Making precision parts like brake assemblies and fuel injector and valve bodies for the Toyotas and Cummins of the world is a sophisticated, expensive proposition. You’ve got to be up on the latest and best equipment, and you’ve got to be willing to invest in good employees--paying them well for their skills, giving them opportunities for training, and keeping the lines of communication flowing so good ideas quickly see the light of day.
Camcraft, a manufacturer of precision parts in Hanover Park, Ill., has long put a premium on communication and teamwork. Steve Olsen, vice president of operations, remembers what sold him on the company almost 20 years ago, during his first visit there. He walked into CEO Michael Bertsche’s office and saw all the company’s metrics tacked to the wall, where anyone could see them.
“I liked the fact that they were open with their results and where they were headed and how they were doing, whether it was good news or bad news,” he recalls. “This shocked me after working at places that gave the public more information than they gave their own their own employees.”
Hanover Park, Ill.
Employees: 270, non-union
Total Square Footage: 144,000
Primary Product/Market: Precision-Machined Components for Automotive Engines and Hydraulic Controls
Start-up Date: 1950
Achievements: 24% increase in productivity in the past three years; 52.7% increase in plant-level profitability in three years.
That communication became a “cadence that connects every part of the company” in 2011, when Camcraft began its lean journey. Management benchmarked several plants around the country—including U.S. Synthetic and Barnes Aerospace--collecting best practices, and then set about laying out a more ordered way of doing things.
Now, every meeting, from shop floor confabs to executive retreats, is tied into the bigger picture. Each fall Camcraft leadership drafts a sales plan for the coming year, then a capital plan where it decides where it will invest 10% of sales from the year before (much of it goes to keeping automation state-of-the-art). Next, 60 key employees from different areas of the plant meet for a fall leadership meeting, where participants hash out a business plan that is then distributed to all employees. The plan is executed at different levels through quick daily meetings-- production meetings for supervisors and huddles for operators—and weekly action plan reviews that address bigger issues.
To encourage idea-sharing, Camcraft’s 270 employees are expected to come up with and implement one continuous improvement idea per month, from a simple idea like blending in a sharp corner on a work station to coming up with a hack for an tool. “We really don’t care how complicated it is; we just want everyone involved,” says Olsen.
Employees also receive regular training. Camcraft has an in-house training center run by all-around machine guy Don Slawinski, who has 49 years of experience in the trades.
Promising new employees are fast-tracked for apprenticeships, done while they’re on the clock, that cover a panoply of shop-floor skills in 2 ½ to four years: understanding blueprints, metrology (measuring instruments), machining.
Before they can learn CNC machining, Slawinski puts the recruits through their paces on the old-warhorse mills. “Too many people get out here on the new machines and start pushing buttons and they don’t know how metal cuts, how it feels and why we have all the tooling and the angles," he says. "There are a lot of technical terms, and I’m a stickler for that."
Camcraft refined its client base about 15 years ago with customers’ demands for increasingly sophisticated components, and a push to invest in top-of-the-line automation. It’s a push that has paid off in 22.6% growth in gross profit over three years, and productivity up 24.6%, with a dream list of clients: Caterpillar, TRW, Denso, Bosch, Honda and Ford.