No less than the largest manufacturing operations, small and medium-sized plants and workshops need to be attentive to their process efficiencies and resource allocations. The fact that they may have narrower profit margins underscores their need for total quality management strategies, like Lean manufacturing.

At a job shop in Bristol, Wis., what started out as a 5S tool-room project to improve organization and reduce set-up times has blossomed into a organization-wide commitment to getting Lean. GEM Manufacturing Inc. offers contract prototyping, machining, finishing, and assembly for some of the world’s largest manufacturers of component parts for agriculture, oil-and-gas and hydraulic equipment, including CNH, Eaton, Parker Hannifin, GE, and Deere Corp.

Started in June 2006 by brothers Rob and Kevin Gottschalk in June 2006, GEM Manufacturing produces roughly 2,000 different parts annually in runs ranging from five to 50,000 pieces. After just five years of operation, in May 2011, the Gottschalks opened a second facility in Kenosha, WI, to be able to keep pace with customer demand.

That first successful 5S tool-room project inspired Kevin and Rob to proceed into a Quality Lab 5S project, and then a Kaizan event, in January 2010.

That Kaizan event led GEM to invest in an eNETDNC system for the shop, to address inefficiencies with CNC program transfers and file rev control. eNET’s file rev control tools, like the Smart File Compare feature for edited-uploaded programs, ensure that GEM’s master programs will not be lost or even edited without a manager’s approval.

Using eNET also allowed GEM’s operators to call and send programs quickly, right from the machine control. Previously, they had relied on a time-consuming process of cueing programs remotely from a CAM system, which involved the operators having to leave their machines to launch the programs up from a workstation computer.  That cumbersome process came to a critical point when the CAM systems were unable to transfer programs to GEM’s new Mazak, Makino, and Haas CNC machine tools.

By contrast, the eNETDNC system worked flawlessly for all of their machines and control types.

Encouraged by the fact that these Lean tools were allowing the enterprise to improve costs, quality, and delivery times for its customers, GEM appointed an in-house coordinator of continuous improvement in 2011. Their organizational commitment to complying with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and applying Lean and Six Sigma techniques throughout led directly to GEM Manufacturing winning a “Small Business of the Year” award from the Kenosha Area Business Alliance (KABA), in November 2011. 

Motivated to keep the Lean momentum going the Gottschalk brothers attended IMTS in 2012 to learn more about eNET’s real-time machine monitoring. They were interested in streamlining the data captured on the shop floor, and gaining insights into their machine utilization factors, so in early 2014 they added eNET’s Machine Monitoring & Data Collection.

According to Rob Gottschalk, “We found eNET to be extremely customer-focused and since their hardware is made in the U.S.A. the system is rock-solid, so they don’t have to charge their customers yearly maintenance fees. Since they also provide free software and hardware updates, and phone support, choosing eNET for Machine Monitoring & Data Collection at GEM Manufacturing was a no-brainer for us.”

Fast-forward to today. Rob and Kevin continue to be very satisfied with their selection of the eNET machine monitoring platform.  GEM has even rolled out an employee incentive program tied to machine cycle-on %/chip cutting time, based on the real-world data they collect through eNET.  With more than 50 machines operating at two locations, and now ISO 9001:2008-certified, continues to improve its efficiency and reliance on Lean strategies — and even recommends eNET to their OEM customers.