“My family has owned and operated Pilgrim Screw since it was founded in 1932. We produce high-end fasteners for the aerospace and defense industries in our Providence, RI, and Chandler, AZ, facilities.” Geoffrey Grove, President
Our “survive and prosper” story goes back to 2000. Business had been declining in the commercial aviation industry for some time, and the whole industry was facing excessive inventory and overcapacity. Pressure was building to downsize in the industry, but there had been no big changes as of yet – everyone was just hanging on. At that point, commercial aviation was 80-90% of our business. 9/11 changed all that, forcing a drastic response from the aerospace and commercial aviation industries. After 9/11, we, like many manufacturers in this industry, saw business plummet. Orders just stopped. Existing orders were put on hold. There was WIP (work in progress) everywhere. We were forced to consider some tough, painful moves of our own.
We first met Polaris (formerly RIMES) in this post-9/11 period, when they approached us with a 9/11 Emergency Management Service. Recognizing that many local manufacturers were reeling from the economic effects of the tragedy, Polaris provided a no-cost recovery consulting service to Rhode Island manufacturers affected by the tragedy. We opted to use their services to implement a “recovery plan” that could stabilize and transform our business for long-term growth.
Polaris first worked with us to address operational issues. They helped us work through the strategic planning process and the tough decisions that had to be made, such as the painful layoffs and business restructuring. They also introduced us to Lean Manufacturing, and began training small groups from management and production in the various Lean concepts, putting us through workshops, such as Lean 101, Value Stream Mapping (VSM), and 5S.
Value Stream Mapping produced immediate results for us. We first applied it to the process we used to get an order to the shop. We would take the order on paper, enter it into our system, review the contract, engineer the job, and then release it to the floor. VSM really opened our eyes and highlighted the steps in the process that added no value. As a result, our order process was reduced from ten days to three days. Timeframes in our industry are tight, so a reduction in lead-time is of great benefit to our customers and gives us an advantage. Our Production Manager also seized on 5S and started implementing it as soon as he finished training. He began straightening and organizing the shop floor, improving work flow and production, and created a safer workplace. Overall, our employees rose to the occasion. The cross-training made us more flexible. Most importantly, our renewed team pride made us all more accountable to outstanding customer service.
While doubling productivity was tremendous, we knew that efficiencies alone would not get us where we needed to be. We had to develop other revenue streams that would limit our exposure to extremes in the market. We moved outside our comfort zone to work with different materials and configurations that could enable us to develop high-end proprietary products. We patented and sold a “Pi-lok Fastener” bought by the helicopter industry. We further utilized a Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop a high strength panel fastener – a huge departure from making a single part to making a component assembly with nine distinct parts. Another significant strategy that came out of our post-9/11 work with Polaris was to increase the quantity and quality of Department of Defense (DOD) bidding.
Our capacity and ability to produce parts to meet military specifications gave us unique opportunities. DOD now needed more reliable manufacturers, particularly for hard-to-find items, such as spare parts for older or more unusual pieces of equipment. While we had done business with DOD in the past, we had usually worked through distributors or as a sub to other contractors. Polaris recommended contracting directly with DOD as a more successful model. This marketing tactic required that we master the DOD’s complex bidding process, pricing, and packaging and labeling requirements. Polaris engaged us with other manufacturers and the Economic Development Corporation’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to initiate discussions on how we could build capabilities to become more successful DOD suppliers. The result was the RI Defense Supply Chain Consortium comprised of American Industrial Castings, Artic Tool, CAS America, Hayes Heat Treating, VR Industries and Pilgrim Screw. This training collaborative, supported in 2002 by a grant from the RI Human Resource Investment Council, was presented to RI Senator Jack Reed as a model for a Greater New England initiative. Polaris worked with the Manufacturing Extension Partnerships throughout New England to develop a service delivery model while Senator Reed worked with his colleagues to garner support for $6M in the 2003 DOD budget that enabled 2004 expansion of the consortium from a Rhode Island initiative to a six-state New England initiative
At Pilgrim, business started picking up as we won more DOD contracts. Order volumes increased and our business stabilized. We are forecasting gross DOD revenues of about $2M in the next three years. Just as important, the network that we established through the consortium is long lasting. It really built a sense of “we’re all in this together” and permanently changed the way these local companies think of each other. Even now that our non-DoD business is bouncing back, we will continue to invest time in the consortium because it has real merit, for us and for other RI manufacturers. Polaris continues to support our Lean journey, which our consortium work reinforced is so important. The continuous reduction of waste throughout the entire organization, not just manufacturing, is critical for survival – companies who embrace that idea will last and prosper. Polaris is so much better than any consultant we’ve worked with. Their ability to bring pragmatic manufacturing solutions and business opportunities to us, all at very reasonable cost, brings huge value to us. Our first contact with Polaris, the post-9/11 emergency effort, was purely community service on their part. They diminished their cash reserves and put their organization at great risk to do whatever it took to help the 14 Rhode Island companies who participated in the 9/11 program to fully recover and grow out of that crisis mode. My thanks to them was to get involved with Polaris by joining the board to help support their very important mission.”
“Value Stream Mapping produced immediate results for us. We first applied it to the process we used to get an order to the shop…VSM really opened our eyes and highlighted the steps in the process that added no value. As a result, our order process was reduced from ten days to three days.”
– Geoffrey Grove, President