COWPENS, SC (Spartanburg County) — Time and again, Mermet has turned to the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP) and the Upstate Workforce Investment Board for guidance, growth, and the application of valuable production processes. SCMEP provides the resources for training and consulting and the Upstate Workforce Investment Board provides the funding to pay for the services through the Incumbent Worker Training program.
And why not? During the past five years, SCMEP has stimulated the state economy by more than $1.5 billion by helping smalland mid-size state businesses improve productivity, capabilities and performance. This figure measures dollars earned, saved and invested.
As a prominent maker of solar screen fabrics, Mermet has strived to stay competitive by implementing several components of Lean manufacturing. Each time, the manufacturer has utilized the services of SCMEP for installation of the methodologies. The programs include:
- Lean 101
- 5S Kaizen
- Value Stream Mapping
- Root Cause Analysis
- Quick Changeover, also known as Setup Reduction
- Six Sigma
- Batch reduction
“Lean and the other processes have been great for our production flow and the elimination of wasted time,” says Mermet plant manager Eric Delorme. “We’ve gotten a clear view of the processes, tackled quality issues and become more efficient.”
Mermet has gotten results, too. The company managed to increase productivity by 15 percent with Value Stream Mapping, Delorme says, while Quick Changeover and batch reduction implementation improved on-time delivery by 30 percent.
Solar screen fabric specialists
Mermet sells domestically and exports fabric to its parent company, Hunter Douglas, a global leader in custom made window fashions. The company specializes in solar screen fabrics made from high-quality coated fiberglass, which is used primarily for internal and external solar screen shades. Mermet’s reach is multifold: The innovative, practical fabrics are intended for solar protection, energy savings, visual aesthetics and acoustical comfort. Its installations range from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Mermet caters to a wide audience: architects, designers, contractors, fabricators and dealers. Architects often choose Mermet fabrics as part of an integrated design plan to enhance day lighting and reduce energy consumption. Similarly, designers prefer Mermet because of how the fabrics improve ambient light to create rich texture. Mermet also assists contractors by offering a broad swath of fabrics carried by a nationwide network of professional window shade fabricators. As for fabricators and dealers, Mermet has been a trusted partner for more than three decades, producing more than 200 fabric options for interior and exterior applications in a number of colors and weaves.
Quality and reliability have been the keys to Mermet’s popularity. The company’s reputation is deserved, and it continues to seek ways to improve. Lean manufacturing, as introduced by SCMEP, plays a large role in the company’s philosophy. “We didn’t know much about Lean manufacturing in the beginning,” Delorme says. “(SCMEP) explained it to us by using their own experiences. They knew how to implement it, and it’s made our entire operations much easier.”
SCMEP’s Lean 101 program addresses the flow of the product through the entire process. Naturally, in Mermet’s case, it’s fabrics. SCMEP involved all of Mermet’s employees, pushing each person through Lean training. SCMEP’s staff drew from their own personal experiences to best explain the program. By identifying processes and creating proper flow, Lean helped Mermet eliminate clutter, enhance quality and production. Point blank: Lean 101 facilitated rapid assembly, saving Mermet dollars and generating results.
The incorporation of Lean also allows an easy transition to 5S or 5S Kaizen, another manufacturing practice that helps to standardize operations, set the workplace in order, and eliminate unnecessary tools and parts. Meantime, Value Stream Mapping functions as a visualization tool that assesses the current manufacturing process, accounting for cycle and down times, inventory, material moves and information paths. The diagram draws attention to wasteful activities, and encourages the removal of such movements. “Our big step came when we started Value Stream Mapping. It gave us a clear view of our current processes, and where we needed to go,” Delorme says.
Mermet underwent an 85,000-square foot expansion in 2007, allowing the corporate office, weaving, coating and warehouse operations to be centrally located in a 130,000-square foot facility. So logically, its processes needed charting. As a result, Delorme concedes, Mermet can do the same amount of work in much less time.
Along similar lines, Quick Changeover targeted the assembly system, prodding Mermet to update its equipment, slash inventory and improve yarn quality. Once more, it’s saved the company time, dollars and labor. “We’re so much more efficient with our equipment,” Delorme says, “and we don’t have nearly as much downtime.”
More recently, Mermet began Six Sigma, a business management strategy that identifies, minimizes and ultimately removes errors from manufacturing production. A defect-free product is the goal, as Mermet seeks to perfect its yarn coating process. “We want to make the quality recurrent, and we couldn’t implement it by ourselves because we lacked experience,” Delorme says.
SCMEP offers precisely that: the know-how to back up its work — and word. “We couldn’t have done it alone,” Delorme says. “(SCMEP) is very knowledgeable, and they find the right people to explain the programs. I like their approach; it’s not too formal, and they provide great service at a reasonable price. They’re an absolute, necessary tool for business.”