Delaware Manufacturing Extension Partnership
Atlantic Aluminum Products, Inc. Increases Productivity with Lean
Founded in 1996, Atlantic Aluminum Products Inc. designs, manufactures and installs custom-built railings for both residential and commercial customers, as well as sunrooms, patio enclosures and screen porches. Located in Greenwood, Delaware, the residential division of the company services all of Delaware, plus parts of Maryland and Virginia. The commercial division serves the entire Mid-Atlantic region. Atlantic Aluminum designed, custom fabricated, and installed the balcony railings on twin homes in Wilmington that were featured in the ABC series Extreme Home Makeovers. The company employs 38 people.
Atlantic Aluminum was intent on increasing its efficiency in manufacturing railings, learning ways to reduce wasted minutes out of processes so that time could be put to productive use. Owner Dan Schlabach reached out to the Delaware Manufacturing Extension Partnership (DEMEP), a NIST MEP network affiliate, for help. “I was looking for a fresh set of eyes to look at our operation and suggest ways we could cut overhead costs without reducing personnel,” he recalled. “After hearing about the improvements that other businesses made through DEMEP’s help, I was interested in what they could do for our organization, too.”
DEMEP trained Atlantic Aluminum’s employees in the principles of Lean manufacturing, a strategy that focuses on reducing seven wastes—over production, waiting time, transportation, processing, inventory, motion and scrap—that do not contribute to the final product. By meticulously mapping the processes at the plant, DEMEP identified a bottleneck in obtaining materials on the front end. In essence, when certain information was lacking on work orders due to the prolonged submittal process, the plant held off on ordering materials. To make the process more efficient, Atlantic Aluminum retooled its order forms to focus on information that would enable the company to obtain the materials needed for the job. In order to broaden its reach to more customers, Atlantic Aluminum introduced a new iRail system. The line is less labor intensive to assemble, which enables the company to provide standard railings at a lower price point. But changing over equipment between orders for traditional railings and iRail jobs required an hour, more time that did not contribute to the bottom line. DEMEP helped Atlantic Aluminum identify wasted steps and cumbersome change-over procedures, one of which includes quick-change hydraulic connections. Equipment for both jobs has been repositioned so that it is in close proximity, with tools and parts such as fasteners color coded and at the ready. As a result, change-over time has been cut in half and in some set ups to even less time. Strategic staging of work areas, equipment and materials further streamlined production.
Over the years, the inventory of parts and materials had swelled and the company was looking for ways to reduce the overflow and make it easier to find various components. DEMEP developed a centralized system that enabled the plant to reduce inventory by 15 percent. That freed space for materials for the iRail line. To prevent inventory levels from creeping back up, Atlantic Aluminum now orders in smaller batches that are two-thirds less than previous orders. “There are less materials sitting around waiting for an order to come,” Schlabach said. In providing custom services, measurements are critical. The company relied on one skilled production worker to handle the job. But the process was expensive, because the worker frequently had to drive significant distances to the job site, time that did not contribute to the final product. Measuring was scheduled around his days off. The solution was to cross-train the sales staff and some installers to take measurements. The production person still handles the task on complex projects. To make installations run more smoothly, hardware required for the job is organized and displayed visually, so supervisors can readily see when items need to be replenished. As a result of assistance provided by DEMEP, Atlantic Aluminum was able to reduce its overhead, without a reduction in force, increase productivity, and reduce lead time.
- Increased productivity by 10 percent.
- Improved lead time by 15 percent.
- Increased on-time delivery by 5 percent.
- Reduced inventory by 15 percent.
- Reduced foot traffic by 65 percent.
“DEMEP gave us fresh ideas in inventory control and helped us to clearly identify ways to be more efficient.”
Dan Schlabach, Owner