NOVEMBER 2017 The FABRICATOR Industry Research Project 13
Vice President, Metcam
Years ago Jerry Ward and others on his improvement team at Metcam ran with an idea.
All parts the custom fabricator produced were cut, most required bending, and many needed hardware inserted: Why not reorganize the operation into cells, with lasers and punches
grouped next to press brakes and hardware-insertion presses?
It was an elegant idea, and throughput seemed to benefit—at first. It was a far cry from
the previous status quo, when workers churned out as much as they could, placing, retrieving, and (especially) spending time looking for components on racks throughout the plant.
The initial effort helped solve a classic case of excess work-in-process. Work flowed without spending days or weeks on racks. But eventually people started noticing cracks in the
Over the years the fabricator had purchased different press brakes with different capabilities, including different bed lengths. Hardware-insertion presses weren’t standard either;
some were manual while others were bowl-fed. Too often, operators had to venture outside
their cell to find a press brake that could do the job. Metcam’s mix
of products offered ample opportunity for assembly and packaging cells, but the company simply didn’t benefit from a multiprocess cellular layout in fabrication.
So the team regrouped and rearranged machines back to a
process-based layout. Now all the press brakes are grouped in
an arc, where operators can move to the best available machine
for the job. The hardware-insertion machines are moved where
they’re most needed. One system, for instance, sits where hardware can be inserted after parts come off the powder coat line.
Still, Metcam didn’t abandon its formal improvement effort. It
has instead doubled down, hired a Six Sigma Black Belt quality
manager, and promoted a supervisor to be a full-time improve-
ment manager. His title is “lean champion.”
The company makes time for kaizen events in the schedule,
and this includes the front office. “If the front office can’t get it
done,” Ward said, “then you’ve got to get it out there and make it today. We reorganized
customer service, production scheduling, and purchasing so that it all happens in one place,
and they’re all now talking to each other all day long.”
Large flatscreens in assembly show employees what work is coming and where it is going.
On racks are magnetic ID tags with a picture and barcode for every part, so that everyone
knows what goes where, and inventory is tracked automatically.
Ward added that since the shop implemented improvement nearly a decade ago, the
philosophy has become baked into the company culture and has helped Metcam’s competitive position. For instance, the shop has won work that would have otherwise gone to
But to make this happen requires constant action and continual change. Visit Metcam
one year and again the next, and it may look like an entirely different shop.
“After all,” Ward said, “it’s called ‘continuous’ improvement.”
THE COMPANY MAKES
TIME FOR KAIZEN EVENTS
IN THE SCHEDULE, AND
THIS INCLUDES THE FRONT
OFFICE. “IF THE FRONT
OFFICE CAN’T GET IT DONE,”
WARD SAID, “THEN YOU’VE
GOT TO GET IT OUT THERE
AND MAKE IT TODAY.”