The most important asset any organization has is its team, a team is a group of people that come together to achieve a common goal. We need our team to run machines, inspect parts, provide customer service, build quotes and programs, place orders, etc. More importantly, we need a well-trained team. Every single person that Peerless Precision employs requires some form of training; whether it be for our specific systems and procedures, or providing an entry-level individual with the skills they need to successfully enter the workforce and start their career.
In advanced manufacturing, we not only have an aging workforce but also a skills gap. We have been trying to solve the skills gap issue for a long time. More often than not, the preference is to find someone with experience that would require less training. Pulling from the same workforce pool will not solve any of the workforces issues our industry faces. While hiring an entry-level employee will cost more training dollars and will take longer to get them up-to-speed, we cannot let that deter us from hiring the right person. From personal experience, sometimes it just takes the right leader to see a spark in someone to know that they have great potential. With the labor market as tight as it is (or was before COVID-19), nine out of every 10 employees that Peerless Precision hires are entry-level. They are either coming in on a Co-Op from a local technical high school, as an intern from a local college, or from training programs that are facilitated by our Regional Employment Boards. An entry-level employee is more receptive and “moldable” to become the team member that is needed.
A team member that is provided not only with the tools to learn to do their job and develop their skills, but also a path to growth within our companies is more likely to stay as a result of that upfront and continuing investment. As an employer, when we invest time and money into training our team members, we are investing in both our workforce and our company.
Offering and investing in a training path for our workforce increases productivity and quality, provides growth paths/upskill opportunities, improves retention and engagement; and also empowers our team members. When our team members are empowered, we see increased problem solving, critical thinking, continuous improvement efforts, etc.
So if you don’t have a training process today, put one in place, the skills gap is a real problem and on the job training is a solution that can help your business grow!
I went to a 4-year college because that was what I was supposed to do, and guess what? I left after 2 1/2 years.
I am part of a generation that was told that vocational schools were not an option, or that they were for those who had no chance of ever going to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and preferred learning by doing vs. sitting in a lecture hall. Now, by no means is this meant to discourage anyone from going to college or to say that college is a bad thing, more to enforce that not everyone needs to go to be successful. In an era where student loans are through the roof and it can be difficult to get an entry-level position, our youth needs to be made aware of what other opportunities are out there; and that is up to us, the employers.
As President of Peerless Precision, my main focus over the past 8 years has been to show students how cool it is to work at a machine shop! Our doors are always open to schools for tours of our facility to show students first-hand what it means to be a manufacturer in America. Peerless makes small, critical mechanical components for the Aerospace, Defense, Medical Device and Commercial Industries, to extremely close tolerances (.001″ – .000005″). While looking at any of the parts that we manufacture, it is nearly impossible to know what they are for, it is important to speak to the larger picture and create a narrative around why what we make is so important and cool.
That is how we can get them interested:
While we have a healthy mix of both CNC, NC and Manual Machines, I always start our tours out in the CNC departments. Starting with the computerized, high-tech equipment and seeing the machines in action really gets their interest sparked. From there, we always go into our NC and manual departments, because that is where the close tolerance magic happens. While the machines may not be as “fancy,” they really get to see the skills and talent that our team has developed in order to achieve those close tolerances that we are known for. We then move into inspection, where we have been making significant investments over the past 5 years to improve our efficiencies and when the students get to see one of our younger Inspectors demo our Instant Measurement System, their eyes just pop out! Now we start with high tech and we want to end with high tech, so I save our newest “cool” piece of machinery for last, our laser welder because lasers are just cool! We always have demo parts ready to go and the students get to take turns walking up and watching it in action. I always start with the fact that the weld is so fast (1.5 sec) that if you blink, you will miss it! Throughout these tours, I bring in as many of my under 30 team members (and we have a lot) into the conversations so they can explain what they are doing and why they are doing it and why they made the decision to become a Machinist and the opportunities that have come with it.
It is important to be involved with schools (Traditional, Vocational and Technical Colleges). I sit on multiple advisory and steering committees, participate in open houses and have become one of the go-to companies in our region for schools to reach out to place Co-Op students and interns. There has been a dynamic shift in the State of Massachusetts where more support for vocational awareness and education are starting to take place and innovation pathways are being introduced into traditional high schools, which is helping to bring the trades back. I am proud to say that I have been a part of helping to bring manufacturing back to two of our local high schools, and expect to see that number grow.
If you have the opportunity to speak to an Advocacy Group, State Legislator, School Committee, etc. on the importance of career technical education, take it, and share your story. If a school reaches out to you for a tour, to speak or to do an open house, do it and change the narrative.
It is the stories that we and our employees share about what we do and the paths that have led us to where we are that really drive home the importance of manufacturing in America.
Kristin Carlson, President
More than Following in Dad’s Footsteps: Growing & Transforming into a Next Generation Manufacturer
Peerless Precision, Inc. (PPI) is a small, 20 person, family-owned job shop that specializes in the manufacture of precision machined parts for the aerospace, defense, and medical devices industries. Their area of expertise is when tolerances of .0001″ or better are required and have delivered 1 helium light band in flatness, .000005″ in roundness, and .003″ wall thickness. Peerless Precision is certified under both AS9100:2009 and ISO 9001:2008.
Larry Maier purchased the company in 1997. Kristin Maier Carlson became president in 2012 when her father became ill, and has since guided the company through their next growth stage.
As the new president, daughter of the past president, and someone who had worked in the company on and off since she was 15, Kristin had to rise from being viewed as “Larry’s daughter” to being the visionary leader of the company’s future.
After having been away for a few years and to best understand the organization, Kristin had a transition period where she relearned the company. She knew that she needed to ease everyone’s fears of her selling, so her first mission as the president was to reinforce with the employees that she was there to grow the corporation and to be there for the future. She continually reinforced with the employees that she wanted them to build the company together. Layoffs and selling what her father had worked so hard to build was not an option for the future.
The talented Peerless Precision management team and its employees have helped it succeed and grow. The company is a key supplier for Tier 1 aerospace and defense manufacturers. As part of Kristin’s growth and strategic plan, she wanted the company to become more progressive in its product line, markets, and overall efficiency. The company also needed to increase sales as they had recently dropped off due to sequestration.
Increasing Revenue, Implementing Lean
In early 2014, building off an 8-week “The Stronger Business Program” completed at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), Kristin developed a vision for the company’s future growth that included a strategic plan to increase revenue and a continuous improvement process using Lean principles.
Kristin had heard a lot about Lean and toured other companies in Western Massachusetts to see best practices that had been implemented. She knew that in order for the company to sustain any growth potential, they needed to become more efficient on the shop floor. Kristin’s initial goals were to improve the flow of the work, become more organized, and implement visual management techniques. While conducting her research on Lean practitioners, she kept hearing over and over that she needed to speak with MassMEP, so she contacted Susan Janus, Regional Manager for Western Massachusetts.
At the time the company was undergoing a Lean transformation, Kristin began her transformation into the President’s role. One of Kristin’s mentors had given her valuable advice, “watch the books – watch the guys.” In watching the books she started to manage by the numbers and implemented management controls to help the company become more efficient, which complemented the training provided by MassMEP. As for watching the guys, her goal was to create an environment where everyone’s voice is heard and their expertise is leveraged. There was a management shift at the company, a senior management team was developed and teams were formed on the shop floor. Everyone began having input into the direction and growth of the company.
In October 2014, every person at the company, including Kristin, participated in the Principles of Lean training. This training provided a common language for the company to work together towards becoming more efficient and opening the lines of communication. This helped bridge some of the potential barriers between management and the employees on the shop floor. They began moving away from, “We have always done it that way” and moving towards working together to grow and change the company. The future direction of the company was being formed.
Increasing Flow and Improving Productivity
After the Principles of Lean (Lean 101) training, MassMEP conducted a Value Stream Mapping (VSM) workshop for the fabrication of a key product for a critical customer. After clearly mapping out the current state, the VSM team members outlined key actions required to implement a future state vision that would increase flow and overall productivity. Their action plan included implementation of Pull / Kanban systems, continued implementation of Visual Systems, changes to lot size and machining location, additional machine programming, review of inspection requirements, and plans for future cross training. MassMEP provided them with the tools to implement these new practices. Now they are working together to expand the initial implementation of these best practices for other products and processes. As a result of these changes, production has significantly increased – everyone benefits as they are working smarter, not harder.
Creating Corporate Vision
To assist Kristin with developing a Strategic Growth plan, Peter Russo, MassMEP, Growth and Innovation Program Manager, provided consulting services focused on sales, operational goals and enhancements, management by numbers, leveraging capabilities, resources, and connections in the marketplace, and creating a company positioning statement (Why, How, What) for improved sales and marketing.
“Peerless Precision Inc. believes that you should design your products within 5 millionths without having to worry about manufacturability, consistency and accuracy; just send us the specs – we take care of the rest.”
To help plan for future growth and identify new markets, Susan Janus, MassMEP Regional Manager, leveraged a grant to provide Kristin and her team with a Technology-Driven Market Intelligence (TDMI) research project. TDMI identifies the benefits and market impacts related to a company’s technology-based asset (e.g. idea, product, process, capability) and provides customized actionable intelligence needed for the company to expand.
Kristin commented that one of the components of the TDMI process is to define precision. She learned that precision is more than keeping tolerance, but rather doing it consistently over time. That is the value she brings to her clients: fully understanding the value of her company’s services and providing a clearer direction for the future of her company and the value-add it can bring to its customers.
As a result of the TDMI, they realized they were able to assist in engineering the prints rather than just work from prints that were provided. This saves Peerless Precision and their client’s time in rework and developing the prints, quicker completion of the job.
The Management team has expanded its vision to looking beyond a sheet of paper and now evaluates the full process and value they can provide to a client. They have found a niche market of delivery by working together and understanding the future direction of the company.
Kristin’s father, Larry Maier, has always been admired and remembered for his relentless support of manufacturing, from dynamic activity with vocational-technical schools to advocacy for the Western MA Tooling and Machining Association. Larry would be proud to know that his daughter continues in both these areas while dramatically transforming and growing the family business into a next-generation manufacturer.
Areas of impact
- Culture: Company growth through change. No longer “That is how we always did things.” Implemented the Management team on the shop-floor.
- Jobs: Added 3 new full-time employees, plus co-op students.
- Sales: Increased by $700,000 in one year.
- New Markets: Megatrends identified — medical devices, commercial aerospace, unmanned vehicles, robotics, energy, and sensors.
- Other: Installed scheduling system. Increased on-time delivery by 10%.
“MassMEP helped me to determine the best direction for the company, connections to outside sources, such as Greentown Labs, so that we can grow and be here for future generations.” – Kristin Maier Carlson