Lean manufacturing forges Hamilton Caster ahead

The Dave Lippert file

Age: 56

Job: President of Hamilton Caster & Manufacturing Co.

Home: West Chester Twp.

Family: Wife Teresa, two daughters

Education: U.S. Air Force Academy

Associations: Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce board member, Material Handling Industry of America, 2010 Butler County United Way campaign chairman

HAMILTON — One of Hamilton’s oldest companies is using one of manufacturing’s more recent concepts to improve productivity, delivery times and quality.

Hamilton Caster & Manufacturing Co. was first formed in 1907. As of late, its key to success has been lean manufacturing, which its president David Lippert said is a process of eliminating waste that helps change happen faster, better. But its been a journey of lean principles earnestly since 2006 and one of continuous improvement going forward for the maker of wheels and wheel parts, Lippert said.

QUESTION: For what is your company best known?

ANSWER: In our industry, we’re best known for product quality and our delivery, quick delivery. In Hamilton, I would say we’re well known as one of the oldest manufacturers. In terms of one owner, one original company, we’re one of the oldest ...

We’re set up in basically three categories. One is PRONTO. PRONTO is a service ... started back in the '60s, '68. That was essentially a two-day shipping time for a lot of casters and wheels, the common ones. I tell a lot of people in our industry, this is like drive-through fast food ... Any customer that orders them in the morning they ship in the afternoon, they ship the same day. If you order a PRONTO item in the afternoon, it ships the next day. And we are batting in the last several months over 99 percent on time for that.

Then we have things that are non-PRONTO and non-PRONTO are things that are standard, but they’re just not as common. Those we ship usually within two weeks.

And then we have the third category, which are special, they’re custom engineered parts and they range from a couple weeks to more depending on how special they are.

Q: What are the major goals the company is working on and how is the company working to achieve those goals?

A: One of our goals is to really continue to raise the bar and improve our delivery. I told you we’re close. I think we’re on our third month in a row of over 99 percent ... Now we raise these goals as we achieve them so it’ll become even harder when we finally get to 99 and regularly hit it. And so we want to keep improving our deliveries, making it harder and harder for our competitors to ever get close.

We started a lean journey, we really started it in 1996, but the reality is we kind of started, hiccuped and restarted in 2006. And the lean journey embodies all kinds of stuff that helps us do exactly that — improve our deliveries ...

Part of any lean process is measurements and knowing where you’re starting ... It’s all about eliminating waste, so it’s getting waste out of our system so everything flows through faster and faster. The better we are at getting our processes flowing, that’s all of our manufacturing processes and all of our office processes; the better we do that, the faster and more effectively we can ship stuff.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the business today and why?

A: The biggest challenge is imports and the relatively low cost of those imports. Typically, it’s China, not necessarily always, but that’s where most of it’s from. And they started, they being foreign competition, started at the lighter duty end of things. But over the years, they have gotten into bigger and bigger things so they’re virtually in every part of the market.

Where that PRONTO has been a huge advantage competitively for us, we can beat any of our domestic competitors easily ... But there are competitors that have set up warehouses ... filled with parts all from overseas and they do like we do ... They’re quick ship.

Q: What have been keys to the company’s success during its history?

A: Over my years, I think the keys to success have been that we’ve always had good quality. Certainly since the ’60s we have done extremely well with the delivery piece. Our marketing has always been a strength ...

Q: What do you feel your company does better than its competitors?

A: I’d go back to the quality and delivery. I don’t know enough to know if what I’m going to tell you is absolutely true, but I know we’ve been on this lean journey and I know we have gotten incredibly better in the last five years than we would have if we hadn’t.

Q: Where do you see the company in five years?

A: Exporting more, conquering more of the existing market in the U.S. Shipping even faster than we can even imagine today.

Q: What is something the company wishes it could do better?

A: Probably changing faster. Even though we’re a small company, we are a pretty conservative group that’s more reluctant to change than some.

Q: What’s the biggest lesson the company learned from the recent recession and how is it being applied?

A: I would say this and I’m going to tie it to the lean journey. We started our lean journey in 2006, restarted it and in 2006 we were still doing well and what I told our group, our whole company ... I’d rather do this because it’s a good thing to do and not have to do it ... I’m convinced that because we were on our lean journey, we handled the recession better than we would have and by that I mean we didn’t layoff nearly as many people as we might have had to ... I think we were able to minimize it. And when we went on our lean journey, we weren’t cutting people off then either, we just took attrition and did it that way. One of the cardinal rules of lean is you don’t do lean to people.

Q: What’s something that you think that people don’t know about Hamilton Caster?

A: There’s tons of things they don’t know. A lot of people don’t even know we’re here. People who go on tours say they didn’t know there’s this breadth of wheels. ‘We just can’t imagine all the kinds of things you guys make here.’

Contact this reporter at (513) 705-2551 or clevingston@coxohio.com.

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