control and production management while it introduced six new colors into one of its main product lines.
In the past year, Wisconsin Thermoset has cut inventory in half and improved productivity. Its ability to respond quickly to customers is seen as a competitive edge.
Madison, Wis.-based WMEP said its programs produced an economic benefit of $233 million this year and created or helped retain nearly 2,700 jobs. MEPs are affiliated with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md.