Opening new doors to business opportunities

January 18, 2000|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Because so much of Jamison Door Co.'s work is customized, the company can't gauge efficiency improvements by measuring average order turnaround or average cost per order, said president and CEO John A. Latimer III.

But it can measure the benefits of its switch to a "cell system" for putting together the chain drive and track a door slides on, called the header system, Latimer said.

Introduced in October 1998, the header cell cut more than 7,000 feet from the distance parts had to travel in the Hagerstown plant during that manufacturing process. It also reduced the number of people and time required for the process, he said.

Parts for the header system used to travel more than 7,300 feet for processing by 14 people over the course of 15 days, Latimer said.


Under the cell system, which groups workers and supplies required for a process, parts travel a little less than 300 feet and are handled by only eight workers who can produce a header system in two to three hours, he said.

While this and other "lean" or "synchronous-flow" manufacturing initiatives have helped eliminate waste in the company's manufacturing processes and reduce costs, they haven't cost jobs at the plant, Latimer said.

In fact, the company's work force has grown from 100 employees in 1996 - when improvement efforts were gearing up - to 165 employees today, he said.

"Because we're becoming more efficient, we're becoming more competitive and growing our business in the process," said Latimer, chairman of a statewide effort to help all Maryland manufacturers improve their processes for maximum competitiveness.

Competing for advantage

Called the Maryland World Class Manufacturing Consortium, the nonprofit corporation's ultimate goal is to keep good-paying manufacturing jobs in Maryland, say Latimer and other leaders in the effort.

It's a way of giving small- and medium-sized companies in Maryland an advantage in competing with companies in other states and other countries that have lower labor costs, they say.

But, while any Maryland manufacturer can become a member and learn about its cost-saving and business-building initiatives, that company won't benefit unless it makes a commitment to look at business in a whole new way, they say.

"We're not just talking about new techniques on the manufacturing floor; it's changing the way a company does business, the culture of a company," Latimer said.

Started in late 1996, the consortium is closely related to but separate from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. It provides members with leadership training and management information, financial aid for training initiatives, access to top-notch consultants, and opportunities to share problems and problem-solving strategies with fellow members.

As is the case with other companies further along in the process, Latimer touts his company's successes in talks to other company leaders about the benefits of belonging to the consortium.

While Jamison Door wasn't part of the original group of member companies, it became involved early in the process after working with DBED on training grants, Latimer said. Jamison was developing a new strategic plan and had a number of projects directly related to the consortium's mission, he said.

Improving efficiency

Membership has proven an asset in the company's transformation to leaner thinking, Latimer said.

The Jamison plant has six cells now and has made progress toward improving efficiency in all of them, he said.

With the labor market so tight and qualified people so difficult to find, the lean manufacturing methods have allowed the company to produce more with fewer workers and in less time, Latimer said.

That has allowed the company to take on more work than it could have before with the number of people it added, he said.

Customers are getting more and more demanding in their expectations of quality, delivery time and service, said David McCain, president of Electromet Corp. in Hagerstown.

The consortium provides a conduit for information and other resources that can help the company improve overall customer satisfaction, and as a result grow the business and increase profits, McCain said.

The company, which has about 80 employees, does custom fabrication and precision sheet metal machining for the technology industry.

A member since 1998, Electromet is beginning to implement consortium initiatives to eliminate waste in the organization, improve productivity, reduce costs and increase capacity, McCain said.

One of the company's goals is to substantially cut the amount of work in progress kept on hand, he said.

David Beachley learned about the consortium through participation in other state economic development programs and thought it sounded like a good networking vehicle for his company.

"Being an old company, it's nice to have connections with these newer, more progressive companies that we'd like to model ourselves after," said Beachley, president and CEO of Beachley Furniture Co. in Hagerstown.

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