February 27, 2014 12:00 AM
NEW BEDFORD — David Cabral said his company Five Star Surgical is dependent to a large degree on the national economy, but it grew 40 percent last year.
A lot had to do with the training of his workers and the implementation of the lean manufacturing system, he said.
“It’s all about consistency and quality,” he said during a tour of his factory in the New Bedford Business Park.
“We work to half a thousandth. So if you think about a hair being three thousandths, you’re cutting it into six.”
Along with two other area companies, Five Star was the recipient of some $630,000 in workforce training funds in 2012, allowing 25 workers to be trained. What resulted was a change in the company’s culture — as well as merit-based wage increases and promotions — toward what Cabral sees as a happier workforce.
Communication is an integral element of the culture at Five Star, whether it’s a complaint about a machine or a worker, or recognition that someone is doing a good job. A bulletin board on a factory wall allows employees to post concerns, which are discussed at subsequent meetings.
“And productivity follows,” Cabral said. “Happy people make productivity happen.”
A screen on the wall inside the factory flashes between various messages. One lists employees’ birthdays. Another reminds workers to “stone the table,” another to “count your parts.”
For the 103 workers at Five Star, it’s all part of lean. According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, “lean” is a system designed to maximize value while minimizing waste — creating more consumer value with fewer resources. Systems are optimized to boost efficiency and lower costs.
“It’s a culture change. It’s not just a program, but it’s a culture change”» Lean thinking,” Cabral said.
Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki visited the nearly 40,000-square-foot plant, participating afterwards in a roundtable discussion with the Southeast Advanced Manufacturing Consortia. He highlighted the success of the state economy, but with caution.
“When you talk to a lot of businesses in Massachusetts — Why did they start here? Why are they growing here? Why did they relocate here? — it’s because people feel this is a great place to get talent,” he said.
In spite of the state’s strong manufacturing base and educated workforce, Bialecki said it’s aging quickly, with about 100,000 vacancies expected in the coming years.
David Slutz, president and CEO of New Bedford o-ring manufacturer Precix, said the average worker at his factory is 49.
“My machinists Jimmy and Johnny are both 62 — what am I going to do next?” he said. “The vocational school is my next (option).”
Things are good for the company, which has trained hundreds of workers in lean manufacturing.
Slutz said he’s on his way to China in the coming days for a $2 million deal. But he said it’s in the skills of his workers where the value lies.
“What sells my company is not the old plant on Belleville Avenue, it’s the people,” he said. “I had a customer tell me the other day he said, ‘You know, what sold me is your people.'”
February 27, 2014 12:00 AM