Committing to Continuous Improvement

With an established market in the oil and gas sector for their ruggedized cable assemblies, Teledyne VariSystems Inc. (TVS) began pursuing aerospace contracts in 2006 but without much success. They wanted to find a way to make gains in a new market without sacrificing the relationships they’d been building in the oil and gas industry since the 1960’s and needed to evaluate whether or not they were market-ready. “We wanted to benchmark ourselves and see where we were at and from there we could make any decisions,” says Production Manager, Scott Regier. “Is aerospace a market we want to pursue and if so, how much of our resources should we apply towards it?”

When TVS heard about Productivity Alberta’s Aerospace and Defence Productivity and Competitiveness Pilot Program, they knew it would be an opportunity to make sure that they were really ready to enter a new market with demanding specifications.

The thorough evaluation of TVS’ operations and processes gave the company a chance to see where they stood in comparison with some of the best in the aerospace and defense industry. The company was then provided with a list of recommendations that, if implemented, would improve their ability to compete in the industry and expand their business.

The assessment provided significant guidance for continual improvement. “We’d always tried it in the past [on our own] but working with Productivity Alberta actually got things rolling for us.”

The follow up that was built into the pilot program was key for making sure that the implementation process stuck. “When you bring in an outside resource, typically they come and they do their thing and it’s up to you to kind of engage them,” says Regier on working with a regular consultant. Working with Productivity Alberta was different. “We were always engaged from the outside so with the action items that we’d been assigned, there was follow up and we knew that we had to get them done.”

VariSystems was acquired by Teledyne Technologies Inc. in 2012 and the transition confirmed that the pilot program recommendations being implemented were on the right track. “It really fits with what they are already doing.”

Like all of the pilot program’s participants, a huge challenge was finding the resources to be able to implement the recommendations. “We’re in an industry that’s either feast or famine. If we were slow and everyone had a lot of down time, it might have been easier to implement things,” says Regier. In spite of this challenge, TVS recognized how important it was to make sure that there were resources for the project. “If you don’t have people working on the business, then eventually you’re going to go out of business.”

TVS now has two continuous improvement teams that meet on a weekly basis to look at new projects and ideas for moving the company forward. The improvement teams consist of a manufacturing group which focus on the steps involved in assembly of product as well as a pre-production (office) group which focuses on finding and reducing waste in areas such as quoting, order entry and technical documentation. Both groups are made up for frontline workers who work in the actual departments. Their commitment to their business doesn’t stop there. Through the pilot program, the company was introduced to Productivity Alberta’s Productivity Improvement Networks and is now a regular member of the Calgary group and hosted one of the monthly meetings this spring.

“We’ve had quite a few ideas come out of going to see other plants,” says Regier of the value of learning from and supporting other Alberta manufacturers. “We learned a lot from going to a windows and doors factory and we’re kind of the furthest thing from window and doors.”

With support from Productivity Alberta and by supporting others in the network, Teledyne VariSystems is looking forward to continuing their quest to stay ahead of the competition.

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