A Cultural Conversion
1997 was a year of tremendous change at Daman. Construction was beginning on their new 45,000+ square-foot headquarters and manufacturing plant in the 1800 block of Home Street. At the same time, knowing there was a drastic need to change the way they were doing business, the executive team took a giant leap of faith. They made the ultimate decision to embrace a concept inconceivable to them, known as LEAN, introduced to them by Doug Atkin of Crowe Chizek, Daman’s accounting firm. Little did they know that LEAN would be the catalyst to start a cultural conversion at Daman.
The pitch that Atkin made to the executive team sounded too good to be true. It promised improved throughput to the point of continuous flow, reduced chaos, improved quality and reduced cost. Supposedly, this could be accomplished by focusing on processes, technology and people. First, he recommended that Daman reduce inventory, finish work in progress, run fewer parts, and scariest of all…no more forecasting. It was the exact opposite of everything they learned in school and throughout their careers.
In 1999, the Kanban inventory control system was implemented after Daman used up 60% of their inventory. The core of this system, developed by an industrial engineer at Toyota in the 40’s, involves identifying which steps in production add value and which do not. Many processes that were not formerly perceived as being wasteful are removed.The most common seven wasted resources identified are: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over processing, and defects.
Kanban is a scheduling system for just-in-time production that utilizes pull methodology. The way it works is that a small inventory of manifolds is kept in designated bins. When an order is placed, the item is pulled and the Kanban (red and blue) card is scanned. Once the bin is empty, an electronic signal is sent and the manifolds are scheduled for production. It is the rate of demand that controls the rate of production instead of forecasts which push too much product into the market.
By 2001, custom manifolds were added to the Kanban or Daman Trigger System. Daman determined that once programming, processing, tooling and fixturing were established, custom manifolds could be treated the same as standard products which allowed custom parts to be shipped within 24 hours.
Change in Leadership
Larry Davis and Dave Mischler had been leading the company effectively and consistently for many years, when in 1996 they were named Executive Vice President and Vice President, respectively. In 2003, Jack Davis officially named his son, Larry, president of Daman Products while Jack became the CEO. Larry and Dave went on to purchase the company from Jack when he retired in 2007.
A fundamental part of LEAN, Atkin told them, focuses on employees, empowering them to work autonomously, trusting them to make decisions and to eliminate waste whenever possible. The executive team thought that’s what they were doing when they decided to create independent, self-contained work stations called cells on the manufacturing floor that would be run by a team and have a team leader. Unfortunately, they didn’t ask for any input from the people on the shop floor who, in turn, had no idea how to run their newly created cells. This caused a lot of conflict between employees, cell teams and shifts. If it weren’t for the absolute commitment of the entire leadership team, the LEAN journey would have ended here.
When they realized their mistake, a teambuilding consultant was hired to help Daman learn to work as high-performance teams. This process took longer than anticipated. But, once the employees began to take control of their projects, there was a dramatic improvement in the commitment, energy, enthusiasm and pride of the entire staff.
Many innovative improvements initiated by employees were being made throughout the shop. Tables used to move heavy manifolds that could be raised and lowered with the simple push of a button were built. Powered torque wrenches were counterbalanced and suspended at working height to eliminate repetitive shoulder injuries. Recessed bins were cut into table tops to keep things organized, reduce clutter and save space.
In 2008, Larry heard the familiar racket of concrete saws and jack hammers coming from the shop floor and went to investigate. Cell C was undergoing an organizational process, or 5S. They needed pneumatic lines and electricity moved deeper into their cell. The lines couldn’t go overhead, and they couldn’t lay on the floor because it made moving skids impossible. Their solution: trench the 12” thick concrete floor. It was at this moment that Larry knew Daman had reached a turning point. The level of ownership assumed by the employees and the obvious trust they felt that they could saw up the shop floor without fear was exciting and inspiring.
In 2010, the Creative Team, was formed to explore new ideas for product development. Made up of people from every department at Daman, they have learned to collaborate, inspire and work together effectively. The team adopted a 9-step stage-gate process roadmap to either advance or eliminate ideas. It begins with a market assessment, and is followed by idea generation, concept development, financial analysis, prototype development, production set-up, marketing test, product launch, and concludes with post-launch feedback.
Many mistakes were made along the way, and as a result, many important lessons were learned—profound lessons that Daman eagerly shares with others in Daman University. Community and business partners are invited to participate in programs which include touring Daman and learning how LEAN and the continuous improvement philosophy and practices have shaped their culture.
The competitiveness of the U.S. is closely linked to the success of our youth in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Believing there is a need to improve the capacity and diversity of the STEM workforce pipeline, Daman sponsored its first NFPA Fluid Power Challenge in 2010 at the University of Notre Dame where they continued to host it through 2013. In 2014-15, Daman sponsored the event at Ivy Tech in South Bend.