What do you do when you're performing well and have been doing so for a lot of years? What does it take to ward off complacency, to remain at the competitive edge?
These are questions T&S Brass and Bronze Works has had to address, whether the company has explicitly acknowledged them or not. Located in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, T&S Brass and Bronze Works is a manufacturer of commercial foodservice and plumbing products. Among its selling points to customers is quick turnaround on orders: 89% of them are shipped within 24 hours of receipt, and it's accomplished without carrying enormous levels of finished-goods inventory. Moreover, the plant is not simply an assembly operation. Machining, finishing and plating processes also take place at this site, which is the company's headquarters.
T&S Brass and Bronze Works has been an exceptional performer over a span of years, and it has been recognized for its accomplishments. In 2006, T&S Brass received a South Carolina Manufacturer of the Year award and then it was honored with one again in 2015. In 2014 the company's comprehensive operational excellence earned T&S Brass its initial IndustryWeek Best Plants Award, and sustained excellence has made it a repeat winner.
So how does a company maintain excellence over the long haul? If you are T&S Brass and Bronze Works, you change things up, and then you change them up again.
Evidence of ongoing change is easy to find, in ways both big and small. For instance, slightly more than a year ago, the manufacturer installed 638 solar panels on its campus. As one piece of a comprehensive sustainability plan, the solar panels will offset about 15% of total electrical usage, the company estimates.
Then there is the recently installed safety feature at the intersection of two aisles inside the factory. A slowly rotating yellow circle on the manufacturing floor issues the alert "Caution, forklift traffic," accompanied by a line drawing of a forklift. It is an image generated from an LED projector, and the fact that it rotates snags attention more immediately than a simple floor sticker might. Moreover, safety stickers on the floor wear out; this innovation does not.
Or you could discuss the manufacturer's recent upgrade to ISO 9001:2015 certification. That process pointed out a risk-management opportunity regarding knowledge capture and succession planning that is being addressed even now.
And you can't discuss change at T&S Brass without noting the new technologies and equipment the company both brings in and subjects to repeated improvement efforts.
"Technology changes every year," points out Wesley Gilbert, senior manufacturing engineer. "If you're not looking at technology every year, you're going to be left behind your competitors."
T&S Brass and Bronze Works takes attention to change even further. Associates rotate within each cell every two hours and then rotate to a different cell every quarter. What does that do for the company—and the employee? It constantly reinforces the ability of employees to perform multiple jobs with skill as well as reducing the likelihood of repetitive stress injuries.
It's paid off. "We hardly have any ergonomics injuries," says David Whitlock, assembly supervisor. Even more, in February 2019 the site achieved a three-year stretch without a lost time accident.
T&S Brass and Bronze Works lengthy commitment to operational excellence has changed the workforce in other ways as well. Employees have grown more engaged in improvements over time, says Gary Cole, operations manager. "They will approach us with ideas rather than us having to be the instigators," he says.
Their engagement is increasingly beneficial, particularly as the South Carolina manufacturer pursues a facility expansion. "You learn from everybody," Gilbert says.