Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services
ASMC Member Providing Hands-On Help through Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services
Pilgrim Screw is a family-owned business founded in 1932. The company produces high-end fasteners for the aerospace and defense industries in Providence, Rhode Island, and Chandler, Arizona. The Providence facility employs 35 people.
Pilgrim Screw’s “survive and prosper” story goes back to 2000. Business had been declining in the commercial aviation industry for some time. The whole industry was facing excessive inventory and overcapacity. Pressure was building to downsize in the industry, but there had been no big changes. At that point, commercial aviation was 80 to 90 percent of Pilgrim Screw’s business. September 11, 2000, changed all that, forcing a drastic response from the aerospace and commercial aviation industries. After 9/11, Pilgrim Screw, 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. Pilgrim Screw was forced to consider some tough, painful moves of their own. The company first met the Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Partnership (RIMES), a NIST MEP network affiliate, when approached with a 9/11 Emergency Management Service. Recognizing that many local manufacturers were reeling from the economic effects of the tragedy, RIMES provided a no-cost recovery consulting service to Rhode Island manufacturers affected by the tragedy. Pilgrim Screw opted to use their services to implement a “recovery plan” that could stabilize and transform their business for long-term growth.
RIMES first worked with Pilgrim Screw to address operational issues. They helped the company 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 them to Lean Manufacturing and began training small groups from management and production in the various Lean concepts, putting them through workshops, such as Lean 101, Value Stream Mapping (VSM), and 5S. Value Stream Mapping produced immediate results. Pilgrim Screw first applied it to the process they used to get an order to the shop. They would take the order on paper, enter it into their system, review the contract, engineer the job, and then release it to the floor. VSM highlighted the steps in the process that added no value. As a result, the order process was reduced from ten days to three days.
Pilgrim Screw’s 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, production and created a safer workplace. Overall, employees rose to the occasion. The cross-training made them more flexible. Most importantly, renewed team pride made everyone accountable to outstanding customer service. While doubling productivity was tremendous, management knew that efficiencies alone would not get the company where it needed to be. Pilgrim Screw had to develop other revenue streams that would limit their exposure to extremes in the market. The company moved outside their comfort zone to work with different materials and configurations that could enable them to develop high-end proprietary products. They patented and sold a “Pi-lok Fastener” bought by the helicopter industry. They further utilized a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) 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 Pilgrim Screw’s post-9/11 work with RIMES was to increase the quantity and quality of Department of Defense (DOD) bidding. Pilgrim Screw’s capacity and ability to produce parts to meet military specifications gave them 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 the company had done business with DOD in the past, they had usually worked through distributors or as a sub to other contractors. RIMES recommended contracting directly with DOD as a more successful model. This marketing tactic required that Pilgrim Screw master DOD’s complex bidding process, pricing, and packaging and labeling requirements. RIMES engaged Pilgrim Screw with other manufacturers and the Economic Development Corporation’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to initiate discussions on how they 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 Rhode Island Human Resource Investment Council, was presented to Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed as a model for a Greater New England initiative. RIMES 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 $6 million 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 $2 million in the next three years,” said Geoffrey Grove, President of Pilgrim Screw. “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. RIMES 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. RIMES 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 RIMES, 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 RIMES by joining the board to help support their very important mission.”
- Awarded DOD contracts, with a forecasted revenue of $2 million in the next three years.
- Increased orders and stabilized business.
- Reduced order process from 10 days to 3 days.
- Patented and sold new fastener used by helicopter industry.
- Established a network of local companies who also support Lean Manufacturing.
“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