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Elkhorn manufacturer credits growth to lean tools

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Carla McCann
October 28, 2007
— While some manufacturers were struggling this year to turn a profit, Palmer Hamilton increased production 20 percent and added a second shift.

“We have a blossoming second shift,” said Tod Friske, vice president.


The Elkhorn based company credits much of its success to a partnership with a non-profit consulting organization that helps small and mid-size manufacturers grow and succeed.


“We saw a need to bring in outside assistance to help streamline our operations and provide resources to help get it done,” said John Gardner, president and CEO of Palmer Hamilton.


With help from the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Palmer Hamilton has emerged as a lean manufacturing company.


Specializing in the production of school cafeteria tables and booths and other food court products, Palmer Hamilton is becoming a major player in its market.


Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership showed the company how to use “lean tools” to identify and eliminate waste, improve production time and reduce costs.


Compared to past practices, lean tools have allowed for a smoother flow of work on the production floor with less employee effort. In many cases, several production steps have been eliminated and replaced with more efficient methods, said Jim Dougherty, vice president of operations.


Once employees are trained and understand the concepts, they can replicate the efficiency gains by applying the lean tools to other areas of the plant, Gardner said.


Palmer Hamilton has been working with Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership since 2004. It’s an ongoing journey, Gardner said.


Both salaried employees and management have received training in the lean philosophy and techniques that have proven successful, Gardner said.


The company, which has about 100 employees, has been privately owned by Gardner, Dougherty and Friske for about 10 years


The red brick building that houses Palmer Hamilton has been nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood since 1988. On the production floor, where the food court products are crafted in well-choreographed steps, organization reigns supreme.


The flow of jobs moves easily and steadily from one workstation and employee to another.


Along the way, a new machine automatically cuts metal to specific measurements. The job used to be done by hand.


Jim Hensch, Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership manufacturing specialist who worked with Palmer Hamilton, said lean has been a benefit for many small manufacturers.


“In addition to reducing costs and lead times, lean helps companies expand capacity and take on new business,” Hensch said. “It’s an essential strategy for growth and success at a time of intense global competition.”



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