MADE-OVER MAKER: Groov-Pin President and CEO Scot Jones, left, encountered resistance when he started the process of introducing lean manufacturing approaches in the company, but now he can feel the enthusiasm from employees for the new approach, including Darrel Sweet.
Groov-Pin Corp., a Smithfield-based precision manufacturer of industrial pins and threaded inserts, has put collaboration at the heart of its business model during the past few years, and the result has been almost a completely new company.
The new company is responsive, humming with creative energy, a hub for teamwork at every level. But getting there wasn’t easy.
There were people on staff, solid employees, who were unconvinced when, four years ago, Scot Jones, Groov-Pin’s president and CEO, first started talking about following in the footsteps of Toyota, an internationally recognized pioneer in lean manufacturing.
It soon became clear to all, though, that Jones was serious about adopting Japanese principles that required tossing out unnecessary items from the factory, storing necessary items efficiently for easy access, and maintaining the new order. He also began talking about kaizen, a set of business principles designed to improve communication and to reduce wasted effort.
Jones began conferring with experts in lean manufacturing, including consultants from Toyota itself. The beginning of the transition was bumpy. “There was certainly a mixed reaction,” Jones said recently. “We had people within the operation who were excited and others who were really resistant to change.”
The old ways at Groov-Pin had created lag times between orders for new products and delivery that were increasingly untenable. Getting to the point at which products could be manufactured and shipped in 20 days, as they now are at Groov-Pin, in contrast to 12 weeks a decade ago, required a completely new business model.
For the doubting Thomases on staff, a field trip to another Rhode Island manufacturer, one that had already embodied some of the Japanese principles that Jones was interested in for Groov-Pin, proved to be a turning point.
The manufacturer that the Groov-Pin employees visited was Richmond-based Vibco, where President and CEO Karl Wadensten, a professional acquaintance of Jones, showed them a factory that was clearly operating at a very high level and staffed by individuals with an enthusiasm that was impossible to miss.
“We learned a lot from the people who were working in the factory, and we were impressed by the energy and the progress that people there were making,” Jones said. “We wanted to duplicate that energy within our business.”