A Bright Future
St. Paul-based Pier Foundry & Pattern Shop remains competitive in the midst of a shrinking industry and an economic downturn.
In 1990, the American Foundry Society reported that there were 3,300 U.S. casting operations. Twenty years later, Pier Foundry & Pattern Shop in St. Paul is one of the 2,130 that are still in business.
But the 121-year-old company isn't just surviving. It's thriving thanks to lean and green improvements and a unique market niche.
As a Growth Acceleration Program grant recipient, Pier Foundry has worked with Enterprise Minnesota to maximize process efficiencies through a variety of Kaizen events. The most recent event helped the company shave 40 percent off of its changeover times via low-cost and
no-cost improvements, including reorganizing its work areas and plant layout. With as many as 50 changeovers per day, every step saved in the changeover process is important as the company works to reduce its work in process times from weeks to days, says vice president Matt Grilz.
Environmental initiatives also have factored into the company's recent improvements. "Everybody thinks that foundries are hot, hard, dirty and dangerous places to work, and that is really not the case," Grilz says. "We really want to continue to change that perception of
By separating waste into separate containers designated for perishable waste, manufacturing waste and recyclable waste, the company reduced its landfill waste by 65 percent. It also has taken steps toward becoming a virtually paperless office, investing in scanners instead of
copiers and asking employees to consider the environment before printing.
For Grilz, lean and green are often one and the same. The company's latest improvement, replacing metal halide light bulbs with high-efficiency alternatives, is a prime example. Upon completion, the lighting upgrade will save Pier Foundry roughly $8,000 per year in electricity
costs. But the intangible benefits are where lean and green most often overlap, Grilz says.
"Not only are we benefiting from [reduced] carbon emissions through a lower energy bill, we're also getting intangible [benefits] of keeping the morale up and keeping the shop cleaner and safer, which promotes more productivity, which is leaner," Grilz says.
Shorter lead times and an updated image, combined with Pier Foundry's longstanding reputation of accommodating a wide spectrum of casting weights--from mere ounces up to 1,000 pounds--have helped the company gain 40 new customers within the last year and a half. New customers
have generated more than 300 new projects--enough to create an anticipated 30 percent increase in sales this year. The company's biggest challenge will be to keep up with the growth, Grilz says.
"We've acquired more new business in the last 18 months than we have in the last hundred years," he says. "With that, you have to be able to manage cash flow and everything that goes with it so you don't outgrow yourself."