Connecticut State Technology Extension Program
Continuous Improvement Heats Up at Birk Manufacturing
Birk Manufacturing Inc. is a manufacturer of flexible heaters, a device which conforms to a surface which requires heating. From de-icing features on aircrafts to heating bodily fluids for accurate testing processes, flexible heaters have a wide range of sizes, shapes, and applications. Birk Manufacturing has over 20 years of experience in the design and manufacturing of Kapton® and Silicone based flexible heating elements, flexible heaters, and thermal heating systems for the medical device, semiconductor and defense industries. Located in East Lyme, Connecticut, Birk Manufacturing employs 75 people.
Birk Manufacturing had experienced profit growth while many others in the business climate were trying to maintain survival. Lean first appeared at Birk Manufacturing as an office function but continuous improvement had become a strategic initiative along with cost reduction, on-time delivery and customer satisfaction. “When I joined Birk as an engineer, our first Lean event was a Value Stream Map (VSM) of the order process,” said Mike Mattox, President of Birk Manufacturing. “The VSM uncovered an order travel distance of 2 miles. It was the way it was always done and it appeared effective. We didn’t know any better.” Lean principles remained on the radar after the original VSM but were never sustained.” Mattox was in contact with members of Lex Products, a Shelton-based company that had already embarked on its Lean journey. Lex’s success with Connecticut State Technology Extension Program (CONNSTEP), a NIST MEP network affiliate, Lean and Continuous Improvement, encouraged Mattox to look into the benefits it could provide to Birk Manufacturing in addressing its struggle with expedited orders. Pushing the orders through the process within takt time became a daily battle for the production staff. Customers would order anywhere between 1 and 10,000 heaters and every other order would sit behind it. The company contacted CONNSTEP for assistance.
CONNSTEP provided ISO 9001:2000 Internal Quality Auditor Training for Birk Manufacturing, after which the Northeast Utilities PRIME program was leveraged for two events. The NU PRIME program provides funding for companies who implement Lean training and VSM practices to improve production capacity. The NU PRIME event concentrated on the Panel area and subsequent material storage and assembly. CONNSTEP worked with Birk Manufacturing to develop a new layout in the Panel area focused on flow and visual efficiency. As a result of the assistance provided by CONNSTEP, the new concept of flow is clearly defined within the area. Jobs enter the room and move through the workstations without backtracking, searching or waiting for other processes to catch up. A lost labor reduction in this area alone resulted in over $72,000 in cost savings. To continue their Lean journey, Mattox attended CONNSTEP’s Continuous Improvement Champion Certification (CICC) course. CICC is a thirteen-week course that provided Mattox with intensive exposure to the principles and practices needed to develop and sustain the Lean Enterprise. The CICC course resulted in Mattox becoming Birk’s first Continuous Improvement Champion. Developing the skill set of the entire staff and sustaining the strategic initiative of continuous improvement has led to the planning and development of a university-esque training program at Birk Manufacturing. Highlighting more than Lean training, developing the skills of company employees on a personal and professional level builds a community that is aligned for growth. At the heart of the program are the Lean principles that have been instrumental in Birk’s transformation. The goal is to build a steady stream of continuous improvement champions to constantly develop ideas and processes for efficient gains. The ultimate goal of the initiatives is to develop and maintain a healthy business.
- Increased sales by $2 million.
- Retained sales of $100,000.
- Realized $25,000 in cost savings.
- Invested $225,000 in plant equipment and workforce development.
- Achieved 93 percent on-time fill rate.
“Our Lean transformation has had a profound effect on our staff, culture, business strategy and bottom line. The foundation developed through our work and training with CONNSTEP has provided the staff with the tools needed to sustain our continuous improvement initiatives as we continue to uncover opportunities to help us grow as a company.”
Mike Mattox, President