Lean Leaders Meeting at Vibco Vibrators, September 20, 2019
“We're the Expert Vibrator Guys! We understand that you make your purchasing decisions based on value and cost. We create value by manufacturing high-quality, low maintenance industrial vibrators, construction vibrators and other vibratory equipment; offering world-class vibrator technical support and personalized service; and innovating to ensure that you have access to the best possible vibration solutions. The whole VIBCO team is committed to our VIBCO Vibrators True North — Quality, Throughput, Innovation and Same Day, Next Day.”
The New England Lean Consortium held its September 2019 Lean Leaders Meeting at VIBCO Vibrators on Friday, September 20th. VIBCO Industrial Vibrators and Construction Vibrators are mechanical devices designed to generate vibration. VIBCO manufactures air (pneumatic), AC or DC electric, hydraulic vibrators and vibratory tables. “Our vibrators are used in hundreds of industries in thousands of different ways.”
This was the first Lean Leaders Meeting held at VIBCO Vibrators. This was like going to the mountain to talk with Moses, as Karl Wadensten, President of VIBCO Vibrators is a Lean Zealot and is known nationally and internationally as one of the leading practitioners of Lean. For two years Karl hosted a daily radio program which took calls and introduced guests with the purpose of teaching Lean Techniques to the community and improve the local business climate.
For several months, Karl has been working with Shingijutsu, to help with his Lean efforts. In addition to Karl, Rudy Go of Shingijutsu was there to share his knowledge of the Toyota production system to reduce costs, and increase reliability, by improving quality, reducing inventory, and improving flow throughout a production system.
As part of the company presentation, Karl talked about his experiences with Shingijutsu, his expansion plans for VIBCO, and Rudy’s book, “Kaizen Forever”. Karl had several extra copies of the book which he passed out to the attendees, and which were later signed by Rudy Go.
One of the key things that Rudy has worked with Karl on is the Barashi Diagram. A Barashi diagram helps to create a standard work procedure for assembly operations. It is ultimately a fishbone diagram that will give a complete, perspicuous understanding of all the parts included in the assembly along with all the steps and sub-assembly procedures.
After the company presentation, two groups went on a plant tour of the facility. Some things that stood out on the tour were the extensive labeling of racks, shelves, areas, bins, and supplies as well as the numerous visuals throughout the plant. There were many more product specific assembly cells since the last time that I was there. In addition, there were several more CNC machining cells, where an operator runs two CNC machining centers.
The first stop for our tour group was in the machine shop, where Karl explained the complexity of machining thousands of parts. Currently they are scheduling by machine but are working towards a total Kanban system. Karl’s expansion plans call for an addition to the building and the taking down of the wall between the machine shop and the assembly areas.
Our second stop was at the Shipping Station, where the operator Chris, showed us his color coded system for knowing the day on which the shipment was to go out. This system helps VIBCO maintain its “Same Day, Next Day” policy. An order is received on one day and is shipped the same day or the next day.
Our next stop was at the assembly cell, for the rotors and stators of the Big Bertha Vibrator, where we got a explanation of the single person assembly cell. This cell feeds the Big Bertha cell.
The Big Bertha Vibrator can be manufactured in any one of three sizes, on a random basis. The color coded pipes present the three different size bearings for each of the three different sizes.
On the tour, we saw two very unique to VIBCO, items. The first was a card showing the strengths of each of the workers in that area. Ramon’s chief strength is “Restorative”, people exceptionally talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
The five main descriptors at VIBCO are:
Over 65% of the workers at VIBCO are Achievers.
The second unique item is the Flex Flag. An operator in a cell can raise the flag when they start to fall behind and could use some extra help with the work load. Workloads change quite frequently as VIBCO gets many “Rush” orders and emergency orders when the customer’s equipment goes down. All of the workers are cross trained for many areas. Whoever is available will go over and help the cell that needs help.
VIBCO is unique is many ways. They have applied the Lean principles to their business practices as well, starting with the telephones. There is actually a real person, Erik Foss, who answers the phone. Within five seconds, Erik can connect the caller to the respective decision maker, based on the question of the caller, as all the decision makers wear headsets wherever they go in the plant, and they can take a call at any time.
Erik also does some data mining of the caller to find out some information on the company, such as, whether they are a single site company or a multi site company, who the key contact is at each location and all their contact information. Within a few minutes there is a new contact in their data base.
Similarly, the Sales Department is set up to get a customer a quote, complete with a drawing or drawings of the item within a minute or two. This is accomplished with a three screen setup and software that makes all the customer information and the product information available at the touch of an icon.
At the end of the Plant Tour, there was a spirited and lengthy Plus/Delta feedback session. Karl, Rudy, and the VIBCO Team gave us so much information that there were a lot of questions and a lot of information to be discussed. It was tough to offer improving ideas to a company that is well down the road in Lean. But, the attendees were able to come up with a few.
There are many reasons why Karl is such a Lean Zealot. Primarily, he sees the results first hand. He has an insatiable thirst for knowledge, he reads a lot of books on the subject, and has taken many trips to Japan to learn about Lean and TPS from the source. He also goes to conferences where he helps to train and develop others. VIBCO is a great place to work with cutting edge lean manufacturing techniques.
Finally, it is always a pleasure to visit a family owned business where you can sometimes find children and/or pets in the office areas. VIBCO is no different. Karl's family has five pet dogs which are brought into work. There is a cage for them to sleep in his office and Karl is currently building a grassy fenced in area for them. This Lean Leaders Meeting will go down as one of the most memorable of Lean Leader Meetings, due to the huge amount of information, the best practices that were taught and experiences that were shared.