Living in Our Changing Work World Part Two

In the entire nation, only Indiana has more of its workforce employed in manufacturing according to a study released last week by Center on Wisconsin Strategy. With 14.5 percent of jobs in manufacturing, folks in Wisconsin are more likely to work in a factory than in any other industry.

To learn about what makes a company strong and able to weather the economic storms of changing times, I have been visiting factories in our Senate District. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Cardinal Glass in Tomah.

Next time you gaze out your window, if it was replaced lately, chances are good the glass was made in Tomah.

Using modern technologies, the company manufactures glass that survives hurricanes and dramatically saves on heating and cooling costs. My tour guide told me that efficient glass (called Low E – for energy) can reduce energy bills by a third. “The energy saved by Cardinal Glass products neutralizes our carbon foot print within twelve months,” he said.

“Our customers are our largest competitors,” he also told me. “We thrive by being all about superior customer service.” This service means everything is made to order.

If you order windows, you may imagine someone goes to a shelf and pulls down the sizes of windows to fit your order. But in today’s world of ‘just in time’ inventory, it is just as likely workers start to custom build your windows right after your place the order.  ‘Just in time’ means the company holds almost no inventory.

When I visited the factory, I expected to see rows of windows all the same size coming off the assembly line. The opposite was true.

Glass products were of different sizes, shapes and finishes.  All are customized and organized per customers’ orders.  

And the orders weren’t packed in wooden boxes.  Instead rows of reusable steel carts held the finished glass for delivery. The company eliminated the waste of packaging and eliminated 500,000 wooden boxes a year. Everything was recycled.

To serve the customer in an efficient way, Cardinal Glass uses computers, flexible manufacturing equipment and human brain power. Workers are cross trained and move from one line to another depending on workload. Computers in the cutting machine lay out the geometry of different shapes to minimize wastage in cutting glass – and everything is adaptable depending on the needs of the customers.

One room in the factory intrigued me. It was an ordinary room covered with white boards – the new version of chalk boards. The boards were covered with numbers and codes.

To me it looked like the ‘war room’. Here workers met every day to plan the workload of the factory. The real work of the factory was done with human brain power assisted by computers and machines.

It seemed the company understood the importance of the saying, “Your most valuable assets leave for home every night.”

I asked plant manager, Oakley Moser, what his business liked about Tomah. He shared the importance of the interstate system and Tomah’s airport. But it was the people who worked in the company that made Cardinal Glass successful. “We have a great workforce” he told me.

When companies are eager to trade Chinese workers for Americans at breakneck speed, I am curious to understand what keeps manufactures committed to staying in Western Wisconsin.

Customer service is key to the success of any business. It is superior service that keeps a business competitive. This commitment to customer service is accomplished through a committed workforce. Forward thinking, innovative technology, and products that help us solve the problems of the Twenty First Century makes a company strong and able to weather the economic storms of changing times.

And using the brain power as well the backs of workers is the answer to surviving in this globally competitive world.

Next week I will take a look at the education needed to tap into the brain power of our Western Wisconsin workforce.

Is your company doing something innovative to help survive in the Twenty First Century? Let me know! Write Senator Kathleen Vinehout at the State Capitol P.O. Box 7882 Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7882 or call at 877-763-6636 (toll free).