Sussex IM has experienced steady growth propelled by manufacturing products for some of the country’s most recognizable brands.
With its workforce expanding to more than 500 employees between two plants in the village of Sussex in Waukesha County, the custom injection molder and integrated manufacturer began examining ways to manage its flourishing operations.
“The business was built on a smaller structure and a smaller size, and as we grew we got to a point where we needed to expand our teams of supervisors, managers and leaders on the floor to manage that expansion,” Sussex IM Vice President of Manufacturing Kyle Kopp explained.
Fortuitously, Kopp and a few Sussex IM colleagues attended a session at the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s Manufacturing Matters! conference that focused on Training Within Industry (TWI), which teaches essential skills to supervisors through a dynamic program of hands-on learning and practice.
“We were in the process of working on our organizational redesign,” Kopp said. “We were trying to train all these new leaders of the company, and it fell in line with what TWI had to offer.”
Training Within Industry is an essential element of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement programs. Developed in the 1940s to help drive the war effort, TWI helped rebuild Japan’s infrastructure after World War II and remains the cornerstone of successful modern-day Japanese companies. The program remains highly relevant for manufacturers around the world today.
Training Within Industry focuses on building supervisors’ skills to provide a base that allows them to raise the skill level of their employees. TWI offers four programs to build the skills of supervisors and employees:
- Job Relations - Develop employees for peak performance.
- Job Instructions - Teach proper ways to train employees to do the job correctly.
- Job Methods - Improve the way every job is done.
- Job Safety - Prevent accidents and promote environmental health and safety awareness.
The TWI program launched at Sussex IM in July 2018.
“There has been expansion here over the years, and you get to a tipping point where you get too big for the staff you have supporting the operation,” Kopp said. “We went through Job Relations first, which was key. Any time there is change in an organization you want to make sure you communicate and get people up to speed on what’s going on, so you don’t bring nervousness.”
Sussex IM then moved on to Job Instructions to create standardization and repeatability.
The company then shifted its focus to the final two programs, Job Methods and Job Safety.
“The cadence is not necessarily set in stone, and we go based on the comfort level of the team,” Kopp said. “When we start to see the results we want, then we move onto the next phase.”
Sussex IM got its start in 1977 as Sussex Plastics Inc. after being founded by Lorand Spyers-Duran, a Hungarian immigrant.
Recent growth at Sussex IM is being driven, in part, by expanding business with existing customers, such as Nike, GOJO Industries, Neutrogena and a host of high-profile cosmetics brands, Sussex IM Production Scheduler Liz Malec said.
Sussex IM also does work for Dow Chemical Co. and some Wisconsin manufacturers, including Wauwatosa-based Briggs & Stratton Corp., S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc., which has its headquarters in Racine, and Hartford-based Broan-NuTone.
Sussex IM also has been attracting new customers, all of which is keeping the company’s 68 molding machines humming.
“We are very diverse,” said Malec, a nine-year employee of Sussex IM who began her career at the company on the shop floor during college breaks before becoming an intern and then a full-time employee.
Products made by Sussex IM include: Nike mouthguards and blow-molded water bottles; Neutrogena face wipe tubs; Maybelline, Revlon and L'Oréal compacts; and Purell soap dispensers.
Jerry Thiltgen, the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s Manager of Operational Excellence, has directed the TWI program at Sussex IM.
“He’s a sounding board and he has a good perspective,” Kopp said.
Thiltgen said Sussex IM made considerable improvements in its operations after only a couple of months of practicing the TWI program.
Sussex IM’s management team has been pleased with the results of the TWI program, Kopp said.
“What we are seeing is a difference in the dialogue employees are using in meetings and in conversations,” he said. “Not only are they going through the class and understanding the principles, they are using them day to day, and we are seeing a change for the better in the form of improved communication, better teamwork and an increased focus on what matters.”
The benefits don’t stop there.
“Our leaders are able to see the bigger picture and dial in on some of the issues we may be having and address them quicker, and help focus their teams on what they should be looking for,” Kopp said.
TWI also has helped establish a culture that boosts recruiting efforts in a tight labor market, he added.
Like many companies, Sussex IM is challenged by a shortage of experienced and trained leaders, either due to retirements or growth, Thiltgen explained. “The TWI Job Relations program has helped the company bring existing and potential new leaders to a new level of competence and performance in filling that gap,” he said.
The TWI program also is having a positive effect on Sussex IM’s bottom line.
“We are seeing reductions in scrap, labor variance and overhead,” Kopp said.
Kopp had previous experience with Toyota Kata and Six Sigma but hadn’t heard of TWI before attending the WMEP’s conference session.
“Here you are taking something and breaking it down so that people can absorb it,” Kopp said. “It’s a great program and it’s a benefit to companies. We have been very happy with the program.”
For information on Training Within Industry (TWI) and other programs offered by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, go to wmep.org