During my visit to Cincinnati, Ohio November 1st – 4th, I had the pleasure of meeting with Tony Canonaco, CEO, and Tom Rosenberg, director of Marketing, at Balluff’s North American headquarters based in Florence, Ky.
Canonaco said, "With over 50 years of sensor experience, Balluff is a leading global sensor specialist with its own line of connectivity products for every area of factory automation. Our global headquarters is based in Germany, and our North American headquarters was established in Florence, Ky., in the early 1980s. Our products include a wide variety of sensors, mechanical limit switches, rotary and linear measurement transducers, machine vision and RFID systems, and distributed modular I/O network solutions. Our products are involved in making the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) work."
As we toured the plant, I saw their sensors being used right on their own production and packaging lines, as well as for inventory control of finished goods. With IIoT's promise of total visibility, we saw a great example right on their plant floor. IO-Link technology, an advanced point-to-point connection technology, was integrated into all their automated systems providing operators and management a continuous view of the process. With faster response to workload variations, Balluff now has a much leaner operation. Lean examples were also evident in their single-piece flow work cells. Products were produced in a surprisingly small footprint with high efficiency.
Canonaco said, "Many of our internal transitions towards lean began during the recession in 2009. It was during this time, we realized that in order to better compete in the future, we needed to eliminate all types of waste and raise the level of productivity of the company. In addition to the change in their own mindset, we accelerated our new product releases that focused on automation and sensing solutions to help our customers shrink the size of their control panels, reduce their engineering time, and speed up troubleshooting on their machines. We started our journey to become "leaner" and our customers were provided with new products to help them realize performance and productivity machine enhancements as a result of the recession. Nearly a decade later, this path has proven to be a win-win for us and our customers."
An additional customer-focused effect of their lean journey is with one of their most watched metrics inside of Balluff ─ on time and in-full delivery to the customer promise date. They consistently plan to achieve greater than 97%.
When I asked if they had a problem with finding people to hire with the right skills, he responded, "Finding people with the right skills and the right mindset is always a challenge and makes all of the difference. We require production associates for manufacturing as well as engineers who work in technical sales, marketing, support and operations. We are involved with local workforce development efforts to help ourselves as well as surrounding manufacturing neighbors. Balluff is an active supporter of National Manufacturing Day to highlight the attractiveness of manufacturing as a career choice. This has proven to be very popular with local middle and high schools. We utilize co-op students from select universities and have started our own technical sales training program for recent college graduates that focuses on how to best help manufacturers apply automation in innovative ways."
“We have our own accredited laboratory and a quality management system certified according to ISO 9001:2015 to form a secure foundation for optimized added value for its customers.
"Our products increase performance, quality and productivity around the world every day. They satisfy prerequisites for meeting demands for greater performance and cost reductions on the global market. We deliver state-of-the-art solutions no matter how stringent the requirements may be."
TSS Technologies Helps Early Stage Companies Ramp Up
Our last plant visit was to TSS Technologies, located in West Chester, Ohio, where we met with CEO Marc Drapp, followed by a tour of the facility. TSS Technologies provides complex electro-mechanical assemblies and turnkey contract manufacturing solutions to the aerospace, life sciences, energy, semiconductor, solar, sports, consumer, automotive, as well as food and beverage sectors. TSS also builds automation equipment for themselves and other companies.
Drapp said, "TSS Technologies has been in business for over 65 years and is family owned and operated. We have a machining facility totaling 110,000 square feet and an assembly facility totaling 210,000 square feet. We have approximately 225 employees. We are ISO 9001:2008 and 13485:2003 certified, as well as AS9100C certified and won the GE Healthcare Excellence award."
As we toured the plant, we saw examples of many of the above products being assembled or being staged for assembly for a couple of new products coming online. Contrary to most contract manufacturers, Drapp likes to get involved with early stage companies to help them get into batch production and ramp up to full production. We saw a complete "bakery" producing shelf-stable pretzels that is an example of working with a start-up company to ramp up into full production within his facility. We each gratefully accepted two packaged pretzels and shared one when we returned to the conference room.
When I asked Drapp how the Great Recession had affected them and what they did to recover, he said, "The recession was tough on our company, especially our machine shop. We lost a lot of contract machining work to our customers that brought the work back inside their plants. On the other hand, it really allowed for us to rightsize our operation and allow for us to be more nimble in the coming years.
“We capitalized on the tough times by reorganizing our structure and tightening our manufacturing processes. This allowed us to become more lean and efficient. Ultimately allowing us to come out of the recession quicker and better able to respond to customer needs.
The recession really allowed for us to take a look at TSS and what we wanted to be. It allowed us to focus on the right customers for our business. It also allowed us to focus on the right areas for growth. From a lean perspective, we have always practiced lean manufacturing. The recession didn't really change that."
From these stories, we can see that cutting-edge technologies and unique capabilities have been the key to these companies surviving the Great Recession and now thriving. The rebuilding of manufacturing in the Cincinnati region is being helped by the innovative technologies being developed at the University of Cincinnati and the other three regional universities and colleges. The collaboration of public and private entities and far-sighted leaders will enable Cincinnati to achieve their vision of re-industrialzing Cincinnati to create jobs and prosperity.