Really Getting to Know the Customer From IW Growing Companies

Dec. 21, 2004

One of Wainwright Industries Inc.s biggest customers is General Motors Corp. But the St. Peters, Mo., metalworking firm--which specializes in precision stamping and machining operations--is doing a lot more these days than simply making parts for GM. About three years ago, it constructed a 110,000-sq-ft quick-response warehousing facility to service GMs utility-van assembly plant in Wentzville, Mo., six miles away. Every seven minutes a truck leaves the Wainwright complex--referred to as a "JIT sequencing" facility--with a load of components for the van plant. In addition to Wainwright-built items, some 1,500 different components from 50 different suppliers are routed through the facility, which coordinates JIT deliveries to GM on as little as two hours advance notice. When a van body exits the paint department at the Wentzville plant, the specs for the vehicle are transmitted electronically over a dedicated T-1 line to the Wainwright control center. The specified parts must arrive at the proper GM assembly-line stations by the time the van assembly gets there. The 30 employees (per shift) who operate the sequencing facility not only manage the flow of other suppliers components--everything from exhaust systems and interior plastic moldings to windshield wipers--but they also handle quality inspection, do kitting of items for subassemblies, and place the components in racks in the precise sequence that they will be required at the assembly line. Plastic consoles, for example, must be arranged in the proper color sequence. "If GM puts the wrong console into a vehicle, its our fault," says CEO Don Wainwright. Not only does the arrangement ease GMs inventory management burden--and reduce its carrying costs--but it enables Wainwright to gain a better understanding of the needs of a very significant customer. And it occasionally presents opportunities for new business. For example, the GM van plant recently discovered that two slightly misaligned holes in a door panel from a plastic molding supplier were creating difficulties for assembly workers who install door handles. Wainwright came to the rescue, calling upon its sophisticated tooling department to design equipment that enabled workers at the sequencing facility to enlarge the holes by 4 mm, thus eliminating the fit problem on the assembly line. In another instance involving a part design problem, notes Dave Robbins, executive vice president who has responsibility for the JIT sequencing/subassembly operation, "the customer told us about the design problem one afternoon. We developed tooling that night, ran the [corrected] parts on our third shift, and incorporated them into assemblies the next morning." "Each part is an opportunity for us to provide a higher level of customer service," says William (Wil) Girresch, manager of the JIT facility. "Were fast, flexible, and lean--and we can make things happen for any customer." "Were teaching our customers--and our suppliers--how to turn their inventory faster. Were trying to help the customer where he needs help," says Don Wainwright. "We want to be the customers No. 1 supplier, then try to do more for that customer. "Essentially, were an extension of GM. And what we do, we can do better than they can. Its been good for them. And weve learned more about their business. So were getting closer together. Its been a win-win for both of us." Wainwright is in the process of developing a similar facility to serve one of its major aerospace customers--Boeing Co.

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