Switch Maker Goes Lean To Offset Downturn

After seeing sales drop due to the economic downturn, Inertia Switch opted to implement a Lean strategy and keep its business growing.

NEWBURGH, N.Y. (AP) -- What’s in a box? Three generations of superior product manufactured by Rockland County Switch Maker.

Surrounded by 6 acres of manicured property (complete with a stream, vegetable garden and a chicken sanctuary) stands a third generation switch manufacturer producing specialized switches for the U.S. military as well as a home grown “nature preserve” for local camps and schools.

Inertia Switch, Inc., located in Rockland County’s town of Orangeburg, is a full-service design, engineering, and manufacturing firm founded in 1950.  With its current staff of 18, Inertia specializes in acceleration switches of all kinds in addition to limit switches, prostheses, incandescent digital displays, and many other standardized and unique products.

“For over fifty years, customers in every demanding field (military, aviation, space, marine, to name a few) have turned to us with exacting requirements for critical applications in often harsh environments.” states Brian DiGirolamo, Inertia Switch COO  and Chief Engineer. 

The company was taken over in 1958 by DiGirolamo’s grandfather.  He began grooming the young DiGirolamo over 30 years ago and turned the company over to the young entrepreneur after Brian received both his Mechanical Engineering BS and Advanced Physics BS degrees from Clarkson University, Potsdam in 1992.

In 2008, Inertia was awarded AS9100 B and ISO 9001:2000 Certifications from aerospace’s international giant, TUV-SUD America Inc. Management Service Division. This acknowledgement increased demand for Inertia’s products.

As with most other businesses, Inertia felt the recent economic downturn and sales started to decline.  “During this time period,” states DiGirolamo, “it seemed prudent to train my staff and apply lean manufacturing efficiencies to meet customer demand when business picked up again.”  DiGirolamo called upon HVTDC’s Engineer Phil vanOss.  “Phil was instrumental in designing a Lean implementation approach for us that addressed our machining, assembly and administrative areas.”

As part of the endeavor, a job scheduling board was designed for the machining area that enabled them to build in smaller batches avoiding build up of unnecessary components.  A workplace organization methodology was implemented in the tooling area that focused on “5S” which includes sorting, straightening, shining, standardizing and sustaining.

FIFO (first in, first out) lanes were set up in the assembly area to facilitate smoother product flow of smaller batches of products.  Product flow became very visual and the smaller runs helped to significantly reduce inventories and enable Inertia Switch to be more responsive to customer demands.

VanOss acted as Lean Project Manager working on a specific missile safety switch that Inertia has spent the last six years developing.  “Phil managed every aspect of this development from engineering to machining.  He mapped out a six month plan to meet delivery demands since it had to be built twice as fast.”  DiGirolamo stated.

Back in 2009, on-time delivery was at 85 percent.  Inertia is proud to report that on time delivery was 91 percent during the first half of 2010 and will be 96 percent by the end of this year.  There has been a 50 percent decrease in inventory and a 25 percent decrease in required floor space within the first year in which the Lean implementation was introduced.  The fall out/scrap rate improved from 1 percent in 2009 to 0.1 percent year to date 2010.

"Your either growing or going out of business,” states DiGirolamo, “in order to grow these days you must be smarter.” 

Hudson Valley Technology Development Center, Inc. (HVTDC) is a non-profit organization that provides hands-on business support services to small and mid-size manufacturers and early stage technology companies. For more information, visit www.hvtdc.org.

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