Lynn Shelton

The ‘Off Season’

The Weekly Report – May 19, 2020
Astute manufacturers are preparing for a recovering economy.

Manufacturers, like baseball players (remember them?), use their “off-seasons” to elevate elements of their game that can’t receive their full attention while dealing with the time-intensive rigors of competing in the regular schedule of games.

While there is no defined off-season in manufacturing, we’re finding that plenty of CEOs and managers are exploiting the unpredictable quirks of this COVID-19 economy to improve the effectiveness of their operations. They want to be ready when the economy inevitably roars back, whenever that may be.

For one thing, we’ve noticed an uptick in the number of clients who are either working toward their first ISO 9001:2015 designation, or who are unpacking its many managerial tools, tweak—or even overhaul—their operations. We love it, because ISO consulting is among our essential services, and because our people are so good at it (if I do say so myself).

We’re going to devote most of the next edition of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine to telling their stories, deftly written by Maria Surma Manka, one of our favorite new contributors.

Here are some of them.

Lane Company, a custom plastic product manufacturer that produces thermo-formed and custom fabrication, started down the path of ISO certification and soon identified other gaps in their processes; what they needed first was a lean improvement approach. “Rather than try to build a system that didn’t have the quality of lean coordination, we decided to integrate both approaches and do them at the same time,” explains Steve Lewis, CFO and co-owner of Lane Company. “As a result, it took us longer to get ISO certified but it really created some significant benefits for the company.”

Shortly after they purchased H&B Elevators in 2013, Jashan Eison and Fred Poferl realized that legacy knowledge within a long-standing company can be an asset and a challenge. Their approximately 44 employees had a lot of operational smarts, but they were locked away in their heads and not easily shared with new recruits. ISO certification was the answer to the challenges of both knowledge sharing and demonstrating international quality to customers.

Brian Hitt, founder and president of Northwoods USA, oversees a precision engineered machining company with just five employees. But as an engineer who spent much of his career in product development and working with suppliers, he knew the impact of ISO certification first-hand and knew he needed ISO. “ISO doesn’t make you a magical, high-quality supplier,” says Hitt. “It’s the process of ISO certification that forces you to put the structure and the checks and balances in place to have a business management system and quality system that will help deliver a great product. It would give us a business management system, it would open a few more doors for customers that require ISO certification, and it would differentiate us from shops that do similar work as us.”

Micro-Trak, a manufacturer of electronics for agricultural systems and road maintenance, discovered the value of company-wide communications when it became ISO certified shortly after implementing the EOS system. Although ISO and EOS focus on separate areas of the business, the work done for EOS made the subsequent ISO certification easier and more efficient for Micro-Trak. “Part of the EOS process is defining the purpose, values and objectives of a company,” says Vogel. “That’s part of the management portion of ISO too, so we could easily build that in. We were also already reviewing personnel and supplier performance, so we folded those into quarterly planning sessions. The core processes that EOS requires were already written and we just formatted them for ISO.”

There are more stories coming, each illustrates the value of achieving and implementing the value of ISO.

Look for the full feature in the summer issue of our magazine, due to publish on June 30th.

Industry News

Lakeview Industries shipped out 5 million face shields in six weeks
As other suppliers faced a month-long supply lag, Carver-based Lakeview Industries flipped their manufacturing business to focus on face shields and have shipped millions around the US. May 17, Star Tribune  Read more

3M to triple domestic production of N95 masks
3M expects to be scaling up US production of the critical protective masks after winning a pair of US Department of Defense contracts worth more than $200 million. May 11, Assembly Magazine  Read more

MN high school robotics teams design protective gear
As spring competitions fell victim to the pandemic, high school robotics teams are turning their skills to manufacturing protective gear for first responders. May 9, Star Tribune  Read more

MPCA offering $400,000 in grants to grow recycling markets
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will be awarding grants to businesses or organizations that use recyclable materials in their products. Applications due Friday, May 29, 2020. May 8, MPCA  Read more

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