Toward Becoming an Agile Enterprise – Metalforming Magazine (September 2007)

September 23rd, 2007

Toward Becoming an Agile Enterprise

By Brad F. Kulvin, Editor; and Louis A. Kren, Senior Editor
Metalforming Magazine | September 2007


“Anyone can go purchase a die. But what sets the winners in this industry apart is the people you hire and train. Your employees have to work smarter, and you have to provide them with an environment and a system that allows them to succeed. Ultimately, that’s how you do more with less.”

Everyone must do more with less, help their customers develop new products, innovate, and find faster and lower-cost ways to produce. That’s the common theme of the five metalforming- company leaders we interviewed for this survey article on the metalforming markets, and what it takes to compete.

Other common themes, albeit described with unique, individual perspectives, include lean initiatives, intensified training efforts, and carefully selecting customers and then nurturing those most valuable customers to develop partnering relationships. Today’s successful stampers, simply, find out what they’re good at and then put all of their efforts into marketing those unique strengths. As our first subject, Steve Peplin, CEO of Talan Products Inc.,Cleveland,OH, says: “We’re dedicated to finding not just any customer, but on finding the right customer, the right relationship and the right projects.”

Since 2003, employment at Talan Products has doubled and revenue more than tripled, a growth spurt many, if not all, would relish. And for sure, Peplin does. However, handling that growth presents a unique set of challenges, such as ensuring that manufacturing inefficiencies don’t creep in. The firm, primarily a supplier of stampings and aluminum extrusions to the building- products market, has adopted practices to allow it to be what Peplin calls an “agile enterprise,” by eliminating waste. But rather than focus on that aspect of his company, when asked to describe future hurdles and strategies for jumping them, Peplin immediately turns to human-resource initiatives at Talan.

“While we’re not focused heavily in the automotive arena (the firm’s strategic plan caps its automotive work at 35 percent), we do face the same competitive pressures faced by automotive stampers,” Peplin says. As such, he cites being asked to do more for less, to be innovative and to find faster and lower cost ways to produce as his guiding principles are handed down from customers. Talan specializes in high-speed stamping of medium- to high-volume runs, as well as assembly, with part counts often in the millions. It operates 22 presses in capacities to 400 tons with bed sizes to 105 by 50 in.

“Yes, we invest in manufacturing technology where we need to—faster presses and new controls, for example. But I see machines, steel, tooling, etc. as commodities ,” Peplin opines. “Anyone can go purchase a die. But what sets the winners in this industry apart is the people you hire and train. Your employees have to work smarter, and you have to provide them with an environment and a system that allows them to succeed. Ultimately, that’s how you do more with less.”

Striving to achieve the classic lean/ Toyota Production System goals of more inventory turns and more value-added performance per hour, Peplin invests plenty of time and money into workforce training. “An emphasis the last five years or so on workforce development and creation of clearly defined career paths for our workers,” he shares, “allows us to, first of all, hire the best of the people that are out there. Then, it ensures that we will keep and develop the good people that we already have.”

Workforce development runs through the Talan Academy, designed to include courses to help employees climb a clearly defined career path. Developed in conjunction with the Cleveland organization Wire-Net (Westside Industrial Retention and Expansion Network), the academy even offers executive-level leadership training, which Peplin continues to engage in. “I’m participating in a very nontraditional education program to further develop my abilities in working with people,” he says.“As the company grows, working better with people becomes more critical.”

By focusing on human resource development, Peplin figures he’s preparing his company for its next wave of growth: being a solution provider. “Our strategic plan calls for us to be problem solvers for our customers,” Peplin shares, “not just being a low-cost provider of stampings. For sure, operational excellence is a must, but we’re positioning ourselves to be part of a bigger team along with our customers, to provide technical assistance and design support.We do this by building our mental capacity in addition to production capacity.”

The plan: Partner with a select group of customers and become critical strategic allies with each of them. “We look for opportunities to move stamping operations from a customer’s plant to ours,” adds Peplin. “It is our core competency, and allows the customer to better deploy its capital.”

Yet another way Talan Products brings value to its partner-customers comes via materials management. “While stamping of aluminum extrusions comprises about half of what we do,” Peplin says, “we also supply raw extrusions to customers through a highly developed supply chain. This sophisticated commodities metal-management service helps our customers manage what can be wildly fluctuating prices for raw materials.”

Always looking forward, Peplin shares the next step in his growth plan: Developing intellectual capital. Specifically, to develop a line of products designed and manufactured by Talan Products. “We’ve recently purchased some patents, and are developing others,” he says, “following through on one of our long-standing strategic-plan initiatives. A customer came to us to manufacture its part—we liked the concept of the part and its application, and also saw it as a good fit for our core fabrication competencies. So we bought half of the company and made them a partner. Basically, they needed a production partner and we were looking for a product.”

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