Employees at Stellar Industries in Garner are so smitten with what they learned from Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) about continuous improvement that they’ve coined a new name for themselves: CSI Garner, for Continuous Stellar Improvement.
Unlike the hit television show, it’s no mystery why Stellar is sold on this business philosophy. Since a CIRAS productivity improvement team met regularly with Stellar management starting in 2005, the firm has experienced a $4.5 million increase in annual sales, without adding more staff, equipment or facilities.
Before CIRAS entered the picture, this manufacturer of hydraulic truck-mounted equipment appeared to have outgrown its space, with parts stored at off-site locations. Retrieving them slowed the production schedule. “We had a pressing issue regarding plant layout and space,” explained Steven Schnieders, Stellar operations manager. “We knew other companies were achieving better, faster and more cost-effective methods of production.”
CIRAS came to the rescue. First, project manager Mike Willet visited the north central Iowa plant to observe how it operated. “I took a look at their manufacturing process, and there were a lot of red flags, things I knew could be resolved by improving their manufacturing process instead of expanding the facilities,” he recalled.
Subsequently, Willet introduced the Stellar team to Theory of Constraints (TOC), a management and improvement philosophy based on the premise that a constraint within a company must be identified and remedied to increase production flow and sales.
For 18 months, CIRAS managers guided the 10-member Stellar team through a step-by-step process to improve business operations. As a result, all 250 Stellar employees were exposed to continuous improvement while offering their own insights and helping implement the changes.
The company is now driven by TOC principles and, like the fictional CSI team, knows how to work together. “CIRAS guided us and gave us the tools so we could implement the system ourselves,” Schnieders said. “We know we need to keep everyone involved looking at things from different perspectives so that we can continue to improve.”