Breaking the Stereotype: Millennials in Manufacturing

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Matties: Anytime you can bring innovation through your team that’s on the front line is ahead of the curve. What has been your greatest challenge?

Amelia Cook: It continues to be learning how to step away from daily operations to work on the business, not in the business. I work on figuring out our vision and understanding how I can make that happen by putting in systems and people in the right spots rather than having to do all the groundwork myself.

Goodwinds-shipping.jpgFrom my perspective, Leland’s greatest challenge was moving into the CEO leadership role because managing five people, as we did five years ago, is very different than managing 12 people; it requires delegation, trust, and leadership. You have to set up a framework for people to work within, and define what’s expected of our next-level employees who are managing different manufacturing cells or sales. That has been a real struggle, and we’re facing it a lot lately.

Leland Holeman: One thing that has allowed me to have some more breathing room to think about management and being a CEO is our latest inventory system. Our current system is Fishbowl, but the system we had for 10 years was challenging to use. I had to work hard every day to make systems work, so that has been a big help.

Amelia Cook: It’s not fully automated, but it is more automated. It uses a database system and computer application that allows everybody to interface pretty seamlessly. We can all look at the same things; without that, I don’t think that a lot of our recent growth would have been possible. It keeps us accurate both with inventory management and manufacturing work orders so that everybody in the building knows exactly what goes where. Revisions are seamlessly integrated, and we don’t have the mistakes that we would have at this point in the growth had we stuck with something that didn’t work.

Matties: When we look at businesses, you start hearing recurring themes, and you keep using the word “system.” You started from nothing and created every system that’s in place. We tend to focus on the things that give us the most pain first, and that’s where we focus our systems. There’s pain with growth too because you’re a small business, and there are financial pressures, so you have to manage that resource. It might be more difficult managing 12 employees than it is 5,000 because you’re still in the operational phase. What do you think your greatest challenge will be growing this company?

Amelia Cook: Finding the next product innovation and manufacturing cell, and finding the customers for it and talent to make the product, not to mention space. We’re going to have to find another building. It’s all about finding the next opportunity. For example, there’s still growth available in the market for roll-wrapped tubes and pultruded rods and tubes, but the next phase of growth will require some innovation.


Matties: Weight is increasingly becoming an issue. And this material is certainly lightweight. Anywhere that a battery is being applied to propel, carbon will be used.

Amelia Cook: Right, especially for anywhere that weight needs to be cut. For the same weight, carbon is twice as strong as steel. Said another way for the same strength, carbon is half as heavy. You can cut weight all over the place.

Matties: Let’s talk about the quality of your product that’s going to allow them to be accepted. You’re doing pretty tight tolerances, how are you bringing quality into your manufacturing?

Leland Holeman: To hold tolerances, first, you have to be able to measure them. And in a lot of ways, it’s going out and buying the best measuring equipment that you can get your hands on. Another way is we built a few things to be able to accommodate that. On our saw, we built a couple of different attachments that let us measure out the exact length that we want to cut and the process to do it. Also, a lot of the machines that we use are built with extremely tight tolerances and accommodate a lot of what we’re doing already.

Amelia Cook: Quality is subjective, so it’s about what the customer wants. For instance, our micro-pultruded rods have a fiber volume fraction of about 60%. We’re going to hold to that, and we’re going to continue to measure that and make sure that’s what we deliver. But we can adjust and meet needs if a customer wants a different fiber volume fraction, or if the customer expectations are that an outer diameter is held to five-thousandths of an inch. For us, quality is about making sure that we meet or exceed the customer expectation and putting in systems to help so that nothing falls through the cracks and everything meets the standard set.

Matties: On my tour earlier, I saw cycle time reduction steps being taken, particularly the cutting of the pre-product fabric on the CNC machine where the operator said he would spend 30 minutes to cut what the machine is doing in three minutes.

Leland Holeman: That’s our first step toward automation. Our first big step is a cutting table.


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