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From the Desk of Jack Healy

A Template for Growth for Manufacturing Companies

Jack Healy – The voice of manufacturing in Massachusetts
Jack Healy –
A Voice for Manufacturing in Massachusetts

By Jack Healy, President and CEO, MassMEP
[email protected]

The slow recovery of the state’s manufacturing shipments from the debilitating recession of 2008-2009 is a reflection of what has been lost by the 12% of manufacturing enterprises that closed over the post recession years. The good news is that today’s slow rebound does not reflect most of the remaining manufacturing community that continues to innovate and grow in our state.

FLEXcon (Spencer, MA), a global manufacturer of pressure-sensitive film and adhesive products for a wide range of companies, is a good example of one such innovative growth firm. FLEXcon was established in 1956 as a two-person shop; it has since grown to over 1000 employees worldwide with sales of over $300 million.

In 2001, Neil McDonough, President and CEO of FLEXcon, attended an executive briefing of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM). AIM partnered with MassMEP to introduce the principles and benefits of Lean manufacturing to the manufacturing community across the state. Subsequently, Neil contracted MassMEP to introduce and train the entire FLEXcon organization in Lean at their Spencer location. Years later, it was no surprise to find that Neil is still providing the leadership necessary to sustain Lean.

Neil McDonough –
President and CEO of FLEXcon

"Continuous improvement is in our blood," said McDonough. "Our people are never satisfied. They constantly see room for improvement, and that’s a good thing at FLEXcon. Part of our culture is to always look at how we can do better, in big things and in little things."

Howie Letendre, Director of FLEXcon’s Finishing Technologies, stated, "Kaizen is the cornerstone of FLEXcon’s Lean manufacturing process, and we have found that success is most likely when we have the right internal experts on the team. Also, the members of a kaizen team must know that their findings and recommendations will be acted on by management. This inspires others to get involved and take action. Through team empowerment and management commitment, we have been able to establish consistent, effective policies and procedures with strong employee engagement."

Letendre continued, "Overall, FLEXcon’s ongoing Lean manufacturing process has helped make us a more efficient and successful company with estimated savings in the millions of dollars. We continue to use Lean concepts in a range of activities, from manufacturing and shipping products to streamlining office procedures. We share our Lean experiences with our customers and suppliers and learn from them as well."

FLEXcon’s Lean
Manufacturing Achievements
• 90% Improvement in on time deliveries
• 84% Reduction in set up times
• 40% Reduction in accidents
• 35% Increase in production productivity
• 30% Reduction in overall waste

These remarks were seconded by Thomas Kubacki,  FLEXcon’s Director of Coating Technology and Production Control, who added, "Lean was not just a feel good initiative. It allowed the company to deal with the hard times experienced in 2009." 

It was the consensus of all of the FLEXcon managers we talked with that Lean manufacturing allowed the company to deal with the downturn in 2008-2009 with no layoffs. Kubacki went on to say, "Lean manufacturing allowed the people to come out of the woodwork to help.  They found that Lean Continuous Improvement process allowed them to see that the solutions were right in front of their noses. The improvements in changeover times allowed for a whole new approach to business."

Bill Sullivan, FLEXcon’s V.P. of Performance Products, summed it up:

Lean Manufacturing made us stable in a very cyclical business. Lean made us more innovative as it allowed people to regularly think outside of the box. Lean is a tangible way to get people not only to work together, but to work differently. It allows people to improve, whether their goal is to make a widget better or to work with a whole new technology.

Sullivan said that the development of FLEXcon’s Lean manufacturing processes was a contributing factor to winning an exclusive license arrangement to manufacture and market NASA’s newest polyimide aerogel. This new aerogel product is 500 times stronger than the traditional silca aerogel, and is also thinner and can be custom molded into shapes for thermal applications. MassMEP is now helping FLEXcon develop a supply chain to support their entry into the aerogel industry. The is a new industry for Massachusetts.

As stated, it is Neil McDonough’s leadership as President and CEO that enables Continuous Improvement, employee engagement, and innovative developments to support FLEXcon’s continued growth. Such leadership is ably summed up in McDonough’s concluding message to the FLEXcon community:

Books on Lean manufacturing will tell you that you do not need to make any investment, and that using your current resources more wisely through Lean thinking will provide all of the improvement that you need. We find that we want to take that thinking further, and are committed to investing in our people, in our equipment and in continuous improvement. The pace of change and improvement in our industry compels us to continually look for new ways to bring more value.

McDonough has outlined a template for growth and helps explain why FLEXcon is still growing while 50% of the manufacturers that were FLEXcon contemporaries in 2001 are no longer with us.


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