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Successful Implementations in Lean

Electrified by Lean, V-Tron Sees Big Improvements

By Karen Myhaver, Program Support Coordinator, MassMEP

"We can say with absolute certainty that we are 25-35% more efficient now – and that is amazing!"–  Doug Gobin, President, V-Tron

V-Tron’s role as a supplier to General Dynamics represents a large portion of their business with work for the medical industry coming in second. Early in 2008, General Dynamics invited V-Tron to participate in their Supply Chain Project as one of their second tier suppliers. The project was developed by General Dynamics and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) to assist suppliers with their continuous improvement programs through Lean and other related training. Grant assistance from the Massachusetts Department of Labor ETA and economic stimulus funded one third of the program, V-Tron paid for one third, and General Dynamics paid for one third. The only stipulation was, "Participating suppliers must be willing to change, must be committed to Continuous Improvement, and must participate without the explicit guarantee of additional work from General Dynamics for doing so." 

The process began with an assessment of V-Tron’s facility and procedures. By combining the findings from the assessment with their company goals, a plan was devised which allowed V-Tron to choose specific training to fit their needs.  Charles DaRosa, MassMEP project manager and the MassMEP staff provided all 68 V-Tron employees with TimeWise Le101 Basic Lean training so that everyone would have knowledge of Lean terms and tools as implementation was taking place. Value Stream Mapping (VSM) exercises assisted employee teams in identifying process inefficiencies and Kaizen events were held to eliminate these waste. Groups also worked on flow and cellular layout and applied these concepts in different areas of the facility. Many events were done as "train the trainer" sessions so V-Tron employees could learn to conduct them independently as part of their Continuous Improvement and Sustainment Plan.

"During this project V-Tron employees were given the resources and then held accountable. They were incredibly successful. Plus they spent next to nothing since all the changes were low or no cost!" — Charles DaRosa

Early in their Lean initiative V-Tron focused on the Wire Prep Department. "Doug Gobin, (V-Tron President) gave me permission to identify and train a candidate to be the company’s Lean Champion." said Charles DaRosa. "I chose, Robert Ewing, the supervisor of the department, who already had a lot of work on his plate. Through the implementation of one piece flow we were able to free up nearly 80% of his time! This allowed Ewing to focus on his role as Lean Champion. he has really taken on the challenge." 

The team in Wire Prep implemented Point of Use Storage (POUS) controlled inventory and incoming and outgoing flow. They have been able to sustain the improvements, which is key. By enhancing productivity and freeing up resources, V-Tron was able to attract important new business.

The Wire Prep Team laid out the flow and introduced the new product by building in waste reducing measures from the very beginning. Employees quickly grasped the Lean concepts and significance and are now taking Lean through the entire company. Teams are "doing Lean" in support areas like purchasing – everyone is a stakeholder.

  • The projected annual savings for the Wire Prep Department is over $150,000.
  • Accumulative operator labor hours were $184 per hour and after Kaizen fell to $110.40, a 40% savings.
  • Streamlining procedures and utilizing cellular flow allowed the number of operators  in the area to be reduced by 36% from 15 to 9.6 with the same output of product.
  • Costs were cut and capacity increased which lowered overhead for additional savings.

"In exactly one year’s time (May 2008 – May 2009)," said Doug Gobin, "we have completed Value Stream Mapping and Kaizens in all manufacturing areas and are now Lean training in all support areas. As a result, we have become more competitive at a time when it is especially important. Competition is very tough.  With less work available in our field we have been able to keep what we have and even bring in a few new customers."

"We are all very dedicated to the concept of being efficient and making money – that is the main meal – and people have more job satisfaction and understanding about how their company runs – that is the dessert!" — Doug Gobin

To help sustain changes and generate new ideas, V-Tron has weekly meetings with their employee teams and often includes vendors in their quarterly meetings. They have also held a roundtable event with General Dynamics. Stated Gobin, "It is important for everyone to know about our clients and what they do. They need to be up to date on what is going on with our company and be able to contribute. We also consider our bank as a partner. They get monthly reports and there for understand when and why we may need their assistance. There is trust between us."

"If we hadn’t gone through Lean we probably would not be here today!" – Doug Gobin

"We had to become more efficient, not just for our bottom line but for our people," admits Gobin. "Now they have a different attitude – they are part of a team. This change in the employees is more significant than anything else. People have a purpose and pride and ownership in what they are producing. The employees need to like to be here. Work is more interesting and rewarding now. Cross training and other improvements have made it so. As a result of the Value Stream Mapping and Kaizen activities at V-Tron, efficiency has increased 25-35%, which is tremendous! A 5-10% improvement is great, but we can say with absolute certainty that we are 25-35% more efficient.  Now, that is amazing!"

Keeping the Customer Happy
Initially, V-Tron entered into the General Dynamics Supply Chain program to keep their biggest customer happy. They are extremely pleased about having done this for the many additional benefits they have seen as they work to change their focus to smaller, more specialized orders. This magnifies the significance of Lean thinking since the cost to support small orders is much higher than larger volumes. Being Lean went hand in hand with staying in business.  Their added efficiency has allowed V-Tron to take on more complex jobs even with their smaller staff.

Golan meets with companies who are considering "doing Lean" and readily recommend training with MassMEP. He explains that V-Tron is a witness to what MassMEP and Lean can do, acknowledging that if your businesses (and your state) are efficient, you get more revenue. He does not understand why the government does not do more to invest in organizations like MassMEP who are helping businesses stay afloat when all will benefit?  If the state is making cuts why are they cutting the people who are helping businesses be better?

"Working with MassMEP was very valuable in helping our company survive a period in our business where cutting costs not only helped with our bottom line but defined work place efficiency for our employees," stated Gobin. "It certainly has allowed our company a more comfortable operating cost zone at a time when our business must change due to world competition. The MEP personnel we worked with were extremely understanding and helpful. We continue to appreciate their dedication to helping us redefine our company and its objectives."

Thirty- nine years ago, Doug Gobin, his partner Joseph Rheaume, and a hand full of employees started V-Tron Electronics Corporation in South Attleboro, Massachusetts.  Today, the company specializes in contract assembly and manufactures custom cable systems, harnessing, and connector moldings.

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