In the early 2000s, Milwaukee-based Phoenix Products was facing a host of challenges, including increasingly slow deliveries to customers,out-of-control inventory and high employee turnover.
By 2004, the issues had reached a crescendo for the special-purpose lighting equipment manufacturer. “We had been running overtime every Saturday for a year and a half,” recalls Phoenix Chief Executive Officer Scott Fredrick. “We had to do something.”
A Business Journal of Milwaukee article by Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Emeritus Rajan Suri introduced Fredrick to what that something would be: a set of principles advocated by the UW-Madison Center for Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM), founded by Suri and currently directed by Industrial and Systems Engineering Associate Professor Ananth Krishnamurthy.
Five years and a series of joint projects later, Phoenix and the QRM Center have established an ongoing partnership with significant results. The time needed to produce one particular lighting system has decreased from as many as 14 days to three days, overtime costs decreased by 75 percent, inventory turns increased by 46 percent, and revenue per plant hours increased by 27 percent.
The partnership’s first project began in 2005, when QRM Center graduate students worked with Phoenix to evaluate the company’s fabrication processes, and in 2006, students studied Phoenix’s assembly processes and provided recommendations that resulted in major workforce rearrangements. In 2007, the partnership addressed the company’s material handling and storage strategies. In 2010, the partnership began a new project to eliminate work stoppages in all areas of the company, and QRM students have recommended workflow solutions that could save Phoenix as much as four to five hours of lost labor every day.
Krishnamurthy says the partnership is a win-win. “Our industry partners help us understand important issues faced by Wisconsin manufacturers in today’s competitive market, and together we work toward finding new solutions to these tough problems and implementing them,” he says.
“We are proud that our research has helped Wisconsin manufacturers become more competitive and profitable.”