Release Date: September 28, 2010
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With more than 1,000 Williams Advanced Materials (WAM) employees spread across the world, this leading supplier of specialty materials had its pick of any number of Lean Six Sigma providers to instill a new common language across its international sites.
Company officials chose the University at Buffalo's Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE) as its long-term partner.
WAM's goal is to achieve operational excellence by increasing efficiency and improving processes. To do so, UB's TCIE is using online capabilities and in-person training to educate WAM employees in Lean Six Sigma, the management methodology that uses problem-solving to decrease waste and defects.
The initiative is a business-wide directive of WAM President Richard Sager and Chief Operating Officer Donald Klimkowicz and is proving to be a strong factor behind the company's ability to compete on the world stage.
"World-class performance, or the ability to successfully sell and deliver products anywhere in the world, requires a commitment to constant improvement to consistently satisfy customers' changing needs," Klimkowicz said. "WAM is a world-class provider of its products, and it is imperative that we have a mechanism to maintain that status."
WAM Director of Quality Matthew Rigerman, who has achieved the highest level of mastery in Lean Six Sigma, said that TCIE's affiliation with a major public research university was an appealing factor in the decision. Klimkowicz also pointed to UB's significant expertise in professional adult learning methods.
"TCIE's training material is equal to, or better than, what other organizations have to offer," Rigerman said.
The company has eight manufacturing sites in the United States, two in Europe and four in Asia for its advanced materials used in thin film deposition and semiconductor packaging applications.
Nearly 80 percent of WAM employees receiving the most hands-on, high-level training do not reside in Western New York.
Most learning happens online from each individual's home base, with supplemental in-class education and project mentoring taking place in person at WAM's Buffalo headquarters.
WAM believes so strongly in Lean Six Sigma and TCIE's delivery that it flies selected employees to Buffalo for all their Lean Six Sigma instruction. The company also had a TCIE facilitator travel to Boston, Mass., to train employees there.
"The big advantage that TCIE has is its willingness to customize and tailor the program to meet the client's needs," Rigerman said.
Employees are learning how to achieve significant cost reductions, improve cycle time, eliminate non value-added process steps and decrease customer complaints.
"I use it for almost everything I do," said Casey Clauss, a process engineer at the company's Wheatfield site.
She says the world that Lean Six Sigma's data analysis and structured approach has cracked open is almost overwhelming, pushing aside band-aid-type solutions in favor of addressing a problem's root cause. "I feel we have so much to do," she said.
Clauss and about 100 other employees have been certified in various competencies, from decision-makers who will "champion" the cause to individuals who undergo in-depth, project-preparation training as Green Belts, Black Belts and Master Black Belts. Sessions involve individuals from every discipline, including engineering, production, sales and marketing, finance, shipping and receiving.
While previously at another division of Brush Engineered Materials Inc., WAM's parent company, Klimkowicz added a Lean Six Sigma program to the ISO 9001 quality system, which saved millions of dollars each year by eliminating costly mistakes and improving yields.
"Improved product quality, delivery reliability and innovation led to significant new and expanded business," Klimkowicz said. "Improved employee safety provided a safer work environment, leading to fewer injuries and improved employee morale."
WAM's success also can be seen in Green Belt projects like the one developed by Mark Drezdzon, which doubled a material's production capacity while decreasing the cost. The Milwaukee site principal scientist has since earned a Black Belt, for which he undertook an inefficiency reduction project.
"It is invaluable in how you do your job," Drezdzon said. "I feel like we're on top of things."
Rigerman earned his Master Black Belt through TCIE, which strengthened his coaching, mentoring and training skills to keep the initiative on track. He has seen employees identify processes that will benefit from the Lean Six Sigma perspective.
Personnel from different sites – and different departments - who may never have communicated before are now sharing ideas and best practices.
"It's difficult not to learn," Drezdzon said.
More WAM employees are being exposed to Lean Six Sigma through TCIE every year. Rigerman developed an in-house voluntary web conference training program highlighting fundamental concepts, which more deeply ingrains the methodology across the company's entire workforce. The goal is to enroll at least 50 percent of employees at each of the company's 14 sites.
"Williams Advanced Materials' goal is to become 'Our Customers' First Choice," said Sager.
He noted that TCIE's Lean Six Sigma program has provided WAM with new tools "that will undoubtedly improve our overall level of customer satisfaction. I am confident from our initial analysis and review of the various projects that we will ensure our customers are receiving sustainable, cost-effective solutions."
TCIE provides a dynamic link between UB's expert resources and the region's business community. A program of the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, TCIE fosters partnerships and manages projects as diverse as the region's businesses, and is a premier provider of Lean Six Sigma training and mentoring. For more information on how TCIE can assist Western New York businesses, go to http://www.tcie.buffalo.edu.