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Successful Implementations in Lean

Picking up the Signal: Lean Becomes Foundation for Growth at Diamond Antenna

By Karen Myhaver, Project Support Coordinator, MassMEP

"The company plans to grow 20-30% in the near future and if there is no infrastructure in place then you can’t manage growth properly," said Jeffrey Gilling, President of Diamond Antenna & Microwave. Gilling knew that their business would be growing and presenting opportunities for more people. They needed to be prepared.

"There were a few areas that needed to be ‘leaned’ at the company," said Gilling. The Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership MassMEP was recommended as a resource to assist in getting the business organized and ready for growth. Additionally Diamond wanted to get a better handle on Lean and ISO to prepare to implement an ERP system. "ERP helps you grow in balance," he added. "It helps with capacity planning to meet demand."

Tools of the Trade
MassMEP’s Jim Gusha and Greg King visited Diamond to discuss their needs and were able to help them obtain Workforce Training Fund Grants to defray some of the costs. Then project manager Tim Wadlow and other MassMEP staff facilitated events with employee groups. Training included TimeWise Le102, basic Lean for job shops to help familiarize Diamond employees with Lean terms and tools; Value Stream Mapping (VSM), in which you map out a process as it is currently done, identify deficiencies, and make improvements so it is ultimately done in the best way it can be; and Kaizen events like 5s which help the company clean, sort, and reorganize areas within the business so they function more efficiently. Theresa McCarthy, an associate from the New Hampshire MEP, provided assistance to a team from Diamond on internal auditor training for ISO9000-2001. 

Improve It or Lose It!
There had been some quality issues with a Satcom rotary joint used for shipboard systems that resulted in field failures. Diamond was in danger of losing the account. There were also only a few skilled technicians who were doing all the work for the piece and this wasted their time and ability. Value stream mapping exercises identified specific things that Diamond could improve upon.

The area was reorganized into a work cell. They focused on the steps in the work instructions and on cross training the employees in the cell to do each other’s jobs. Now there are more technicians and different classes of technicians – they are specialized by expertise and emphasize quality at the source. One class does assembly, the other works on testing. The process now moves along smoothly. Diamond produces over 1000 units of this type of Satcom device per year. When work comes in they have a 3-6 month lead time and then do the customization. 5s organization helped them manage jobs and work orders. They have maintained growth by using a good scheduling mechanism and buying capacity.

This Satcom design now has a 99% plus yield meaning that less than 1% of the units through final assembly have to be reworked. They have had ZERO returns for warranty claims and customers are satisfied. In real dollars this represents three years at over $2 million in sales; 10% profit would be over $200,000.

ISO and Customer Satisfaction
Mr. Gilling explained that the company had always adhered to MIL-I-45208, a military quality standard, and had not applied for ISO9001-2000 because their clients audited them periodically and had not required other certification. ISO9001-2000 shows how important it is to document departmental procedures and look at overall objectives and your progress toward attainment.

"Diamond is not a traditional manufacturer but there are certainly some applications that can be standardized, so it (ISO 9001-2000) was a good addition for the company at this time," said Gilling. After the group participated in the training he noted, "The process of working as a team to learn the documentation and auditing processes has been very helpful and instrumental in team building. ISO brings another dimension of customer satisfaction delivery and performance. It can also lead to new business for us."

Lean in a Job Shop??
"Lean training made Diamond more competitive," stated MassMEP’s Wadlow. "Initially, there were skeptics who said that Lean could not work in a job shop. They found that using 5s to reduce travel distance and a cellular layout in a high volume area had great results. They ended up with a culture change and they were pleasantly surprised."

Diamond Antenna & Microwave is expecting significant growth again in the near future and is looking at organizational development to help them manage teamwork as they transition from a close-knit handful of stars to a team of people who have to learned to work together. Diamond has seen a three-fold increase in employees, has more than doubled their sales, and is poised to do so again

"The assistance we received from the MassMEP was right on target and they will certainly be a resource we will use again in the future," said Gilling. Through the training, Diamond has seen improvements in quality, inventory control, and cost savings. Employee morale and productivity have also improved. Lean and other future training will continue to play a role at the company. They are focused on hiring people who want to have careers at the company and human resources is going to be key to attracting and retaining the best employees they can find. Currently, when Diamond Antenna advertises for employees, they do have few applicants because the positions require specific qualifications. Most commonly, they look for higher end machinists and employees with mechanical aptitude. Moving forward, Diamond hopes to get better at providing their own training in house and focusing on these specific niche skills.

Stated Gilling, "Core competencies in Massachusetts are not low tech. Enlightened companies have to realize that if they want to climb the ladder of business proficiency they need to keep on investing in assistance from organizations like the MEP and participating in manufacturing groups. MassMEP represents the competencies in the area of manufacturing that allow us to develop advantages in the marketplace. Core competencies and market opportunities leverage into a competitive advantage."

Diamond Antenna and Microwave Corporation and its affiliate company. Diamond-Roltran, LLC, are located in Littleton, Massachusetts. Diamond Antenna has been a forerunner in the design and manufacture of precision microwave rotary components used for air traffic control, satellite, radar, and communication system antennas for over 50 years In 2001, Diamond-Roltran began designing and manufacturing special roll rings that carry power and signals within the rotary components to satisfy these needs for their customers as well. The company employs 47 people.

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