The Diversity in Its Services Equals the Diversity in Its People: Becker Communications
Location: Wausau, WI
No. of Employees: 6 full-time Becker employees; 11 contract employees
Products: Display and exhibit business
NWMOC Projects: Principles of Lean Workshop, Value Stream Mapping, 5S, Design and Implementation
In 2002, when Becker was planning to build a new 60,000 sq. ft. facility to house their growing business, the management team felt that it was an opportune time to re-evaluate their workflow process. To help with the evaluation and subsequent plan of action, Becker contacted Northwest Wisconsin Manufacturing Outreach Center (NWMOC).
Becker Communications was started 35 years ago as a photography business with Bob Becker, President and founder, as its sole employee. Since 1968, Becker has experienced periods of significant growth and diversification. Today, Becker has 10 different divisions and areas of expertise including Photography, Graphic Design, Digital Imaging, Video Production, Digital Media, Web Design, Corporate Events and Incentive Travel, Travelinc – a full service corporate and leisure travel
agency, Business Theater and Becker Exhibits.
Becker Exhibits, which offers everything from retail point-of-purchase displays to custom and portable tradeshow exhibits was auspiciously formed in 1991 as
Bob Becker had lunch with a friend. During the course of the conversation, the friend suggested that Becker help him with a window display. Having had previous
manufacturing experience, Bob decided to accept the challenge and from that unlikely beginning, Becker Exhibits was formed. In the last twelve years,
Becker Exhibits has thrived and now boasts a customer base, which includes Home Depot, Anderson Windows and JELD-WEN Window and Doors.
NWMOC's Project Manager, Jim Van Grinsven, and Becker's management team walked through the plant, specifically looking at the manufacturing process. Once the assessment was complete, Jim and the management team sat down and discussed their improvement plan. This plan consisted of a Lean Workshop, a Value Stream Map, 5S and a Lean Design Implementation.
Application of the plan began with Becker Management selecting a cross-functional team consisting of shop, sales, design and management employees and having members of the team participate in a Lean Workshop. Sheila Fugate, Controller for Becker Communications noticed an almost immediate change in employee morale. "Once we selected the people that were going to be involved in the project and explained to them the time commitment needed to complete the projects, they were all pretty excited about what this was going to do for them."
Upon completion of the Lean Workshop, a current Value Stream Map of the production process was documented. Jim Van Grinsven and Brad Nasset, Project Managers at NWMOC, along with the Becker team worked together to ensure the accuracy of this project. Mike Nowicki, General Manager of Becker Exhibits feels that, "The Value Stream Map has had huge ramifications. It has completely changed the way that we look at all of our projects."
The Value Stream Map affected more than just the physical production line. It also provided Sheila Fugate and the rest of the management team with additional confidence when making agreements with customers on the quality of products and end pricing. "We can hold firm on pricing because we understand our process and are confident in the quality we are providing to our customers."
A team was then assembled, using core personnel from the Value Stream Map Project and key employees from the shop floor, to complete the 5S process of Sorting, Shining, Set in Order, Standardize and Sustain. Once the process was understood, it took a very short time for the team to begin implementing it. Evaluating what was needed for each part of the line was also relatively simple. Cluttered work areas were pared down and tools were reallocated to other work areas. "We actually ended up locating a significant amount of the small tools that were needed for each station," states Sheila Fugate. As a result, it was unnecessary "to go out and buy everything."
"The 5S process was an opportunity to start to get some commonalities, some similarities to the work stations," said Jim Van Grinsven of NWMOC. "This was a big step because it helped set the stage for designing the whole operation in terms of how the line would be run."
Becker was now ready for the final step of the project – designing and implementing the Flow of the line. Becker Exhibits worked on the design with the assistance of the NWMOC Project Managers. According to Joel Becker, "I think a big part of the success of this project is due to Jim and Brad's ability to facilitate as well as they do."
In addition to improving sales, reducing inventory and improving turn around time, Becker has recognized one unexpected benefit in becoming a Lean Shop. Their new manufacturing process directly impacts the vendors they choose to work with. One of the first questions now asked of potential vendors is, "Are you a Lean Shop?" If the answer is yes, Becker is more likely to utilize that vendor without reservation. "When you are dealing with a vendor that you know is a Lean Shop, you
realize that they will have quality and cost controls in place." Joel Becker believes, "It makes us a lot more confident and comfortable to know that we are working with people who have the same philosophies that we do."
“ A 13% increase in sales over an eight month period compared to twelve months the previous year, a 40% reduction in inventory, 95% improvement in turn around time. Factor in our employees' high morale and it really puts you on cloud nine. This is gigantic! This is what NWMOC did for us. ”
~ Joel Becker, Vice President/General Manager