Sherri Hotzler said she saw the power of lean manufacturing on a business tour some 10 years ago but wasn't in a position to do anything about it for her employer, injection molder Vantec Inc.
Hotzler was in sales at the time. But now she is president and CEO of the Webster City, Iowa-based company, and she's got everyone on the lookout to get leaner — from the five members of the like-minded management team (three of whom are women) to the 180 employees.
“It takes the leadership and everyone to succeed. It takes an army,” Hotzler, 47, and a self-described lean maniac.
“I may have the vision of where to go but it really takes a number of people to make it happen. It's all about my team and not me.”
This year one of the team's goals is to increase sales by 25 percent. The company has two plants — the other is in Falls City, Neb. — that mold ABS, nylon, polypropylene, polycarbonate and other materials for windows, doors, plumbing, small engines, and the gaming and recreational markets.
Other goals are smaller, inspired by what are called 2 second lean principles to reduce waste, simplify work, and improve production and job satisfaction. Everyone is encouraged to “fix what bugs you.” The lean mantra is on company T-shirts and water bottles.
“We have a chart and anyone can write any improvement idea they want,” Hotzler said. “We see if it makes sense across the plant.”
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of ideas have been submitted, she added. One related to material handling. Scrap dropped down a chute for grinding, but the chutes weren't a perfect fit. Material ended up on the floor.
“We had an idea to alleviate this with a funnel system,” Hotzler said. “Some of our people started experimenting. They ended up making what looks like a chute with an old diver's helmet on it. They put a counter weight on it so it raises and there's a window. They've implemented a few. It works really well.”
The fix saves material and time, because no one has to continually sweep the floor.
“That's something that bugged them so we fixed it,” Hotzler said.
Part of the “we” includes Chief Operating Officer Tanya Doyle, Human Resources Manager Joan Kennedy, Chief Financial Officer Mark Stinson and Operations Manager Matt Carver. They have stand-up desks together to get rid of “functional silos” and solve problems quickly.
“We help serve and remove roadblocks from everybody else in the organization because the true value creators are the people on the floor,” Hotzler said.
Vantec was founded by Hotzler's parents, Bev and Willie Wyhe, in 1983. She left sales positions that required too much travel in the beauty and pharmaceutical industries to join the family business in 1998 and enjoy motherhood. Hotzler stepped into the role of CEO in November 2008 and into the firestorm of an economic downturn that rocked Vantec and Webster City. Before she could even settle in as CEO, Vantec lost two of its largest customers.
“We had our first-ever layoff when Electrolux Laundry and Electrolux Floor Care closed operations in Webster City and moved 2,000 jobs to Mexico,” Hotzler said. “In a town of 8,000 that affects everyone, and we were their largest plastic supplier.”
Vantec's workforce dropped from 225 to about 80.
“We have a strong commitment to the people here and just did what we had to do to survive,” Hotzler said.
Positive word-of-mouth advertising, diversifying the customer base and sharing information with other lean maniacs all helped Vantec survive. Now the company expects to add two presses this year to meet increased demand.
“We haven't added this many machines since 2008, when we opened our Falls City plant,” Hotzler said.