Sunday, July 08, 2001

Metal stampers manufacture new sales

Improving employees' skills, updating equipment pays off

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        Long-Stanton Manufacturing Co. still might have dies from the Civil War era, when the company was founded, but its business practices are not cut from the same mold as they were even 10 years ago.

        The Hamilton-based metal stamping company has found its groove in a competitive market through lean manufacturing methods and continuous improvement practices. At the same time, president Dan Cunningham likes to draw on the company's history for inspiration.

        He tells of the venture's founding in 1862 by John Stanton, a young metal stamper who manufactured one-penny coins, or “war tokens” that were unofficial but widely used before the United States adopted a uniform currency.

        “I get a lot of strength from John Stanton,” Mr. Cunningham said. “I can't imagine what it must have been like, starting a business during the Civil War: problem-solving, successfully dealing with shortages and lack of money.”

  Long-Stanton Manufacturing has defined its core competency: “to cut, notch, bend and weld metal on time.”
  Within the operating principles that support the company's vision, three receive the most emphasis:
  • Managing its business at the highest level of integrity.
  • Continually striving to provide the best customer service.
  • Having employees be its most important asset by encouraging their personal and professional growth.
  Long-Stanton Manufacturing is located at 9388 Sutton Place, Hamilton. The company can be reached at 874-8020.
        Long-Stanton's sixth president might love history, but his business philosophy is drawn entirely from today's best manufacturing and management practices.

        Said Mr. Cunningham: “More competition means that things have to be done differently. We've got to use every bit of brain power to survive today's white-hot competition.”

        Long-Stanton supplies stamped and precision sheet metal parts to all industries except the automotive industry. The company's parts find their way into such products as computerized point-of-sales cash drawers, service station gasoline nozzles, garage doors and air compressor tanks.

        Mr. Cunningham has helped steer Long-Stanton since joining his father-in-law's company in 1981. The older man retired 13 years ago, and four years ago another partner retired. On his own, with competition for market share growing fiercer, Mr. Cunningham decided to instill a different kind of culture into the company.

        Over the last three years, the president has worked with his employees to eliminate every activity in the plant that does not add value to its its products. He spent his vacation for each of those three years attending management courses at Harvard University, demonstrating his willingness to improve and change.

        “I've got to provide leadership,” he explained. “Our customers are demanding more value.”

        Within a culture of continuous improvement, each employee is responsible for the company's growth. And that means changing many traditional ways of doing things and accounting for individual output.

        “Everybody thinks it's a great idea until it occurs to them that it applies to them,” Mr. Cunningham said with a chuckle. “Each one eventually comes to a river they have to cross. I can't pull them across, but I can hold their hand and help them.”

        Said Roger Egnor: “Everyone gets a wrenching feeling in the gut when you talk about change. But when we understood what Dan wanted and we brought in the tools to get us there, it was easy to accept. It was hard, but we got buy-in from the entire company. We completely reorganized our whole plant last fall. It was a challenge for everyone, but everyone saw the benefits.”

        Those tools included equipment and skills. Long-Stanton invested in several large machines to speed manufacturing and increase potential.

        “Two new press lines gave us the opportunity to sell capacity; it's hard to sell something you don't already have,” Mr. Egnor explained. “We can handle $6 (million) to $12 million of new business.”

        New skills help employees set goals, track and calculate their performance, identify obstacles and analyze problems.

        “Every production employee, every day, has a goal,” Mr. Cunningham said. “Every hour they calculate their progress toward that goal. If they don't make it, we discuss why they didn't. We prioritize the reasons and solve the problems.”

        Often, a shortfall is because of factors the employee can't control, such as lack of materials or equipment failure. Sometimes a process needs to be refined. Problem analysis can sometimes result in increased productivity, such as when the company moved several machines closer together and reoriented two others to speed productivity.

        Decreased warehousing has yielded more space for production, allowing Long-Stanton to build its manufacturing capacity without requiring additional space.

        The new approach is working. Since Jan. 1, Mr. Cunningham saidLong-Stanton has increased its productivity 12.6 percent and decreased defects by 68 percent. The plant's capacity has grown 50 percent and annual sales approach $10 million. Long-Stanton ow employs 63 people, up from 45 in 1998.

        “I've been here 35 years,” Mr. Egnor said. “Sometimes when companies change, they make it so hard on employees. We chose to educate and work through our people rather than eliminate them.”


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