Release Date: June 29, 2009
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In 1998, Hebeler Corporation, a custom metal fabricator, had the unpleasant distinction of having made it onto the "10 worst vendors" list of one of its clients, GE Energy.
This year, the company with manufacturing plants in Tonawanda and Canada received the GE Supplier Excellence Award in Compliance.
The dramatic turnaround had a lot to do with the University at Buffalo and its Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE), according to Kenneth Snyder, president of Hebeler.
"If UB hadn't been there, I don't know how we would have done it," said Snyder.
The company tapped into UB and TCIE through a lean manufacturing program, which focused on eliminating waste in procedures throughout the company. When purchasing the company in 2001, Snyder and John Coleman, his partner and CEO, were so impressed by the results that they restructured the management team. Its core business was built around TCIE's Six Sigma Black Belt Student Certification Program.
Those programs, Snyder said, were responsible for creating the culture that resulted in Hebeler quadrupling its annual revenues, from $20 million in 1998 to $80 million today.
"Companies should really investigate how to utilize the whole UB talent pool," said Snyder. "One entry into UB is through TCIE."
Through the Six Sigma program at TCIE, companies in Western New York gain the expertise of an upper-class undergraduate or graduate student in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, who applies Six Sigma problem-solving methodologies to an issue the company identifies.
Throughout the program, the student is mentored by a professional Master Black Belt, a master of data-driven methodology, who has successfully completed hundreds of projects and who consults with both the employer and the UB student to ensure the project's success.
"Not many universities offer this kind of program," said TCIE Executive Director Tim Leyh. "The company improves its processes by utilizing data while the student gains real-world Six Sigma experience."
Upon successful completion of service, an exam and project, students are awarded a Black Belt Certification through UB's Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
"Students have an advantage when they can say to a potential company that they have this training," Leyh said. "Employers today not only need four-year degrees and master's degrees, but they also need critical thinkers, people who come into the workplace and immediately provide value and have impact."
So far, two students who completed Six Sigma projects for Hebeler have been hired by the company upon graduation. Of the company's executive management group, practically all have either completed Black Belt training through TCIE or graduated from UB, and the same can be said of a significant portion of the company's administrative group. Hebeler has sent, and continues to send, other employees through the center's regular Six Sigma trainings.
"We find ways to integrate the UB graduates into our process," said Ahmed Lahrache, chief operating officer of Hebeler. "They have a balance of skills."
One Six Sigma graduate, now a project manager at Hebeler, is Mylinda Plauman. Plauman, who also earned bachelor's degrees in business and industrial engineering from UB, graduated in 2005 from UB with a master's degree in industrial engineering.
Her Six Sigma project involved improving Hebeler's inbound freight; by the end of the project, she had sharply reduced the number of carriers, resulting in an estimated annual savings of $150,000. The savings are even higher now, as deliveries have increased.
Hebeler's Lahrache explained that the process would have eventually been examined, but not to the degree that the UB program affords.
Plauman has completed her Master Black Belt training through TCIE. Certification will enable her to train more Hebeler employees in Green Belt or Black Belt certifications.
"We have a whole 'lean initiative' going on," she said, referring to the philosophy that allows companies to employ a variety of tools and techniques designed to eliminate waste. "Now we can equip everyone with the tools and knowledge."
To date, Hebeler has sponsored four Black Belt students over four years and it shows no sign of slowing down.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.