Center Helps Plant Enter New Markets

If you begin discussing the finer points of manufacturing cell design, most people are likely to yawn, roll their eyes or look for a polite exit strategy.

But not Richard Hayes. After all, the new manufacturing cell created for the 75-employee Kaiser Aluminum plant he manages is likely to mean savings of nearly $200,000 a year for his employer. It was designed with the help of an expanded federal assistance program and cost the company only $10,000.

With assistance from engineers from the California Manufacturing Technology Center, a private nonprofit organization whose Ventura County offices received a $5-million federal grant in September, Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp.'s Oxnard plant has been redesigning its manufacturing operations to switch from defense-related work to making parts for bicycles, golf clubs and tire rims.

"In order to get into newer markets that were higher in volume and where appearance is an issue with customers, we had to find new ways to manufacture," said Hayes, general manager of Kaiser's Oxnard facility.

The California Manufacturing Technology Center was set up for just that purpose: to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers--those with fewer than 500 employees--to become more efficient, more competitive and to eventually create more jobs.

The actual manufacturing cell design is not exactly rocket science. It was simply a way to organize a massive heating furnace, forging press, cooling tank and trimming press so parts could go from raw material to finished product in minutes, rather than days.

But hiring a consultant to do the work would have cost much more and, more important, would probably have delayed the improvements for years, Hayes said.

The Kaiser success story is not the first one for the California Manufacturing and Technology Center, said Bob Bishop, the group's spokesman.

"Kaiser is a good example of the kinds of results we can help small manufacturers achieve," Bishop said. "[Our help] is not just a matter of a company improving its manufacturing processes. It's a matter of helping them stay in business."

Hayes said he expects to continue working with the manufacturing group.

"By doing more of this kind of stuff we'll be able not only to stay in business but grow our business," he said.

The California Manufacturing Technology Center's local office, which opened in Newbury Park in November, has five engineers, and Bishop said he expects the center to be fully staffed with 17 engineers by March. The office is assisting about 40 manufacturers in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

For more information about the California Manufacturing Technology Center, contact Bishop at (310) 263-3082.

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