| By John Howell Sr.
Though the term "world class" is a loosely applied television advertising cliche’, it is an exacting quality standard for the nation’s manufacturers who intend to sell products in international markets.
Batesville Tooling and Design took a step toward the higher standard last week with a World Class Manufacturing Kick-off that brought together the firm’s employees with representatives of a key customer. Chuck Polinski and Jack Earwood of Smith and Nephew joined BTD owner Gary Blair and general manager Bob Edwards and the complement of BTD employees to explore and expand the ground of common interest in high quality standards.
This is not new ground at BTD which has already built a relationship with Smith and Nephew Orthapaedics, "a global provider of leading-edge joint replacement systems for knees, hips and shoulders; trauma products to help repair broken bones and a range of other medical devices to help alleviate pain in joints and promote healing," according to its Web site.
"Our focus is repairing and healing the human body," Polinski said. "We’re really proud of what we do."
Curious alloy objects occupy shelf space in the lobby of the BTD facility in the W. M. Harmon Industrial Complex. A long rod inserted during surgery to rebuild a broken femur is positioned by a BTD-manufactured device, Jeff Blair said as he demonstrated how the instrument directs surgical prongs into place. Another instrument Blair demonstrated is used for biopsies, he said.
"I’ve been able to compare y’all with some world class manufacturers that we’re partnering with right now," Polinski told the BTD staff, "… give yourselves a pat on the back."
BTD president Gary Blair traced the start of his company back to a welder that he bought himself many years ago. His taught himself to weld and developed skills that eventually led to employment in tool and die shops. Then, in 1994, financed by a loan from a friend after banks turned him down, Blair built the original BTD building. Within 11 months, he had outgrown the original construction and added more space. The growth continued as BTD catered to the plastics injection molding industry, making, maintaining and repairing the molds used in the manufacture of everything plastic.
As the decade of the ?90s matured and Blair’s sons Jeff and Dan joined him in growing the business, plastic injection mold making and manufacturing began to move to more distant locations. That shift, coupled with the increasing capability of precision that BTD was realizing in its growing inventory of digital technology, led Blair to seek to fill part of the growing demand for medical hardware.
Friday’s World Class Manufacturing Kick-off was one milestone in that journey.
"I want to be the preferred supplier for our customers so that we can produce world class products consistently, on time and at a reasonable cost," Gary Blair said as he opened the seminar.
Computerized numerical control technician Mitch Daugherty described BTD’s "Project Reliable Method" which has been adopted to improve communications between workers and the customer and to standardize quality control and verification procedures.
"I think it’s great," mold technician Todd Hatfield said. "It helps us plan out and see" using three steps in the communications process – understanding, acceptance and support.
"As an approved supplier, your quality system will become part of our quality system," Polinski said.
Decreasing the amount of time between a product’s prototype and actual delivery while maintaining consistently high quality – "that’s been an area where our company has really excelled," Polinski said.
"I’d like to commend y’all for stepping out there to get world class," said Smith and Nephew representative Jack Earwood. "That’s very important if you’re going to continue to grow the business."
BTD general manager Edwards, who joined the organization this year, moved the employees and guests outside for what he described as "team building" competition between teams of six people each. What they found waiting was two long pairs of four-by-fours with ropes attached.
The object was for the two teams of six to each "race," using the four-by-fours like walking, unattached "skis." It required the participants to hold the ropes to lift the skis and move them forward in a movement coordinated by all six participants on each team. When the "Alpha" team handily beat the "Bravo" team in what Edwards said was the quickest he had ever seen for any team, he quizzed them further and learned that at least one of the alphas had participated in a similar exercise during military training.
But the exercise had very practically illustrated values about teamwork, coordination and competition. For their victory, Alpha team members were allowed to the head of the line to walk to the plant’s break room where a catered meal awaited the group.
"I think Bravo should go first," one of its team members declared, getting in the last word after being denied the victory. "Why? Because we were the smartest; we let the boss win," referring to Gary Blair’s participation with the Alpha team.
The "boss" had also made a few closing remarks prior to the meal, references to "choosing our customers" and such.
"I can tell you that an individual can’t do it himself," he added.
And he harkened back to the first welder he had bought all those years ago and its instruction manual that he used to help teach himself the techniques. ("The first page had the safety instructions, stuff like ?Don’t pick up metal that is extremely hot with bare hands,’" Blair mused.)
Also in that instruction manual was a quotation from the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, a quotation that has served Blair well in the years since, he said, and during Friday’s World Class Manufacturing Kick-off:
"He builded better than he knew;
"The conscious stone to beauty grew."