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  5. University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering research helps Plover, Wisconsin, company to slash lead times, expand into new markets

QRM helps Plover, Wisconsin, company to slash lead times, expand into new markets

"People want product as soon as possible. We have more customers knocking on our door saying, 'Okay, you said two weeks, but can we get it in a week?'" says Sam Crueger, manufacturing engineering manager at Pointe Precision, a machining shop located in Plover, Wisconsin.

Using quick response manufacturing (QRM) techniques developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Quick Reponse Manufacturing, Pointe Precision was able to change its operation processes and dramatically reduce unnecessary waits to fill new orders. QRM is a set of principles and methods for reducing product lead times from weeks to days, pioneered by Rajan Suri, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor emeritus of industrial and systems engineering.

Pointe Precision provides complex, high-tolerance parts mainly for the aerospace industry but also for medical devices, industrial power generation and automotive systems. With several thousand different parts it produces, the company struggled with long lead times—a common challenge for many manufacturers today. 

After an extensive analysis of product routings and machine capabilities conducted in collaboration with students and faculty at the Center for Quick Response Manufacturing, the company decided to change its factory layout. Rather than grouping lathing, machining and other processes into discrete departments, the company created several manufacturing cells, where an entire category of machine parts could be produced, from the ordering process to the finished product, in a “cell” of a few hundred square feet.

In some areas of operations, Pointe Precision was able to reduce lead time from 33 days to 13, and reduce defects by 48 percent (parts per million).

Similarly, a new “quick response office cell” brought quoting lead times down to only one or two days.

For Pointe Precision, bringing together resources in one cell area and transferring decision-making power over production issues to cell members helped to get employees actively involved in the effort to reduce lead times.

Thanks to its shorter lead times, Pointe Precision has been able to expand into new market segments and is planning to expand implementation of quick response manufacturing across the entire enterprise.

Christie Taylor