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Successful Implementations in Lean

Alexander Machine and Tool – Continues on Their Quest to Give Customers Their Best

By Karen Myhaver, Program Support Coordinator, MassMEP 

Founded in 1969 by Stanley Stedman, the Alexander Machine and Tool (AM&T) of that time was powered by a milling machine, a turning center and Stedman’s desire to provide quality products to satisfied customers., the Woburn, Massachusetts’ company is run by Stedman’s daughter, Tammy Soper, who literally grew up with the business gaining hands-on experience at AM&T while still a student and later working her way up through quality and management positions.  As AM & T’s President, Soper has focused her attention on growing new markets and working closely with clients to develop unique and creative solutions. Continuous improvement activities and Lean manufacturing concepts have figured prominently in the company’s increased sales and capabilities. All the while, quality and customer satisfaction remain a priority.

AM&T employs 30 people, many who are long-time team members with years of experience in engineering and machining. For more than three decades, this award winning and debt free company has utilized their advanced expertise to create products that can be manufactured efficiently and cost effectively. AM&T are known for quick turn-around on production and prototypes as well as for their ability to machine all types of metals and materials. Machining intricate parts for defense, semiconductor, medical, commercial and aerospace use is their specialty.

General Dynamics Supply Chain

In 2003, after determining that creating long-term relationships with their suppliers was critical to their success, General Dynamics began working with the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) to develop a supply chain program. 
The goal of the program, sponsored by General Dynamics C4 Systems, focused on developing long-term relationships with a group of quality suppliers to enhance supplier skill sets in areas of efficiency and innovation through a continuous improvement lens.
The participating suppliers were taught to utilize Lean tools and techniques and would then become more efficient which in turn would help General Dynamics meet their goals. Involving suppliers in true partnerships allows everyone to enjoy positive results by reducing cycle time and costs and developing continuous improvement practices. For the program, General Dynamics invited suppliers who had the desire, commitment and understanding that would be necessary for success.

In Spring of 2009, when General Dynamics invited them to participate in the program, AM&T had already been working on some Lean implementation, but recognized that additional continuous improvement strategies could  certainly be helpful.  MassMEP project manager, Rick Bowie started working with teams of Alexander employees to analyze company processes and see where improvements could be made.
Under Bowie’s guidance, the teams used Value Stream Mapping techniques to follow processes from start to finish and identify wastes in different areas of the facility; then 5s and other Kaizen activities were used to remove the wastes and make things more efficient.

In Shipping and Receiving they focused on departmental organization. The floor layout was redesigned to improve and streamline the flow of people and materials through the area.  A new position was created and standardized work procedures were instrumental in expediting the training of the new hire.

In the Chassis Assembly area, chassis were being produced in batches of 120 units. By studying the process and utilizing Kaizen activities to facilitate improvements, the team recognized the benefits of moving to smaller batches and was eventually able to reduce production to single piece flow. This change has resulted in quantifiable productivity improvements. “The best thing was that Rick worked with our employees and empowered them to come up with the ideas and make the changes to help their processes work more efficiently,” says Soper. “Shipping and Receiving and Assembly employees became very proactive from the lessons they learned from MassMEP. They have taken ownership and responsibility which is wonderful!”
The projects that were done within their facility will help Alexander Machine and Tool be more efficient suppliers and provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace with greater agility and increased velocity in the supply chain. Obviously, the improvements they realized in Shipping and Receiving and Chassis Assembly have had positive impacts on both productivity and delivery and the resulting savings can now be passed on to General Dynamics and their other customers.

“We also got great benefit from an event Rick facilitated with employees from both AM&T and General Dynamics,” said Soper.  “It was unique in that it wasn’t’t really a Lean training but more of a give and take -brainstorming session about how we deal with the design for manufacture (DFM) process.”

As part of their DFM procedure, AM&T has their engineers review customer designs and inform them of any potential design changes and resulting cost saving that they discover. This information is included with the customer’s request for quote (RFQ). 

“We wanted to be able to work in more of a partnership with them by offering engineering support so that both companies would win,” adds Soper.  “We needed to share ideas about how to structure our partnership for when these situations arise. Rick facilitated the event to try to create a bridge between AM&T and General Dynamics for this purpose. He kept things moving and focused so we could reach consensus and develop a procedure. It is indeed more of a partnership now. The net result was improved communication, a standardized data exchange form, and the elimination of some redundancy in engineering efforts.”

On one particular chassis design AM&T engineers were able to identify cost savings which certainly validates the importance and value of this effort for everyone involved.
Formalizing the process by which Alexander Machine and Tool and General Dynamics work together on Design for Manufacture improvements was very significant and definitely strengthened our partnership.,” said Soper. “The event created a synergy of innovative thinking that was achieved by going “outside of the box.” MassMEP helped keep us on track and engaged throughout the process.”

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