LEAN AND LIKING IT: igus’ adoption of lean practices has helped the company expand while maintaining a calm and smooth-running operation, according to company executives. Going over a company order are, from left, Vice President Richard Abbate, assembly tech William Solorzano and Warehouse Operations Manager Gerry Fournier.
Manufacturing in any industry requires skilled workers and a streamlined process that ends with flawless quality. This is where igus Inc. and its staff of 150 Rhode Island employees shine.
Igus is a global player with headquarters in Germany and a newly designed, 162,000-square-foot factory and office-space facility in East Providence. It has served the North American market for almost 30 years.
The company makes polymer bearings and chains, which are plastic products that enable movement in machines, developing the technology to support its innovative products. It sells across many trades, including agriculture, construction and the automotive industry.
In fact, plastic bearings are now used in heavy-duty jobs that only metals at one time could withstand. These goods made by Rhode Islanders now travel around the world as functional parts in cars and heavy-duty machinery, and serve as the lubricant slider in the inner workings of many machines.
A key to igus’ success has been its adoption of lean practices. All igus employees take part in a Lean 101 training session that the owner also participates in. His presence is a sign of how much value is assigned to the training.
The lean processes are a way of simplifying and improving the consistent flow of an order from the customer all the way through packaging and shipping. The company integrates lean skills and practices into everything from ordering and stocking procedures to the manufacturing floor, and back into research and development.
Examples of lean practices include streamlining all paperwork associated with orders, workspace standardization and daily quality checklists. The company has eliminated phone calls to the manufacturing floor. By using a system of instant messages via computers, all messages, instructions and installation notes are kept together and intact as they travel down the assembly line. This results in less error.
“If our customers’ machines are experiencing downtime, they are losing money. Igus maintains a very large inventory and lean assembly process specifically to respond to customers in need of rapid delivery to keep their machines running,” said Vice President Richard Abbate.
Mark Leland, an employee for the past 21 years, has seen operations transformed from a small, disorganized warehouse to the lean machine igus is today.