The Little Things Count

The Little Things Count

Being the best does not cost a lot of money.

A pre-staged job on a mobile cart and the deburring department at SPM.

Sam Hopp, president/COO of SPM Corp.


THREE YEARS AGO, SPM CORP.'S BUSIness changed dramatically, going from long production runs to doing several different jobs on a daily basis. To adapt and survive in what became a hectic manufacturing environment, the shop initiated lean manufacturing principles and techniques. In doing so, it realized that getting lean did not involve spending large amounts of cash, but hinged on the simple things.

At SPM, supplying ample tooling and pre-staging jobs slashed setup times, on average, by half. Purchasing a better quality of gloves and regulating detergent levels eliminated waste and the requirement of washing parts twice. Upgrading deburring stations and re-arranging the scrap area improved working conditions and streamlined production flow. Establishing better communication between the first and second shifts led to better organized jobs and relieved shop-floor bottlenecks.

SPM now runs jobs with volumes of 5 to 20 parts, compared with its previous job volumes of 100 or more parts, and ships 150 to 200 jobs per month. Setups are more critical for the company than they ever were.

Prior to incorporating lean tactics, machine operators would stop setup work constantly to search for Allen wrenches and to wait for the tool-holders they needed but were being used on other jobs. "We didn't have enough Allen wrenches and toolholders, it was as plain as that," says Sam Hopp, SPM president. The shop now pre-stages jobs on mobile carts that include the latest versions of part processes and programs, all necessary tooling and part materials.

Hopp says lean manufacturing means driving unproductive practices out of manufacturing processes. For example: The shop spent a little extra money on high quality gloves and eliminated the time and cost involved with having to wash parts a second time. Lower quality gloves that were previously used allowed oil from the wearer's skin to penetrate to part surfaces.

"For the deburring area, simply upgrading overhead lighting and adding ventilated tables sent productivity in that department through the roof," says Hopp. Employees no longer needed to wear respirators and they experienced less eye strain because they could see what they were doing, and work quality improved.

SPM second-shift employees start their shift at noon, so first and second shift setup guys talk to each other about which jobs are done, which need set up and which are ready to run, says Hopp. "Instead of the first shift guy rushing for the door and the second shift guy grabbing a cup of coffee before his shift starts, they are working together to solve production problems and holdups," he says. "Everyone comes to work with 'lean' in the backs of their minds, so each day they approach their jobs with the thought of doing them better and focusing on ways to eliminate waste and speed productivity."

SPM Corp. Woburn, Mass. www.spmcorporation.com
Number of employees — 34
2006 sales — $5 million
Markets served — Semiconductor, medical and defense
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