By Eileen Dallabrida
Delmaco Manufacturing Inc. makes industrial strength reels, essentially coiled spring steel lengths housed inside a round cup with a cable wrapped around it, much like a fishing line and reel.
Commercial applications include static discharge grounding reels used to bond aircraft with support fueling equipment. Specialized reels also ground defense missiles during the manufacturing process and keep elevator doors closed between floors, among other uses.
Located in Georgetown, Delmaco is a privately held corporation, founded in 1983. Delmaco is an affiliate of John Evans’ Sons of Lansdale, Pa., established in 1850, the oldest spring maker in the United States.
In Delaware, Delmaco had been housed in the same building for 25 years without rethinking the space.
“Every time we added a new piece of equipment or a new line, we just sort of fit it in,” says Mike Bender, facilities manager.
That changed in 2010 when a howling blizzard took the building down to the ground. For 10 months, the company operated out of temporary quarters before moving into a reconstructed plant with a warehouse annex.
Starting fresh gave Delmaco an opportunity to reposition equipment in a new, more efficient layout.
“We wanted to take our organization to the next level,” Bender says. “So when we moved in we made a deliberate and planned effort to set up a configuration that was logical and effective.”
Both management and workers were impressed with the positive impact. To keep the momentum going, Bender attended a workshop on the principles of lean manufacturing presented by the Delaware Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
DEMEP, as part of Delaware Technical Community College, is devoted to helping Delaware’s manufacturers and small businesses. While DEMEP is housed at the Stanton Campus, services are available on a state-wide basis. DEMEP is accredited by the National Institute for Standards and Technology.
“I was inspired and excited by the opportunity to be even more efficient,” he recalls. “We had made improvements but there was still a lot more to learn.”
Like many businesses, Delmaco has been challenged by a protracted soft economy. Frank Davey, co-owner of Delmaco, says working with DEMEP is an investment in the future.
“When the economy does improve, we have the capability to ramp up 50-75 percent in a week or two because of all the new efficiencies we have put in place,” he says.
One significant improvement is in the production of static discharge reels. Instead of producing reels in batches, work now flows in a continuous line, a process that has reduced production time by 25 percent.
“We were picking up the parts 10 times as we put them together,” Davey says. “The number of times we handle a part has now been cut in half.”
Delmaco obtained a grant from the Delaware Economic Development Office to train all 12 employees in the plant in 5-S techniques.
Originally developed in Japan, 5-S focuses on effective organization and standardized procedures to simplify the work environment, reduce waste and activities that don’t add value to the bottom line, while increasing quality efficiency and safety. The 5-S principles translate to: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.
DEMEP field agents meticulously mapped steps taken by workers during the manufacturing process to identify opportunities to squeeze wasted movement out of the value stream. They also looked for ways to make the workflow more intuitive by translating the information stored in individual workers’ brains into standardized work, visual controls, and signage everyone could understand.
“Workers were operating on tribal knowledge,” says Jim Jones, field agent. “There were no visuals to tell people how to do something or where to place something.”
Visual guides are helpful, but they need not be expensive or complicated. Now, there are stripes on the floor delineating safe walkways. Directional arrows take the guesswork out of which way to turn. Shipping lanes are marked to show workers where finished products should go.
Arbors—the parts at the center of spring reels—are separated by size and stored in clearly labeled bins.
“That has virtually eliminated those rare times in which someone would use the wrong arbor,” Bender says.
Hand tools are stowed on pegboards at each individual work station, with the shape of each tool clearly outlined. No more wasted time trying to figure out where to find the pliers.
“At the end of the day, you can clearly see if the pliers aren’t put back on the board,” Jones says.
To more efficiently manage inventory, stock is arranged to make the biggest sellers the most accessible, saving steps when merchandise is pulled for shipping. Under the new system, infrequently ordered products are stored in the annex and the most-requested products are in the main building, cutting the time needed to retrieve them by 50 percent.
“Slow-moving items were taking up quality space,” Jones recalls. “You want your fastest-moving items to have that prime real estate.”
Additional space for racking was created by selling off a bulky punch press machine that was only used four or five times a year.
“We put what we had learned about innovation into practice. We could use another machine to do those jobs, so the equipment was unnecessary,” Bender says.
In the past, cutting stainless steel cable and attaching a crimp-end fitting was a two-person job. Now, one person seamlessly performs both tasks, eliminating the time involved in moving the piece and handing it off to another worker. The result is a 30-percent savings in labor.
Bender points to other marked improvements in productivity. For example, Delmaco fulfilled a 960-piece elevator reel job in May that required 39.34 hours in labor. “After DEMEP training, we ran the exact same job in July and the labor hours were 29.76,” Bender says. “This shows a significant improvement in our efficiency.”
The bottom line: a 24-percent reduction in labor. The second job was for 1,152 pieces for an elevator reel order in April, with a total of 57.12 hours in labor. Delmaco ran the order again in August and the total hours were 44.63. The savings in labor: 22 percent.
DEMEP also brought a fresh set of eyes in evaluating items that were gobbling up space without adding to the bottom line. More than 100 heavy-gauge cardboard drums were at the ready to provide storage in the warehouse. But in practice, only about 20 were ever in use at any given time. Getting rid of 80-odd drums translated to an increase in floor space of about 80 percent in that area of the plant.
Although Delmaco has reduced the time needed to complete jobs, that has not yet translated to increased sales due to difficult market conditions.
But the company has found innovative ways to put that captured time to good use. Employees are continuing to organize, taking on such tasks as managing cables, maintaining airlines and making the plant a bright and pleasant place to work. Morale is flourishing.
“It’s a great atmosphere, clean, organized and highly functional,” Bender says. “Employees have taken on a sense of ownership for their work spaces.”
Delmaco also inaugurated a fast-paced close-of-day procedure in which every worker enters the number of completed pieces into the computer and straightens up his or her workspace.
Initially, a five-minute window was designated for the task. But that wasn’t enough time to get the job done. Ten minutes would be too much.
“So we settled on eight minutes,” Bender says. “That turns out to be just right.”