In the manufacturing of aluminum extrusions, Mid-States Aluminum knows how to provide customers with top-quality products. Lorie Russo reports on the company’s capabilities and value-added approach to a competitive business.
There are many companies manufacturing aluminum extrusions that provide high-volume products, churning them out quickly to meet standard requirements. There is, however, one company — Mid-States Aluminum, located in Fond du Lac, Wis. — that provides customers with value-added expertise, concentrating its manufacturing efforts on highly specialized extrusions.
Two Mid-State Aluminum executives sum up what makes the company distinctive in this market. Greg Clarke, vice president of manufacturing, says, “This is a very competitive industry in which many manufacturers focus on low-end products and concentrate on volume. We focus on more difficult, higher value-added product.” Doug Jarmusz, vice president of operations and quality systems, adds, “Typically, extruders sell on poundage. We supply a complete value-added package.”
Mid-States Aluminum was founded in 1965 with the mission of extruding intricate shapes to close tolerances for virtually any application. The aluminum components produced at Mid-States are used in a wide variety of applications and industries, including medical, electronic, automotive and furniture. The company’s niche is its ability to provide extensive fabrication, machining and finishing services, thereby developing a reputation as a single-source supplier. It currently ships throughout the continental United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.
Mid-States has increased its manufacturing capabilities with five major expansions to its facility in the last few years. Now measuring 250,000 square feet, the plant contains three aluminum extrusion presses, 17 machining centers, three Focus Factories and various manufacturing cells and support areas. According to Karl Jerde, executive vice president, the company has experienced “exponential growth in the last 10 years.”
“In the last three years,” Jerde adds, “Mid-States has made lean manufacturing a way of life, concentrating its efforts on providing specialized packages for its customers. In particular, lean manufacturing has allowed Mid-States to realize substantial growth and performance because it has resulted in the reduction of the waste that often goes along with traditional manufacturing methods.”
The company has reinvented its business processes with a focus on continuous improvement. Mid-States has enhanced its quality and delivery performance while reducing manufacturing floor space, part travel, manufacturing lead times and inventories. The company has also instituted kaizen events, which have added to a fresh, highly effective strategy of teamwork that has made it a benchmark company. Mid-States has excelled in employing a team approach in which sales, engineering, customer service, quality and manufacturing join to bring the customer a total, comprehensive service unit. “The team leader makes all decisions and does whatever it takes to satisfy the customer,” explains Jerde.
Mid-States has evolved into a company that puts top priority on its customer needs. One way in which Mid-States has helped to bring value to the customer is through its “quality caravans,” in which associates visit the customer to see the product in use in its finished form. “Sometimes a whole team will go and they’ll see how product is used. It is a great tool for understanding quality requirements. By understanding the way something is used and further processed at the customer’s location, Mid-States associates have developed new and better ways to make the product better at less cost,” adds Jarmusz.
“A unique characteristic of Mid-States is our Progress Thru People ™ philosophy,” Clarke adds. “We sponsor a number of charities and have given tremendous donations to the arts and local colleges. Several of our associates sit on boards and committees in the community.” In particular, Mid-States has become very involved in developing special training programs with both the local high school and technical colleges. Some of these classes include lean-manufacturing techniques, problem-solving tools, team-building skills and internships.
“We’re working hard at establishing a consortium to meet the hiring needs of the manufacturing community,” says Ted Sewall, vice president of human resources. “The partnering has been going on for about a year. Right now, it’s still in the development stage.”
Raising the Standards
In June 1999, Mid-States became ISO certified as part of its quality improvement strategy. Since that time, Mid-States has used the ISO system to drive its business. As part of the management-review process, Mid-States identifies and monitors key measures and takes actions when objectives are not met. In addition to company-wide goals, each team posts and monitors their key objectives for all associates and visitors to see.
Mid-States associates have raised the company’s overall delivery performance to greater than 95 percent, and have reduced its inventories and lost-time accidents by 50 percent. The company’s focus teams have carried out initiatives that have resulted in greatly reduced setups, increased valued-added ratios and reduced rework costs for their manufacturing cells.
Mid-States’ plans for the future call for growth through continuing its successful efforts in supplying all customers with the highest-quality product, on time and at a competitive price. As a team, Mid-States is dedicated to addressing customers’ ever-changing needs through its ongoing commitment to innovative solutions and excellence in total quality. “The future looks very good and we see a lot of potential for both our associates and our business to grow significantly,” says Jerde.