Construction Materials Supplier Builds Up Equipment and Employee Engagement Programs

The Client

A major manufacturing business that produces bar supports for the construction industry.

The Challenge

The client was dealing with dwindling efficiency due to challenges on many different fronts, including maintenance and equipment breakdowns, hiring and retention difficulties, and operations and communication breakdowns. Let’s look at each one of those a little deeper.

Equipment breakdowns. They were using old equipment and despite what they thought was the correct maintenance, breakdowns happened frequently and slowed down the line. How old was that equipment? One of the pieces was wanted by the Ford Motor Company for historical purposes because it was used to make the Model T.

Hiring and retention difficulties. In this economy, the majority of businesses are having trouble hiring and retaining workers, and this client was no exception. Only for them, hiring and retention and equipment breakdowns were feeding off of each other, creating a sort of chicken-or-the-egg scenario. When equipment breaks down continually, stopping progress on the line, it’s a frustrating situation for Employees who are just trying to do their jobs. It doesn’t feel good, day after day, to be dealing with problems. When people are frustrated at work, they tend to look elsewhere. Skilled pros leaving the workforce leads to more machine breakdowns, and the cycle continues. We knew we had to solve both problems.

Operations and communication breakdowns. Management had let slip decades-old initiatives that had given them shop floor controls and visibility. This was a key piece of the puzzle. Management needed to regain that control and visibility on the shop floor. The other part of it was a breakdown in communication between shifts on the shop floor.

The Solution

USC arrived on the scene, took a couple of weeks to do a feasibility study, and came back with a project that was going to be 19 weeks in length with a focus on key areas:

Creating a Management Operating System (MOS). This was focused on the shop floor to address those operations breakdowns, giving management the control and visibility they had let slide over the years.

Creating a Maintenance Management Operating System. This area rose to the forefront quickly. The maintenance manager was proud they had no maintenance backlog. Normally, when we see equipment breakdowns, we also find that maintenance hasn’t been performed regularly. Not here. We dug a little deeper and found that they weren’t doing the correct type of maintenance that would address and prevent those breakdowns.

Increasing quality and throughput. It’s a key goal of most engagements, and this was no different. The point is to create an efficient, high-quality operation — the proverbial well-oiled machine.

Increasing Employee engagement and training. We knew this was also a key area in both hiring and retention. By creating the MOS and the MMOS, we were tackling the operations breakdowns. The next step was increasing Employee engagement. We needed engaged, enthusiastic people on the line in order for this to work.

Enhancing Employee communication. We were especially focused on communications between managers at shift changes. Everyone needed to be on the same page.

USC Tactics

At USC Consulting Group, we don’t pronounce edicts for change from the company boardroom. The whole key to our process is involving everyone, from higher ups to the people on the line, to get to the root of the problems and arrive at solutions. For this client, it looked like this:

USC Prototype Process. We started the change process at one work center, engaging the Employees and support functions as we enhanced and developed the necessary tools to improve plant Efficiency.

Fish Bone process (5Ms). The Fish Bone is a highly effective method of getting at the root of efficiency problems. It is, basically, a guided brainstorming session in which we brought in key players from all levels of the company and focused on five areas:

1. Materials. Are supply chain bottlenecks bedeviling efficiency?

2. Methods. Can we make processes more efficient?

3. Machine. Are the machines running the way they should?

4. Measurements. How do we know what success looks like?

5. Manpower (now called Crewing). Are Employees trained and engaged?

We did this brainstorming process, addressing the 5Ms, and then went out onto the line to see these issues in action. That gave it an extra punch. Not only did it clarify issues and actions we needed to take, but it enhanced communication between Employees as well. We had shift supervisors brainstorming together, creating a bond that increased their communication on the job.

Operator training with certificates of achievement. We found manuals with pictures, but there had been high turnover and nobody was using those old manuals anymore. With these manuals, a formalized training process was developed and deployed to add skill to a new workforce. Issuing certifications was a powerful part of this process. Employees who had successfully completed the training got certified, which gave them a new level of pride in themselves and their achievements.

Preventative maintenance overhaul. USC looked at the work order history for the past 12 months. We found their instructions for maintenance were very low level, generic, and didn’t address what needed to be addressed. For one of their machines that broke down constantly, it was just changing an air filter once a year. That was not the kind of maintenance it needed. So we talked to their most experienced operators about problems they were seeing, and identified the type of preventative maintenance they needed, based on the problems that kept recurring. It also required a cultural habits change. The company was used to putting out fires, not preventing them. But they needed to shift to taking a small hit during preventative maintenance downtimes to prevent future breakdowns.

Performance Results


Overall Production Improvement


Significant improvments in Employee Communication

Enhanced Management Operating System (MOS)

Creation of a Maintenance Management Operating System (MMOS)


Machines running more efficiently, Employees more engaged and enthused about the job, fewer breakdowns, and a new MOS to help things keep running smoothly. The client was happy, and so were we. Some key points:

  •   The training and certificates of achievement created enhanced Employee engagement and pride in their achievements and day-to-day work.
  •   Communication between shift Supervisors improved dramatically through participating in the Fish Bone.
  •   Equipment and mechanical enhancements created increased throughput and higher efficiency.
  •   We identified best practices to put in place to prevent problems from recurring.

Next Steps

We aimed for a 20-25% improvement, we’re at 13% so far. Supply chain issues were bogging down the progress as they would run out of one of the key components of their product. They also were reducing inventory and throttling back the production load on the plants, decreasing plant volume.

These issues of higher than planned inventories and Supply Chain constraints led us to a second project to work on Sales, Inventory & Operations Planning (SIOP) as well as sharing the MOS and MMOS tools across sister sites.

more case studies