TIPCO Technologies Inc. had a problem that many businesses would envy: It was growing too fast.
With $15 million in annual sales, the 45-employee company specializes in hoses, hose assemblies, fittings and connections for the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical and military industries, as well as for industrial applications and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
TIPCO assembles products at its Baltimore headquarters and operates express hose centers throughout Maryland and Virginia.
But the company was growing faster than its infrastructure could handle.
“Our company grew so fast that it was starting to choke us,” said Robert Lyons, president and co-owner of TIPCO. “We were making mistakes, having to do things twice. Our customers were asking to come to our facility and audit us. We were very good at fixing our mistakes, but terrible at preventing them.”
The company contacted David Rizzardo, lean services manager for the University of Maryland Manufacturing Assistance Program (www.ummap.umd.edu), an initiative of the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech) in the A. James Clark School of Engineering, who introduced the company to the concepts of lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing is a systematic process that emphasizes eliminating non-value-added activities to improve productivity, quality and delivery.
Rizzardo gave the company a half-day training session on lean manufacturing.
“Then we formed a team and started analyzing how they fulfill their orders from when they take the order to when they gather parts and assemble them and how we could eliminate wasteful activities that didn’t provide any value to the customer,” said Rizzardo.
He facilitated the team in addressing issues such as evaluating storage locations and clearly identifying hoses and components to reduce pick time and material/personnel travel, utilizing visual methods to reduce search time and improve standardization, investigating causes of inventory accuracy errors and evaluating cellular design methods for a new product line.
TIPCO was retrieving parts from its warehouse and taking them to the other side of the facility for assembly.
“We started relocating product near our warehouse where the most-used products were near the fabricators pulling it,” said Lyons.
Last-minute orders were also a problem for TIPCO.
“Our company lives by the customer-first approach,” said Lyons. “Our customers often needed something tomorrow or today, so we would drop everything and make it for them. We wanted to fold that into our normal production process.”
So, the company built customer-centric work cells to quickly assemble products for its large OEMs. TIPCO also changed some employees’ roles so they were working with product in the flow. They built shadow boards to keep tools straight and workstations clean.
The result? In just six months, the company has reduced mistakes by 30 percent and increased production by 10 percent. Sales are up 7.5 percent compared to the same time last year.
“Many of our customers are far along in the lean journey,” said Lyons. “Now when they come and see the things we have done, they feel much more comfortable partnering with us.”
TIPCO has acquired big new customers, including Northrop Grumman and the Equipment Development Corporation. General Dynamics is also a customer.
“Our company used to be heavily involved with chemical plants and steel mills, but those industries left,” said Lyons. “The faces of our customers today are military subcontractors, OEMs, and biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Those customers feel very comfortable after being through our site audits that we are partnering with them to compete globally.”
Lyons said the company owes a lot to the UMMAP lean manufacturing initiative.
“The program is so critical,” he said. “With lean manufacturing, small businesses can compete globally. If we don’t take care of our customers, someone outside of this region will take care of them for us.”
About TIPCO Technologies
TIPCO Technologies is a complete fluid solution supplier for industrial, hydraulic and high-purity applications.
About the University of Maryland Manufacturing Assistance Program
Since 1984, UMMAP has provided critical solutions to help Maryland manufacturers grow and become more competitive. A program of the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute in the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, UMMAP is a cost-effective, objective resource. As Maryland’s affiliate of the federal NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership, UMMAP draws upon a national network of solution providers, as well as the expertise of the entire University System of Maryland. UMMAP service areas include lean manufacturing/productivity, growth, sustainability, and technical solutions. UMMAP has had a $323 million impact on manufacturing in Maryland since 2000, and has helped create or retain more than 1,600 jobs.