Composites firms use business improvement processes to implement small changes that make a big difference

Quality is everyone’s responsibility. That simple, yet insightful quote is attributed to W. Edwards Deming – statistician, educator, consultant and a founding father of the business process improvement movement. Deming began advocating for quality-control methods in manufacturing in the 1930s. Many of his ideas live on today.

Companies seeking to reduce waste, increase productivity and streamline operations often employ a business improvement method – and there are a lot of them. Six Sigma. Lean manufacturing. Kaizen. Total quality management. Perhaps the best way to understand how quality programs work is to examine them at work. Here are three mini case studies of the business improvement journey taken by composites companies from coast-to-coast.

Company Name: Waco Composites Inc.
Headquarters: Waco, Texas
Business Focus: The manufacturer of ArmorCore® bullet-resistant fiberglass panels
Employees: 35
Plant Size: 40,000 square feet

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Wayne Hampton, president of Waco Composites, spent eight years as a total quality management facilitator in Japan. So when the Texas manufacturing company opened in 1996, he knew exactly what kind of quality program he wanted to implement. “I like the Japanese concept of Kaizen,” says Hampton. “To me, it makes sense in every area of our lives, not just for a company. We can continually improve.”

Hampton developed a ½-inch thick manual of processes and procedures for Waco Composites that included Kaizen principles. One of those principles encourages all employees to regularly come up with small improvement suggestions. Waco Composites calls it their “Better Ways Program.” If an employee notices a better way to do something, he or she submits it to the plant engineer. The plant engineer then reviews the idea with the operations manager and Hampton. The best ideas are put into practice, and employees who suggest them are rewarded with gift cards.

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Employees at Waco Composites regularly suggest ideas to improve product quality and enhance plant safety. For instance, following one employee’s recommendation the company purchased mechanical vacuum lifters so workers in the water jet cutting department don’t have to manually lift heavy panels.

Lots of employee suggestions have been utilized. During the company’s last ISO audit, it was commended for 18 continual improvements made in the past year. One idea related to waste generated from the company’s hydraulic presses. “When you press things in hydraulic presses using resin systems, you get a lot of squeeze out,” says Hampton. An employee suggested installing gutters on the presses to catch the excess resin. Now the squeezed-out resin travels down the gutters, empties into buckets and is recycled for use in future production.

Waco Composites’ original quality program became obsolete when business grew. Hampton was compelled to revise the program after a 2007 visit from a prospect, a multi-billion dollar company that manufactures vehicles for the U.S. Army and Marines. The visitors liked what they saw on a company tour, but told Hampton his quality program was not up to par. “I told them, ‘Before you leave the parking lot I will be on the phone with a consultant and we will undergo preparation for ISO 9001 certification,’” recalls Hampton. The following week, a consultant from Chicago was at Waco Composites helping the company prepare for certification and rewriting its quality manual.

Waco Composites became ISO 9001: 2008 registered in 2009. Kaizen principles help the company remain efficient. “Part of Kaizen is acknowledging that you haven’t reached the top,” says Hampton. “The bottom line is we can always get better in sales, in production, in environmental sensitivity – in every dimension of our business.”