Sign Up For Updates

Manufacturing is the engine that made America prosperous.

Modern manufacturing will play a pivotal role in our long-term economic vitality.

Welcome to


Mary Andringa of Vermeer Industries: Emphasizing STEM Education

  • April 15, 2015

Even as President and CEO of a global company, Vermeer Industries, Mary Andringa has never lost sight of her early-career roots as a teacher. She is a longtime, passionate advocate for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, which prepares young people for promising and rewarding careers. Fortune magazine named her to the STEMconnector® List of 100 CEO Leaders in STEM in 2013.

Moreover, it’s never too early to begin orienting young people to STEM disciplines. Vermeer, along with Bright Horizons, has established an academy called the Yellow Iron Academy in Pella, Iowa. It is one of five schools to receive the inaugural seal of approval from the STEM Advisory Council to the Governor of Iowa.

The academy won the awards for their Math Counts and Science Rocks programs. It serves 112 children, from pre-school to school-age. Parents are very excited about Yellow Iron Academy’s creative approach to early STEM education.  

The reference to “Yellow Iron” reflects the branded colors of the equipment made by Vermeer. The privately held company manufactures equipment that serves the agriculture, biomass, wood-waste recycling, landscaping, surface mining, and utility installation industries. This equipment serves a variety of industries, but shares one thing in common: It helps people perform important work more efficiently and safely.

By selling this equipment to global markets, Vermeer helps local leaders and businesses around the world improve the quality of life for populations who then benefit from lower food prices, improvements in electricity service reliability, or more affordable forms of clean energy in their home communities.   

Vermeer is rightly proud of the work that its employees do. A case in point came in early 2015 when Vermeer was selected for the International Mining Hall of Fame for the surface-mining technologies developed by the company’s engineers. Vermeer makes a machine, introduced in 2002, called the Terrain Leveler ® that uses an industry-exclusive tilting cover drum so as to eliminate the need for primary crushers, large loaders, and huge mining haul trucks. Given the efficiencies it provides, the award-winning machine is still in widespread use today. And it’s an example of the type of technology that can be developed by those with backgrounds in the STEM disciplines.

Vermeer is also a leader in the implementation of lean manufacturing. It has been a long-term company focus that started at the top, and has engaged all levels of the organization, with positive results.

In December 2015, Mary turns over the President and CEO reins to her son, Jason. But there are no coronations based on blood lines at Vermeer. Executives are held to strict performance goals and evaluations, which figure heavily into any advancement decisions. Meanwhile, Mary, who is a past Chair of the National Association of Manufacturers, will continue to advocate for STEM education and other causes important to manufacturing.

Amphenol Fiber Systems: Teaming with MEP to Speed Innovation

  • December 28, 2013

As manufacturers in the U.S. strive to compete and grow in the face of international competition, the ability to innovate quickly is often a key to success. Amphenol Fiber Systems International (AFSI) is a manufacturing and engineering contractor that has enhanced its ability to innovate by drawing on the expertise of the local Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP), in this case TMAC, and the local community college, Collin College.

AFSI provides fiber-optics connectors and cable assemblies that can withstand demanding or harsh operating environments, as well as product support, from its facility in Allen, Texas, which employs about 150 people.

Already possessing a formidable product-development program, AFSI sought to further improve its ability to innovate by applying lean management. Following a rigorous review of the company’s product-development process, detailed data was input into the Jump Start Merwyn Technology assessment instrument. This system is used to evaluate abstract ideas before substantial time is spent on them. Results included a schedule, risk plan, and a spreadsheet showing costs, required parts, and a preliminary design checklist, according to TMAC.

This endeavor led to a more structured approach to product development. Engineers think about projects differently. New designs are tracked in more detail, on a more logical schedule. AFSI’s previous system was capable of capturing and displaying data, but through this new lean product development process, management learns of and addresses issues. Projects reach the go-or-no-go stage quicker, which ultimately leads to new products reaching the market faster. 

The results have been quantifiable. Initial cost savings totaled $158,000. On-time delivery improved to 91%. All staff received training, which also was helpful in streamlining product development.

AFSI is part of Connecticut-based Amphenol Corporation, of the world’s largest makers of interconnect products. The parent company was founded in 1932, and serves markets including information technology, mobile devices and networks, broadband, military and aerospace, as well as industrial.

The MEP program, as described by manufacturers in many industries around the country, is an example of a federal government program that works very well. To learn more about MEP, visit


Dalco Metals: Mastering the 5S System

  • December 17, 2013

Developed in Japan, the 5S system is a lean manufacturing process built around – as translated into English -- sorting, setting in order, shining, standardizing and sustaining. One of the U.S. manufacturers that has implemented 5S and swears by its effectiveness is Dalco Metals, a small manufacturer based in Walworth, Wisconsin.

The theory behind 5S is that a disorganized work space leads to lost production time at best (as frustrated workers hunt for the paperwork, tool or part they need), and machine malfunctions or production errors at worst. 5S requires companies to focus on organization, cleanliness, visual order, and standardization. To have value, 5S must be practiced continually; it can’t just be a one-time exercise like a “spring cleaning.”

Dalco Metals is a supplier of flat-rolled steel-processing services to customers in a multi-state region. It is a family-owned company that celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013. John Ring, the company’s president, had already heard about 5S when he participated in a workshop hosted by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (WMEP). Unsure at first whether their factory floor would benefit from 5S, Dalco first focused on bringing lean principles into their administrative office. Staff members were re-grouped around work flow, rather than by department. Administrative procedures were reviewed and streamlined. As a result, administrative processing times were reduced by half.

Seeing those results, Dalco was ready to take a closer look at the factory floor. 5S involves reviewing and re-thinking employees’ activities, and ensuring that their work area accommodates their productivity and effectiveness. Employees were asked for their input as part of this process. The goal is for tools, equipment, and documents to be located within 30 seconds. The result of the process was more than 225 improvements on the shop floor, resulting in more standardized and efficient work flow. As the economy began to improve, Dalco was positioned to process orders quicker.

By demonstrating the value of 5S as part of a lean program, Dalco Metals is a Great Manufacturing Story.


Nextant Aerospace: The World’s First Remanufactured Business Jet

  • November 10, 2013

Business jets provide executives with tremendous efficiency and convenience, but they are not inexpensive. A company launched in 2007, Nextant Aerospace, is making business jets an affordable option for more companies through remanufacturing.

The Cleveland-based firm purchases previously owned Beechjet 400A/XPs and other planes, strips them down to their skeletons, and rebuilds them with modern electronics and controls, improved ergonomics, low noise levels, and high-end cabin furnishings. The result is a product that costs an estimated 32 percent less to fly than the original aircraft, and flies further and faster, as well.

The company’s principals had backgrounds in selling fractional ownership shares of previously owned planes, but no experience in manufacturing. That was just one of the challenges as they planned their entry into the remanufacturing business. Another was space planning: How to have up to 80 employees at a time working on half a dozen jets simultaneously in the relatively small space of an airplane hangar. Finally, with so many parts being removed from, and installed in, each plane, efficient parts-storage and tool-inventory practices would be needed.

The company owners brought on staff with manufacturing experience, and consulted extensively with the experts at the Northeast Ohio-based MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network. MAGNET consultants provided expert advice in determining floor space requirements, creating an efficient production flow, and helping to optimize parts-storage and tool inventories, so no time is wasted.

The company also had 28 of its employees participate in a 3-day MAGNET workshop called Lean 101 Simulation, ensuring that lean would be part of the company culture from the start. Less than a decade in business, and Nextant is growing quickly, and producing planes for a variety of domestic and international clients. 

Lean Operations at Legendary Harley-Davidson Plants

  • September 24, 2012

Harley-Davidson has been synonymous with the American road for decades. The company has survived vicious economic cycles, intense foreign competition and ownership changes for more than 100 years. Harley has legions of fans who will ride no other bike, and still offers tours at four U.S. plants – two in Wisconsin, one in Kansas City, and a fourth in York, Pennsylvania. 

H-D is also making its production operations leaner, to allow it to be profitable in good times and bad. The Wall Street Journal chronicled the changes in its Sept. 22, 2012 edition. In York, production operations that had been spread over 41 buildings are now performed in a single, modern factory, which relies to a greater degree on automation. The plant still relies on about 1,000 hourly employees to perform the functions best done by humans.

Similar changes are being implemented at the company’s other factories. According to the Journal article and company estimates, these changes will reduce H-D’s cost of doing business by $275 million this year. Lean manufacturing means that this Great Manufacturing Story has many happy more chapters to come.