Superior Technical Ceramics (STC) Corporation located in Saint Albans, Vermont has been in business since 1898 and currently has 130 employees working within 100,000 square feet. The company is breaking new ground in the field of advanced ceramic materials that offer advantages such as high-temperature strength, corrosion and wear resistance, electrical insulation, and chemical stability. STC is ISO 9001: 2008 and AS9100 certified to allow it to compete globally in a wide range of industries, including aviation and aerospace, military and government, oil and gas, water treatment, telecommunications, lasers and electro-optics, semiconductor as well as solar, medical, plasma and laser cutting, standard rods, plates, and tubes, and many other industrial/commercial insulator products. Their talented, highly skilled workforce allows them to compete cost effectively worldwide.
To remain competitive, STC needed to continue to supply quality ceramic components at competitive prices with shorter lead times than its standard eight week deliveries. In order to do this cost effectively, the production manager needed to look at ways to reduce batch sizes, which were large because of the extensive set up times. VMEC suggested that the first steps to reducing times and establishing a leaner manufacturing culture was to first introduce 5S workplace organization.
The VMEC staff assessed the manufacturing environment and selected two key departments to tackle its first 5S implementation training sessions, training approximately 25 individuals in the materials and wet grinding departments on the concepts of 5S workplace organization. The training was broken down into (3) eight hour days consisting of both classroom instruction and hands-on workplace reorganization where the employees were allowed to have significant impact as to the restructuring efforts within their own work areas as well as that of their co-workers. They learned how to differentiate between tools that were critical to their everyday job versus tools that were not necessary to be in their department. In addition, the employees began to understand the importance of organization, labeling, cleanliness, standardization and sustaining the efforts daily. They were motivated week after week to do more because they could feel the difference it made to work in an environment that was conducive to morale and productivity. The resistance that was felt at first quickly diminished as the employees could see the difference that sorting and shining made to the overall appearance of the workplace. In fact, the effort became addictive and spread throughout many departments. Before long, all the manufacturing departments were eager to be trained by the VMEC team who were happy to oblige with equal enthusiasm.
As a result of VMEC's 5S training and workplace organization efforts, STC has decreased its set up times by 10-15%, reduced its batch sizes by 25%, reduced its scrap factor by 15%, and continues to strive in reducing its lead times significantly. In addition, more than 80% of the manufacturing personnel have been trained in the concepts of 5S, which continues to be an STC driving mission.
STC was able to improve its daily throughput by approximately 10-15% across fourteen production departments without any added labor by decreasing the time needed to gather materials outside the department, or time spent searching for missing tools. In addition, valuable production workspace was made available by identifying wasted space being occupied by clutter or unnecessary storage. This allowed STC to decrease its lead times to customers thus increasing its competitive edge.
Cindy Bernier, Production Manager at STC states, “VMEC has revolutionized our business and reorganized our manufacturing environment making the shop a more productive, safe and pleasant work place for our employees and our customers. By introducing the concepts of 5S Workplace Organization and involving the staff at all levels of the organization, VMEC has helped to change the culture at Superior Technical Ceramics Corporation, establishing the foundation to pursue Lean manufacturing. In addition, the problem solving sessions have encouraged employees at all levels of the organization to work as a cohesive team, eliminating waste whenever possible.”