A dramatic boom in sales caused growing pains for Triton Trailers, which saw its manufacturing efficiency plummet as demand for its aluminum and steel trailers jumped.
“We were doing our manufacturing process in several parts of the building, wherever we could shoehorn it in,” said Tony Schellinger, Continuous Improvement Manager for the Washington County manufacturer.
Triton Trailer’s sales for the commercial side of its business doubled over the course of a year, but its labor efficiency, which historically had been 90 to 100 percent, dipped into the 40 to 50 percent range.
“For years, we had two guys who would make the trailers. They had all the knowledge,” Schellinger said. “Then, we added more people who had never seen the production process before and they didn’t know what the heck they were doing. On top of that, we had one supervisor trying to run the show and doing laps around the plant just trying to keep up. It was terrible.”
Convinced that something had to change, Schellinger began looking into how Six Sigma, a set of techniques and tools for process improvement, might help.
A Six Sigma analysis would end up pinpointing efficiency issues at Triton Trailers.
Triton has about 150 employees at its lone plant in Hartford. A major line of business for Triton is producing trailers used to transport pull-behind power generators used by contractors and highway crews.
The generator market also has experienced a significant jump in business due to the increasing number of natural disasters, which creates the need for backup energy sources in the immediate aftermath of a storm and during the rebuilding process.
Commercial generator demand also is high in the oil industry as a source of power in remote oil fields.
Triton’s other line of business focuses on the production of aluminum trailers primarily designed to tote personal watercraft and snowmobiles. During peak production periods, Triton Trailers ships 100 to 150 jet ski trailers per day.
John Reiser and Bob Peisch formed Triton in 1975 in Reiser’s garage as a manufacturer of boatlifts. Rapid growth led to a move to a plant in Allenton a year later. Over the years, the company manufactured storefront canopies, farm gates, wood-burning furnaces, and performed miscellaneous job shop work before shifting its focus to top quality aluminum and steel trailers.
By 1995, Triton had outgrown its facility and moved into their current location, a 165,000 square-foot building in Hartford. Jacsten Holdings, a Milwaukee-based private investment firm, purchased Triton Trailers in 2013, resulting in a major culture change for the business.
Trailers have become Triton’s sole line of business, with domestic business accounting for most of the company’s sales.
Triton had considered bringing in a consultant to determine how the company could improve the efficiency of its production process.
“Ultimately, we decided we could do it internally, but we struggled with it,” Schellinger said. “I knew I needed more education.”
So, Schellinger enrolled in a Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training and certification session, which provided proven methods to minimize waste and reduce costs.
The training includes eight sessions of in-class training by Certified Master Black Belt and Black Belt trainers, who talk through a participant’s individual projects and ensure that participants know which tools to use for their current and future endeavors.
“The main reason we decided to go with WMEP is, first and foremost, its value,” Schellinger said. “I feel that WMEP has a stronger hands-on network. With other providers, you might get a textbook approach. That really made the difference.”
Jennifer Arnold, a WMEP senior consultant, led the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training.
“I was very impressed by the improvements and Tony’s application of the Lean Six Sigma tool set,” Arnold said.
The Lean Six Sigma project initially focused on the generator-hauling side of Triton’s trailer business before being applied to its watercraft trailer production.
The improved efficiency gained through Lean Six Sigma means that Triton Trailers has been able to boost production to meet increasing demand – it has taken on an additional $5 million in annual sales – without adding a second shift or expanding its plant.
“We have been able to triple our throughput over the course of two years with no additional facility or labor investment,” Schellinger said.
Product quality also has improved.
Schellinger is confident that other companies can benefit from the WMEP’s Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training.
“There are a lot of good tools and knowledge that can be applied to pretty much any industry,” he said.
For information on Six Sigma training and other programs offered by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, go to wmep.org.