Founded in the mid-1960s, SEPCO-Erie has progressed from a one-man, one-car garage operation focusing strictly on electronics production to a 17,000-square-foot, air-conditioned facility that primarily works with CNC machining and ultra-modern tube cutting techniques to provide various components for local industrial corporations, as well as multiple tube mills nationwide.
Meeting customer demands and exceeding customer expectations for quality and delivery are paramount at SEPCO. With these goals in mind, the company recently invested in a new Italian-made machine, known to employees and customers as ‘Sophia”. In addition to positioning the company to better serve existing customers, Sophia’s high-speed capabilities would enable the company to seize new market opportunities and customers particularly for small batch jobs. However, set-up times approaching 3 hours prevented the company from achieving its goals. The equipment capacity was underutilized and the return on its new asset was not where it needed to be.
To address the situation, SEPCO’s President and Owner, Dan Ignasiak, knew he needed to engage a small team in an improvement and Coaching Kata event. Dan had visited a manufacturer located in Michigan, a world-class machining company that SEPCO benchmarks from, who implemented Kata with impressive results. Dan turned to the NWIRC who offers Kata training and implementation assistance by a certified coach. With the assistance of the NWIRC, the SEPCO team set the overall challenge – a perfect set up in 30 minutes.
NWIRC’s Tom Weible, TWI Certified in kata, coached SEPCO’s core team to apply improvement kata working towards their overall challenge. Team members participated as learners in repetitive coaching sessions designed to help master the improvement kata to 1) assess current conditions based on data, 2) establish target conditions that are in alignment with the challenge; 3) identify and evaluate obstacles; 4) select an improvement path, 5) establish expectations; 6) implement experiments, 6) measure results, and 7) learn from the experiences.
The team’s improvement experiments were centered around their current condition of equipment set-up time at nearly three-hours- with an improved time targeted for each new experiment and the review of outcomes. Through multiple rounds of learning, experiments, and short coaching sessions, the employees were the drivers of this process improvement with measurable results.
As a result of this project, SEPCO increased machine capacity by improving set-up time from 2.75 hours to 56 minutes and they plan to continue kata experiments to reduce even further- positioning them for an estimated $100K in increased sales from new customers over the next twelve months and an estimated $150K in retained sales as existing customer satisfaction improves. The company also expects to realize a cost savings of $35K over the next year.
Team lead and SEPCO Maintenance Manager, Paul Brown, said “before learning kata, we often used a shotgun approach to solving problems and never really knew what solved the issue or the actual impact of the change or improvement. Now we work as a team to determine the next target condition towards the goal. Documentation is key to keep track of things we’ve tried and the results, so we don’t try the same thing again. It’s one step at a time, and having a coach helped keep us on target and motivated.”
Dan said improvement kata enhances their company culture and supports their continuous improvement initiatives, specifically with 2 second lean.. “We first heard about kata during a tour of a world-class company that we benchmark against, but had no idea how to pursue this new (to us) problem-solving method,” he said. “NWIRC’s Tom Weible coached us through our first kata challenge with amazing results that are proving to be long-lasting. We now use kata as the basis for all our improvement efforts.”