What began as a small company with ten employees and two weaving looms has flourished into a company with two mills and more than 175 employees. For more than seventy years, Murdock Webbing Co. Inc. has been providing its customers with webbing used in various military, recreational, and consumer applications. The Central Falls, RI based company has used one philosophy to drive business: strive to improve the process. For several decades, Murdock Webbing has been successful at improving its process, and this decade was no different. Murdock Webbing’s owner has always infused in employees the idea to never sit still and to do their best all of the time instead of just some of the time. Managers wanted to build on that idea by refining Murdock Webbing’s manufacturing process. That is when Lean Manufacturing came to mind.
Lean Manufacturing is a comprehensive set of philosophies, guidelines, tools and techniques used to improve processes in manufacturing. “There was no specific challenge we faced other than the normal competition and our drive to improve our own processes,” said Murdock Webbing’s chief operating officer, Greg Pilgrim.
Murdock’s managers were not interested in what it considered the stringent steps of Lean Manufacturing. Instead, executives wanted to find something that would fit with their needs and that is when they called on the Polaris MEP (formerly RIMES, Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services), a non-profit organization that, since 1986, has been providing complete manufacturing services to help the Ocean State’s small and medium-sized manufacturers solve business problems and raise the level of competitiveness and profitability.
Through a partnership with and grant funding from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, Polaris MEP was able to provide Murdock Webbing with a customized system to improve its manufacturing processes.
“They said, let’s take Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma and find out how it fits with your model,” Pilgrim said of Polaris’ project managers. Six-Sigma is a system of doing business with a focus on eliminating waste, improving quality, and reducing cost. The plan was to use Lean Manufacturing to eliminate various kinds of non-value added waste. Together, Murdock Webbing and Polaris worked to find the best lean strategies to fit with the company’s business model. Together, they recognized Polaris’ 5S and Six Sigma systems would be the most natural fit.
“We realized our entire company was going to benefit from (Polaris MEP) systems,” Pilgrim said. In order to get all of the employees involved, a steering committee was created. The committee consisted of a Polaris consultant and employees who met to discuss each process within the company and to develop fresh ideas. There were very specific areas in which Murdock Webbing wanted to see improvement including: a decrease in travel time within the building, an increase in product flow, and more efficient automation. Murdock Webbing has always struggled to find enough space in its mills and the 5S system of Sort, Shine, Set, Standardize and Sustain would eliminate that problem. Already, 20 Murdock employees have completed the 5S training and the company continues to put employees through the training.
“We have always struggled for space because of how the mill is broken up, so 5S allowed us to clear clutter, organize our space and look at our equipment,” Pilgrim said. “We utilized the system in our inspection and cutting and blocking areas. In doing all of this we also eliminated different kinds of non-value added waste.”
Another area that saw significant improvement was in the barrier area of the mill. By reorganizing the department and moving it to a different room, the company eliminated an abundance of travel time through the mill’s four different levels. Because of the mill’s layout product flow is less than desirable and managers plan to change that.
“We will gain a product flow that best fits our facility and will reorganize things so they are going in one direction,” Pilgrim said.
Implementing Polaris’s system also forced the company to look at how its equipment was operating. Since then, managers have asked themselves how to further automate the process of one of its finished products in order to manufacture more products during the work day. Murdock executives expect there will be a 30 to 40 percent reduction in conversion and inspection time, according to Pilgrim.
“Through Lean we asked “why” often and came up with new designs for equipment,” Pilgrim said. “The automation is tremendous and it has reduced the need for employee travel times. In the long run it certainly will help in getting stuff out the door and cut our inventory allowing us to be more flexible with both customers and vendors.”
Murdock Webbing found the Polaris system so instrumental that it is developing presentations on its lean manufacturing philosophy to show its customers.
“What that says to me is that they are expecting us to move in the lean direction because they like that they are paying for the product itself rather than the parts to process it. ”
Leadership has been a big part of the relationship between Polaris and Murdock Webbing. As a result of Murdock’s relationship with Polaris, employees are enthusiastic and morale has rocketed throughout the company.
“Don Nester has been an outstanding sounding board,” Pilgrim said. “The consulting has been extremely beneficial and Polaris is not really rigid, they are flexible and I like that.”
“(Polaris) has a vested interest not just in manufacturing but manufacturing in Rhode Island,” Pilgrim added. “Obviously the ultimate goal is to have their role in the process dwindle over time, but I see utilizing them as a consultant for a long time.”
– Greg Pilgrim, Chief Operating Officer