For the Tech Group, Inc. quality is measured in plain and simple terms: financial stability and commitment to Six Sigma practices. These help to distinguish the company from its closest competitors, says Tom Podesta, vice president of sales and marketing for the Scottsdale, Ariz.-headquartered global company. “These characteristics really differentiates us, allowing us to offer high-level services and manufacturing capabilities which include being nimble enough to react to what our OEMs’ requirements are,” Podesta says.The company serves primarily Fortune 500 corporations in healthcare and consumer products industries with contract manufacturing and injection molding capabilities. Podesta is quick to point out that 35-year-old Tech Group is first and foremost a service company of over $130 million in sales, with a global presence encompassing 14 manufacturing sites in seven countries, employing over 1,200 people worldwide.
“During the development phase many OEMs have not crystallized their manufacturing requirements, therefore, our global footprint provides the manufacturing flexibility their looking for,” notes Podesta. Capabilities include producing prototypes and finished products for its customers who usually require high-volume production. “Our manufacturing excellence in terms of producing large volumes of products, and/or complex assemblies that must be manufactured with no defects is what keeps our OEMs and other customers coming back,” he adds.
The Tech Group offers a full complement of services, including project management, product development and design, injection molding and assembly solutions.
Six Sigma is First
With quality the keystone, it is Six Sigma that helped Tech Group build that quality keystone. “This is another differentiator separating us from our competitors,” he explains. “Our commitment to Six Sigma in creating a quality culture distinguishes us in our industry.” Because it is a service company, the company recognized it had to conform to stringent customer requirements to maintain its position in the industry, Podesta adds.
In 1999 Tech Group had several major customers adopting Six Sigma practices who were encouraging the company to consider implementing the program. “We had just gone through a significant expansion and had multiple plants and we wanted to embrace a process that would give us a good methodical and systematic approach to our continuous improvement in manufacturing excellence,” explains Podesta.
It took a lot of investment – not only in terms of capital, but also in convincing employees that that new method would propel the company ahead of its competitors in the industries its serves. The company contracted with a Six Sigma consulting firm located in Ariz. “One of our goals was to not only adopt the Six Sigma methodology, but to develop an internal “process excellence team” that could eventually assume The Tech Group’s ongoing training requirements,” Podesta says. “We now have three Master Black Belts and another three Black Belts and all six of these individuals are dedicated exclusively to training our employees in continuous improvement programs and other Six Sigma practices – and this is in addition to all the Black Belts and Green Belts we have at each of our plants,” he says.
With the company culture steeped in Six Sigma, it establishes a common language for the company and its customers, Podesta points out. “We can show them our process maps and explain how we can determine which manufacturing issues might be problematic and how to resolve any problems.” After using Six Sigma principles over the last four years, Tech Group has reduced scrap and returns by over 100 percent. “We also have better predictability for manufacturing times and yields so we can maintain our on-time customer delivery record,” adds Podesta.
Tech Group produces high-volume and high-complexity components for global icons like Medtronic, Johnson and Johnson and Hewlett Packard. “We stayed focused throughout the years in healthcare and consumer products and didn’t broaden our market just to capture quick sales,” Podesta says.
The company offers 10,000 and 100,000 clean room manufacturing, as well as white-room manufacturing capabilities and general temperature and humidity controlled manufacturing environments. “We are able to do engineering design and development so we can help our customers design products, design and build injection molds, source and tool-up automation programs – and then we can bring all of these things together and qualify systems so we can bring them to manufacturing,” Podesta says.
All 14 manufacturing sites operate 24 hours, seven days a week and are geared towards higher volume manufacturing. “Our typical production requirements are in the millions, however, more and more we’re awarded complete device assemblies that might be a few hundred thousand assemblies per year,” Podesta explains. Typical products include IV set components, assemble surgical devices and respiratory inhalers on the healthcare side of the business to pen barrels and “smart cards” for the consumer market.
Solving problems is another forte for the company. One customer had to consider how to handle the growing volumes of a product with a three-part assembly, explains Podesta. “We had our design group look at the assembly and they proposed a design that eliminated some of the parts, integrating the component into a multi-shot molding process so the product is molded all in one sequence instead of going through different assembly steps,” he continues. The prototype was ready in just three weeks, and the customer tested the functionality of the re-designed product – a syringe plunger. “This re-designed component met their requirements and reduced their manufacturing costs by 50 percent. So not only were we able to do all the design and development work for them, but we also offered them a much simpler process which delivers a more robust product,” Podesta says.
Easily Around the World
Of course, the trend in today’s manufacturing environment is heavily focused on finding low-cost manufacturing alternatives and sometimes that means OEMs want to go offshore. “We can meet those needs with our plants in Mexico and China,” says Podesta.
Being a privately held company is a plus in this industry, allowing Tech Group to act nimbly when it really counts. “Speed-to-market is very important to our customers and we can respond very quickly to their needs by having a robust supply base, as well as all the internal capabilities for tool-building that can help them hasten the development cycle,” Podesta says.
Offering DFM (design for manufacturing) capabilities, Tech Group helps customers produce designs that produce quality products can be manufactured at the lowest-possible cost. One example is the currently popular soft-grip pens. “This is another example of multi-shot molding, and in this case the hard surface is molded first and then a soft surface mold is applied on top of that,” explains Podesta. “The machines required for this kind of work are very expensive and complex to run. And there is a lot of software integration, so smaller outfits would have a very difficult time doing this kind of work.”
The company continues to grow internally and is forecasting a 20-percent increase in sales this year. It currently has about three-quarters of a million square feet of manufacturing space worldwide, and will soon go over one million square feet with some current expansions. “Our plant in Ireland is doubling in size to 80,000 square feet and we are adding another 400,000 square feet to our plant in China,” says Podesta.
Financial stability is one of the company’s most important assets in terms of reacting quickly to market trends and requirements and staying aggressively competitive, says Podesta. “Many other companies have incurred a lot of debt through acquisitions and they are unable to re-invest in their companies because they don’t have the cash,” he says.
So, with financial stability and Six Sigma operating within its global operations, Tech Group intends to stay competitive and continue offering value-added services to its customers. “This includes continuing to do the contract manufacturing in addition to the final assembly and final packaging,” Podesta says. “We will do a whole syringe assembly, for example, and put it inside a pouch, seal and sterilize it so it would go right to distribution and then to the hospitals – and not to the OEM. Our evolution will involve us doing increasingly more value-added services.”