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Paying It Towards The Future

h4 { font: bold 14px Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; color: #000; } .byline { font-style: italic; margin-bottom: 4px; } .caption { font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 11px; margin: 4px; } .sup { position: relative; bottom: 2px; font-size: smaller;" } McClarin Plastics, Hanover, PA, takes lean to the next level, integrating its supply chain, employees, and an emphasis on green benefits.

McClarin Plastics, Hanover, PA, takes lean to the next level, integrating its supply chain, employees, and an emphasis on green benefits.

McClarin Plastics, Hanover, PA, takes lean to the next level, integrating its supply chain, employees, and an emphasis on green benefits.

Roger Kipp of McClarin Plastics likens the effects of a recession to a physical illness—“much like you’d go to the doctor when you’re not feeling well, in a recession, a company needs to look at itself in the same way,” he explains. “As in, what can we do to get better?”

It’s this emphasis on well-being that spurred McClarin Plastics to first look into lean manufacturing—initially, in 2000 when an economic downturn slowed the growth the company had seen the previous four to five years. Kipp, VP of marketing and engineering for this Hanover, PA-based manufacturer, explains the proactive roots—“you can’t just hide in a corner somewhere and wait for it to go away,” he says. “That was the beginning of deciding we really needed to improve our efficiency.”

Lean Continuous Work Cells
The company is primarily a contract manufacturer of components and component assemblies, made from plastics and composite materials. One of the first steps of the “leaning” of McClarin Plastics was consolidation. Combining five facilities into three, for a total of 430,000 square feet, McClarin began to see some impressive results. Since 2000, square footage has increased by only 25 percent, while the company's sales volume has more than tripled.

Part of this, says the company, is due to what they refer to as the “Lean Continuous Work Cell” concept.

“Even though the total square footage here is less than the old facility, the way it was laid out was more conducive to a work cell concept,” says Kipp. “We put all of our production, molding, and trimming into one cell. The concept basically eliminates additional handling, gives you fewer fork drivers, and less inventory—because you’re taking the part as far as you possibly can through its manufacturing cycle in one place. Rather than performing an operation, putting it on a shelf and then taking it to another operation, you’re doing all of those operations in one area.”

Spearheaded by McClarin's Jeff Geiman, the concept also included a green element. “Jeff also included our equipment for recycling, meaning the equipment that would re-grind the material and allow us to resell it into the recycling market,” says Kipp. Geiman also came up with solutions allowing for sound enclosures to surround the equipment, adding to the clean, neat appearance to the layout of the factory floor.

Part of McClarin's production includes the manufacture of segments of wind turbines.

The Power Of Alliance
McClarin’s aggressive improvement strategies aren’t only relegated to the four walls of its facility—these reach outwards in an effort to embody what Kipp refers to as “the power of alliance.”

“Power of alliance means you can do a whole lot more if you build relationships, utilize the knowledge of others, and bring that together with yours,” explains Kipp. “I think every manufacturing company should adopt a school, meaning they’re going to financially help that program, utilize the program for interns, and have a resource for full-time employees. If you align yourselves with a school and provide speakers, tours, and financial support, you’re building a resource that’s very valuable.”

Another aspect to the power of alliance, says Kipp, is the utilization of trade organizations—an element to the business he sees as undervalued in the advent of a technology-based society. “I think people don’t think they need networking as a resource, because they can find out anything they want to know on the internet,” he explains. “Trade organizations provide the ability to speak with suppliers and competitors in a networking environment, and you’re going to be able to learn from one another. It’s important to be wise enough to realize that you can’t have the answer for everything, and that knowing where to go for those answers is every bit as valuable as having the answer yourself.”

The Relay Race
Another tool McClarin was able to utilize in its continuous improvement efforts was kaizen events. Kipp credits kaizen for the betterment of the facility’s transition point between engineering and manufacturing. “At the point of transfer, there’s always clashing,” he says. “So we looked at it and said, ‘what can we do so that it’s a relay race, and at the point where the two runners are side by side, the baton is handed off— as opposed to throwing it down, and the other person having to pick it up?’

“We decided that kaizen would be a good tool to use as a hand-off, because it brings everybody together—engineering, sales, manufacturing—and they all have to run in step together.”

McClarin Plastics' Lean Continuous Work Cell concept has managed to conserve floor space and help eliminate unnecessary material handling.

Links In The Chain
If ‘running in step’ is the idea, then McClarin has certainly attacked this concept with gusto—the company recently began coordinating a cooperative lean certification session for its employees, customers, and suppliers.

As primarily a contract manufacturer, Kipp sees McClarin’s commitment to on-time delivery as extremely critical. “If we don’t get the customer the product in time, then their lines shut down,” he says. “It’s more responsibility than just making components.” This made team efforts with suppliers an absolute must, as product defects oftentimes lead to an increase in rework and labor costs.

This effort was designed to keep each segment aligned and eliminate waste caused by ‘kinks’ in the supply chain. Product quality has improved, and the company expects to see even greater quality once the entire supply chain is fully engaged in lean, due to a reduction in defects, overspray, and scrap being sent to landfills.

The Value Of Energy
Attacking supply chain issues has also allowed McClarin to reduce its eco-footprint, as well as share new knowledge with its supplier partners. “We are anxious to use what we’ve learned about eco-responsibility through using lean principles. Our hope is to get everyone in the supply chain operating on the same page so they too can realize the benefits,” says Kipp. McClarin was able to level production activity to customer demand and, in turn, lower spikes in energy demand. The company also manages machinery starts and stops around non-energy spike times. In addition, McClarin recycles about 95 percent of materials deemed recyclable.

The cooperative lean certification sessions were conducted by MANTEC, an Industrial Resource Center for small and mid-sized manufacturers in PA. The sessions had 45 participants—20 from McClarin Plastics, and 25 from various suppliers and customers.

Manufacturing 101
Other internal measures have also been paramount to McClarin’s success. Says Kipp, “We realized that a lot of the things in lean we’d asked the employees to be involved with included a lot of measuring—in performance, and in reference to standards. We couldn’t find an outside program available, so we designed and initiated a course we call ‘Manufacturing Economics.’”
Manufacturing Economics classes entail nine two-hour sessions where employees are briefed on various aspects of the business—whether it be the CEO explaining the executive side, or the financial and marketing aspects to the business.

“We cover pretty much all sides of the business, and it gives the employees a better opportunity to understand the pathway we’re all trying to follow to be more efficient,” he says.

McClarin also relies on its employees to provide feedback by way of the company's circulating “Hot List,” which encourages suggestions for new machinery, facility expansion, training opportunities, certifications, and more.

Paying It Towards The Future
Still, when McClarin sees the success of its initiatives, the most important element is what the company calls “paying it towards the future.”

McClarin re-invests 100 percent of its profits back into the company, and recently won the Governor's Workforce Development Award— PA Partners Central Regional Employer of the Year. Part of the reason for this award stems back to McClarin's aggressive approach to training and the emphasis the company places on investing in employee development. McClarin employees have participated in over 75 training courses over the past six years.

Intuitive Approach
“When you look at the whole overview, it really isn’t rocket science,” says Kipp. “It’s just a matter of being consistent and utilizing all these different kinds of methodologies to focus on one path—and that is to do things the most efficiently, with the least amount of waste. That’s what lean is about.

“Eventually, all of us prefer more organization around us; it’s less stressful. Lean certainly provides that kind of environment.”

Essentially, according to Kipp, it comes down to focusing on the costs you can control, especially in an economy where raw material prices seem to have a vice grip on numerous manufacturers. “In all aspects of the business, you have an opportunity to eliminate waste, and therefore offset some of those costs you can't control.”