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Batesville Products Inc. Measures Up

Shannon Wetzel, Managing Editor
Click here to see this story as it appears in the September 2017 issue of Modern Casting

Just under two years ago, AFS Corporate Member Batesville Products Inc. (Lawrenceburg, Indiana), began to heavily invest in internet marketing, not just by giving its website a new look or buying a Google ad. The permanent mold casting facility dove into the metrics.

“We work the internet like crazy,” said Tim Weber, vice president of marketing. “You have to work your website all the time. We get stats weekly. Sometimes you can act on them, sometimes it reinforces what you are doing. But we are always refining, tweaking our search terms and adding content like YouTube videos.”

The result: two leads a day from the internet.

“Two years ago, that was nonexistent,” Weber said. “This is just from our website.”

The analytic approach to Batesville Product’s internet presence is emblematic of the company’s approach to continuous improvement.

“Anything that is measured improves,” said Len Weber, president.

The permanent mold casting business has applied this philosophy throughout its operation, from marketing to scheduling, and the results have been increased sales leads, better productivity and improved quality.

Cooking Up a Schedule
Batesville Products makes aluminum castings in the range of a few pounds up to 100 lbs., in annual volumes between 500-30,000. Although its origination was in ornamental hardware for caskets, now its parts benefit the living, most heavily in the medical and food service industries. Its customers require quality parts with very little porosity and good surface finish. Most are coated or painted. Many are visible components in their application.

Batesville Products would like to be involved with its customers from design to final subassembly, and the added value means a strict adherence to scheduling. The metalcasting facility saw scheduling as a necessary area to improve in order to become more lean.

“We have a continuous improvement philosophy, and we looked at our scheduling methodology and it really was not helping us,” Len Weber said.

Batesville Products connected with Purdue University’s industrial engineering department through a state grant to help with creating a multi-objective optimization program that took into account the various attributes the business had to manage through the scheduling process.

“We input our open orders and various attributes, such as customer due date, equipment and labor availability, melt temperature, and gas levels, and the program matches the attributes together and spits out two different schedules to pick from,” Len Weber said. “We can optimize the schedule by lbs./hour so we can run the foundry the most efficiently based on the orders we have or we can optimize it by the delivery schedule.”

Weber said the schedule is pulled weekly, at which point supervisors sit together and go over it. Additionally, a daily report is generated that looks ahead at the next two weeks to see how the facility is progressing with the schedule. The plant measures adherence to and performance against the schedule for lbs./hour poured, utilization of labor, equipment efficiency, etc.

“We monitor the amount of jobs in the two-week time frame that need to be pouring, and if that escalates to a certain point, we will flip to optimizing on the due date. Once we bring that back down, we’ll flip back to optimizing by plant efficiency,” Len Weber said. “Frankly, it’s a pretty cool process for the variability we have.”

Batesville Products had started the process of developing a scheduling program at the beginning 2016. It met with consulting groups and another university before connecting with Purdue and the grant.

“The others were applying math to an existing software,” Len Weber said. “Purdue engineered a solution from the beginning and formulated the program around it.”

Batesville Products implemented the new scheduling program at the beginning of this year, and it began seeing improvements almost immediately.

“We have actually experienced a 30% improvement in our productivity, which is measured by our lbs./hour poured,” Len Weber said. “But we have also realized an improvement in our quality. How does scheduling affect quality? If you have a proper scheduling program, it keeps the foundry and production management from jerking tools in and out of the die. Now they have this ability to see into the future and properly prep the tools. They know exactly when to start the tools and it gives a full scope of what is coming next.”

Boosting Workforce Retention
The schedule and quality expectations and results for the week are shared with Batesville Products employees on large boards in the facility for employees to review and know.

“I’m a big believer of sharing of information. The more people you can get to understand the information that is going on, the better they will be able to understand the decision-making process and get everyone pulling in the same direction,” Len Weber said.   

Batesville Products offers monthly profit sharing to its employees, which is based on a ratio of the revenue the company generates divided by five categories of costs the employees have some level of control over.

Along with profit-sharing, the company has started a few other initiatives in its foundry area to help retain its employees. The building has been freshly painted, new lighting installed, and a new employee break area and kitchen was recently added, as well as an advanced engineered ventilation system.

“Management gave us the resources to clean and improve safety and bring back the pride of working in a foundry,” said Al Richardson, foundry foreman. “We made up a list of things to do to make it more inviting, and the management gave us the resources to implement.”

The company has made employee retention part of its marketing plan. As part of the Greater Cincinnati area, Batesville Products competes with major employers like Amazon and DHL.  Social media posts, billboard advertising, and even t-shirts are designed to build a sense of culture and family in the foundry. 

“We are all fighting for the same workforce,” Tim Weber said. “We have billboards up, we do radio ads and Facebook posts. When we accept applications, we also have them fill out a predictive index. We want to make sure they are happy here and we meet up the right individual to the job.”

Tim Weber said the company has always tried to invest in its employees, but it has ratcheted up the push in the last two years. It designed t-shirts specifically for its foundry workers and invested in education. Batesville Products subscribed to the AFS e-Learning program for online courses, and it produced short educational videos of its own showing the various steps of the permanent mold process.

“We are involved in getting the employees educated and trained so they see it is more of a profession,” Tim Weber said. “We have pushed lean manufacturing hard. We call it 6S because we include safety, but the foundry is really strong on the 5S principles. Once we hire them, we try to keep them in the family, so we want to create the culture of this is who we are, this is made in America, and it’s tough work, but we do it.”

“The payoff has been that scrap is down and productivity is up,” Tim Weber added. “People are staying here longer. It’s a foundry, so turnover is still a problem, but we are really making headway into that.”

Investing in Marketing
As is evident in its approach to retaining employees and using the internet, Batesville Products invests in marketing as a sales and branding tool and applies the same principles of measurement and analytics to gain the most productivity.

Along with its website and social media, Batesville Products exhibits at trade shows, sends targeted mailings and emailings, and advertises in Metal Casting Design & Purchasing magazine.

“You can’t just have one thing you put out there and leave it,”  Tim Weber said. “For example, when we exhibit at a job shop trade show, we gear our marketing toward that—like it’s a gigantic sales call. So if the show is in a city like Schaumburg, Illinois, we will target the area with geographic advertising on the internet and mailings. We don’t just go to the trade show and wait for whoever shows up. We make an effort to recruit and invite people. I think because we do that, we see 25% better inquiry than other companies we see at the shows.”

Batesville Products also co-exhibits with a close business partner that provides most of the powder coating on its castings. By exhibiting together, the two businesses show their added value.

“All of these marketing things come together to build our brand,” Tim Weber said. “When we get a request in, we always ask where the lead was generated.

Now Batesville Products is taking its marketing a step further by working with graduate students from the University of Cincinnati to examine the quotes the metalcaster has won and lost over the last four years.

“They are literally mining the quotes and analyzing which ones we got or didn’t get to see if there is a correlation,” Tim Weber said. “It will be interesting to see what we learn from it. It may be a lot of information that is not actionable, or it can be something we can use. We’ll see. It’s not that expensive or time consuming, but it will be interesting and really kind of fun.”

Primed for Growth
With the amount of measuring and analytics applied to the processes at Batesville Products, it is not a surprise that engineers make up 10% of the staff. For Len Weber, the technical knowledge of the company is one of its largest values.

“We like to work with customers on new products and bring their products to market, helping them develop their product so it is easy to manufacture,” he said. “That’s where we really shine. The more value we can bring, the further down the value chain we can take the product, the more effective we are to the customer. We want them to be able to take our part and put it right on the production line. That’s not new or unusual, but when you combine that with the customer intimacy at the beginning of the project, that is what brings our business in.”

From the beginning of a new job, Batesville Products will run finite elemental analysis (FEA) and share that with the customer. If the customer is open to it, the foundry will talk them through wall thickness, draft and isolated sections to achieve a sound casting design.

“We share with customers, this is how we are planning on manufacturing the part, where we are cutting. We do FEA for validation of the gating and solidification and share that with the customer, too,” said Tony Stenger, engineering manager. “As an all-encompassing supplier, we can inject ideas about things like machining during the design and planning stage.”

Tim Weber and Len Weber hope the current study by the University of Cincinnati will help further pinpoint the added value its prospective customers seek and how Batesville Products can achieve the value. In the meantime, the company will continue to measure, analyze, and implement process improvements throughout the company. The investment is paying off. According to Tim Williams, sales analyst, Batesville Products was projecting 12% growth this year, but is currently experiencing 18% growth.

“Some of the projects we have been working on are coming to fruition and others are going into higher growth,” Tim Weber said. “Surgical and medical is our biggest industry and it continues to grow for us.”    

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