When the tech bubble burst in the fall of 2001, RBB Systems faced urgent, intense financial challenges. Virtually overnight, demand from its largest customer plunged 90 percent. Bruce Hendrick was asked to step in as president to help the company out of a dire situation.

Committed, but not without apprehension, Hendrick accepted the challenge and bought in to the company. Hendrick quickly stabilized the situation by reassuring creditors through a focus on quality and service to customers. And it worked — RBB slowly but steadily recovered its financial footing, attracting new customers and serving the existing base well.

However, by 2005, RBB’s growth had begun to stall and Hendrick, now president and CEO, concluded that the company’s all-inclusive business model may be the culprit.

In the summer of 2007, Hendrick made a bold decision: RBB would henceforth focus exclusively on small batches of custom electronic assemblies and the company would no longer provide the systems integration and design services it was founded on.

Hendrick committed RBB to transform itself from a contract manufacturing “one-stop shop” into a laser-focused offering that satisfied a very specific market need. As many entrepreneurs attest, the decision to claim a niche is easy. The tough part is delivering on that vision. Dramatic changes were required to optimize the operation around small batches and Hendrick brought in experts in lean manufacturing techniques to help in the effort.

In short order, costs came down, capacity was uncovered, responsiveness was improved and competitiveness jumped. Today, RBB’s uniqueness is clear and the company’s boldness has paid off.

How to reach: RBB Systems, (330) 567-2906 or www.rbbsystems.com

Published in Akron/Canton

Quality Electrodynamics has a passion to produce high-quality products at the lowest possible cost. The global developer, manufacturer and supplier of advanced medical equipment electronics achieves that passion through the use of lean (flow) manufacturing techniques, which the company calls its “ideal state” goal.

With the guidance of president and CEO, Hiroyuki Fujita, Quality Electrodynamics has established ways to create a path toward the company’s “ideal state” goal. The company has made it mandatory that every process in operations must flow continuously from start to finish, new obstacles will be resolved one-by-one, workflow will be harmonized and simplified, and the culture will be one of continuous improvement, all while developing a flexible, highly skilled workforce.

Recently, QED implemented the use of visual signals in key areas to replace traditional production push processes. The company has also designed and implemented several single-piece flow lines to ensure it meets customer demand for products. In addition, it also introduced the concept of visual management and 5S throughout its production area. These changes are only the start of the company’s long-term journey toward its “ideal state.”

While QED is very early in its journey, the company has already realized improvements in productivity and eliminated significant waste through the implementation of flow techniques in key production areas. Becoming operationally more productive as its business continues to grow will help ensure that it is in a better position to compete in a global market.

How to reach: Quality Electrodynamics, (440) 638-5106 or www.qualedyn.com

Published in Akron/Canton

Munich, Germany-based H.C. Starck Inc., led by executive CEO Andreas Meier, continues its development as a global company, producing manufactured goods that benefit the entire world economy, many of which are made at the company’s Euclid, Ohio, facility, which houses the fabricated products business unit, led by CEO Dmitry Shashkov.

H.C. Starck’s leaders are well aware that companies cannot get complacent in today’s business environment. Continual change and improvement, rapid adaptation and sustainability are essential factors in determining whether a business can survive.

With that in mind, H.C. Starck spent much of the previous year expanding its lean manufacturing principles throughout the entire corporation, training a number of key employees as Six Sigma green belts — which allows those employees to directly assist Six Sigma black belts on projects.

The goal for the corporation during 2012 was to add two new green belts at each site around the world. In addition to new green belt certifications, selected supervisors and engineers achieved black belt certification.

The increased focus on Six Sigma and lean manufacturing principles helped the company improve its production efficiency, product quality and improve its on-time delivery percentages. As a result, H.C. Starck has become a tier one supplier to many international corporations.

The company continues to conduct Six Sigma projects on a regular basis, aimed at continuing to improve all aspects of the business. Once the improvements have been determined, the company’s leadership communicates them to everyone through a variety of means, including Six Sigma project displays, which outlines the process and expected results of a given project.

How to reach: H.C. Starck Inc., (216) 692-3990 or www.hcstarck.com

Published in Akron/Canton

The R.W. Beckett Corp., based in North Ridgeville and led by president and CEO Kevin Beckett, is built on a platform of three core values: integrity, excellence and respect for the individual.

The Beckett Corp. works to nurture relationships with both employees and customers on a daily basis, and it has helped the company expand internationally — to Canada in 1990 and to China in 2007, producing electronic assemblies for the HVAC industry, and manufacturing and marketing oil burner equipment for the growing HVAC Asian market.

As it has expanded, Beckett Corp. has embraced new technologies, transitioning its manufacturing facility from one of basic mechanical design and assembly to one that incorporates electronic design, electronic assembly of HVAC controls and distributed energy storage systems.

The transition of the manufacturing facility into the area of electronic assembly has provided the manufacturing associates the ability to learn new technology skills that can be incorporated into their daily work, increasing their value to the company. The manufacturing associates have embraced additional training and have undergone a math skills review and basic electronics training.

The success of the electronic design and electronic assembly capabilities has allowed Beckett Corp. to enter the advanced energy space in Northeast Ohio.

In December 2009, Beckett Corp. was awarded a $1 million Ohio Third Frontier Advanced Energy matching grant to develop a distributed energy storage system that incorporates a grid-tied bidirectional inverter and lithium-ion batteries for helping electric utilities cope with peak power demands.

How to reach: R.W. Beckett Corp., (440) 327-1060 or www.beckettcorp.com

Published in Akron/Canton

ArtiFlex Manufacturing LLC has a name derived from two words: artisan and flexible. They’re two words that define the essence of Artiflex’s business. “Artisan” signifies the company’s diligence when it comes to working with customers to design and build high-quality, cost-effective tools. “Flexible” indicates the company’s ability to utilize its multiple locations, many presslines and organizational DNA to meet the needs of its customers.

Led by CEO Erin Hoffmann, Artiflex has been building on these core competencies to better recognize the way in which the company can be useful to the niche vehicle market. ArtiFlex has expanded into current production model work, including work involving the electric version of the Ford Focus and the new Cadillac ELR, to be launched in 2014.

The new projects have meant the implementation of new standards at ArtiFlex, which has entailed a paradigm shift in the culture of the manufacturing personnel and the professional staff, as well as a retooling of the company’s production systems.

In order to begin the paradigm shift, the leadership team selected an area of the business that it felt would generate the highest results in the shortest amount of time, ultimately settling on the project for the Ford Focus electric car.

Faced with a complicated production process, the manufacturing leadership team met daily on the production floor with employees to identify bottlenecks and obstacles to quality, delivery and cost-effectiveness. Employees were empowered to attend meetings and propose resolutions to problems. Their experience and knowledge was a key to the project’s success.

How to reach: ArtiFlex Manufacturing LLC, (330) 262-2015 or www.artiflexmfg.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:37

Soaring to new heights

Voss Industries Inc. is a vertically integrated, employee-owned business composed of three divisions: Clamp Technology, which serves the industrial marketplace; Voss Aerospace, which serves manufacturers of airframes, jet engines and space vehicles; and Voss Technologies, which serves high-tech markets such as hydrogen fuel cells, medical technology and telecommunications.

Key product lines include extensive prototype and OEM components, sheet metal and machined V-retainer couplings and mated flanges, band clamps, strap assemblies, sheet metal ducting, bulge-formed shapes, custom-welded fabrications and specialty fasteners.

In order to effect continuous improvement in its manufacturing processes, Voss, led by CEO Daniel W. Sedor Sr., has developed benchmarks for performance that specify relative goals and expectations. Through this process, the company has gained a better understanding of its capabilities and has created a focus for training programs to meet the needs of its employees and customers.

The focus on continuous improvement in virtually all of its processes utilizing lean manufacturing concepts has provided advantages to Voss beyond the shop floor. Through the implementation of lean principles in every aspect of its business, the company consistently exceeds its customers’ expectations by providing added value to its offerings.

In the last few years, Voss employees have traveled extensively in North and South America, Europe and Asia to meet with companies and discuss their requirements and needs. These visits have enabled the company to develop stronger relationships with distant customers. Voss plans to continue these travels with cross-functional employee groups representing its engineering, development, manufacturing, quality and sales disciplines.

How to reach: Voss Industries Inc., (216) 771-7655 or www.vossind.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:34

Growth and vitality in its mix

Vita-Mix Corporation, privately owned and operated by the Barnard family since 1921, manufactures and markets blending and mixing products to the public and to the restaurant-hospitality industry. During the past four years, Vitamix, led by President and CEO Jodi Berg, has experienced tremendous growth and demand, with production volumes quadrupling. Not only has the volume increased, but the number and types of customers that Vitamix serves has grown as well.

Growing quickly over a short period can create challenges for manufacturing procedures. Fortunately, Vitamix has been able to turn these challenges into opportunities to improve operational capabilities. Vitamix first attempted to implement a lean manufacturing methodology in 2006, only to find that when business activities ramped up, it was unable to sustain the initiative.

Attempts to implement lean methods continued through 2011, when Vitamix recognized the need for a more formal lean and continuous improvement structure to ensure lasting improvements.

In addition to the lean tactics, there are currently three large-scale projects under way in the areas of standardized work, 6S and managing for daily improvement, which have had a positive impact on safety, quality and daily production rates. In addition, eight kaizen events have been completed; these events have focused on quality improvement, production line layout and a warehouse Kanban program. Each of these projects has been completed by cross-functional teams, with production, quality and warehouse personnel playing key roles in the efforts.

Vitamix plans to stay on the same path to continue improving its processes and achieve its lean manufacturing goals.

How to reach: Vita-Mix Corporation, (800) 848-2649 or www.vitamix.com


Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:30

Sustainable growth

Lean and green is the evolution of manufacturing, according to employees at Visual Marking Systems. The Twinsburg-based company, which provides custom graphic design services, has spent years perfecting the lean piece, investing in a “pure lean” for nearly a decade. So it makes sense that it’s now ramping up its focus on the green aspect, undergoing a 12-month sustainability initiative to implement “green” into the company’s existing lean systems and further evolve its lean enterprise by eliminating waste and minimizing its carbon footprint.

Applying a dual focus on lean and green, VMS launched several new waste elimination projects, including a closed-loop recycling program. Through the program, VMS has not only reduced its environmental footprint by diverting 15 tons of material from landfills, it has converted this waste into a sustainable resource for new products.

In addition to adopting a program to enhance its lean enterprise, in March 2011, VMS took steps to adopt the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership — a nonprofit organization focused on promoting corporate sustainability — into its business. Under the leadership of CEO Dolf Kahle, VMS was the first company in Northern Ohio to achieve SGP certification as a Sustainable Green Printer and second in the state. The certification forces VMS to undergo a stringent third-party audit and to disclose sustainable improvements to stakeholders. VMS was recognized with the 2012 Summit of Sustainability Award in the Small Business Category for its waste-reduction practices and sustainability commitment.

How to reach: Visual Marking Systems Inc., (330) 425-7100 or www.vmsinc.com

Published in Akron/Canton
Thursday, 31 January 2013 19:26

No assembly required

In a fast-changing, global business environment, Superior Products LLC is among the growing number of manufacturing businesses looking to become leaner, faster and more efficient for customers.

Under the leadership of President Don Mottinger, the manufacturer and provider of logistics services has continued evolve in order to compete with low-cost competition from overseas. This means delivering customers more service with less cost. Through lean manufacturing practices, Superior Products has been able reduce its manpower needs by 46 percent over a decade, minimize waste and increase efficiency in operations.

Superior Products has implemented a number of initiatives to drive lean operations. One is using barcoding to track parts and automate data entry instead of doing it manually. This has saved employees time and increased operational accuracy to more than 99 percent by reducing errors in the manufacturing process.

Another lean practice that saves waste and cost for the company is its Durr EcoClean parts cleaning system. Developing and implementing the new system has helped Superior Products reduce water usage by 98.5 percent by increasing the quality and consistency in its cleaning process.

Automation and new technology are also saving time and money for the company’s customers. Superior Products stores all the operational data of customers on an internal intranet for employees to access remotely, so the company can stay responsive to more than 1,000 customers worldwide. The company has also developed a customer management system, which customers can use to efficiently manage inventory, logistics and orders around the clock.

How to reach: Superior Products LLC, (216) 651-9400 or www.superiorprod.com

Published in Akron/Canton

Finalist -- Distribution & Manufacturing

Founded in a garage in 1986 by former IBM executive Chuck Sheldon, Network Hardware Resale LLC grew from the ground up with a focus on selling the best pre-owned networking equipment at faster response times and with lower failure rates than original equipment manufacturers. By 1996 the company, a reseller of pre-owned network equipment and life cycle solutions, was a pioneer in the secondary market.

In keeping with the legacy started more than 25 years ago, Michael Sheldon, the company’s current president and CEO, has expanded and evolved the business, which has the largest inventory of pre-owned networking equipment.

Helping to remove the stigma and legitimize the value of the secondary market, Sheldon made investments in technology and machinery to ensure customers get rigorously tested equipment that delivers immediate value right out of the box.

During the height of the 2008 recession, IT departments were looking to keep costs low without sacrificing the quality and resilience of their networks. Sheldon saw an opportunity for growth, and, as many businesses were contracting, he was able to grow revenue by 20 percent between 2008 and 2010. He also expanded operations by opening an office in London and grew its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore to include a new 19,000-square-foot facility.

In 2011, the company relocated to a 99,000 squarefoot headquarters site, tripling its inventory capacity and doubling the size of its original home base in Santa Barbara. The company also achieved its strongest sales in its history.

Looking ahead, Sheldon plans to expand the business and its core expertise by executing strategic partnerships with vendors while continuing to deliver quality products to global customers.

How to reach: Network Hardware Resale LLC, www.networkhardware.com

Published in Los Angeles