By Michelle Bangert
While 2021 was a challenging year for many, others found ways to excel in spite of everything. Even amidst a pandemic, these companies continued to shine.
Our annual Quality Leadership ranking provides much-deserved recognition for companies that prioritize quality. The survey was conducted in the fall of 2021. As with past rankings, companies were evaluated on a range of factors, including continuous improvement and quality programs; contribution of quality to profitability and shareholder value; average number of hours that employees receive quality training; scrap and rework as a percentage of sales; warranty costs as a percentage of sales; and registration to various standards such as ISO 9001. Do you think your company excels in these areas? If so, look for our survey this fall and perhaps you will see your company listed in 2023.
Thank you to all those who completed this year’s survey. We always look forward to hearing from you and we couldn’t do it without you.
Schaumburg, IL — www.thk.com
Although you may not be familiar with THK, you may have used their products. As the company says on their website, when asked, “Where are THK’s products used, anyway?” The answer is: “All around you!” This means “In the manufacturing field, in research helping to building the future, and in everyday life -- LM Guides, Ball Splines, Ball Screws, Cross Roller Rings and other THK products may not be easily visible, but they play an highly important role.”
The company’s linear motion (LM) guide system can improve many applications. “Our linear motion system enabled rapid improvements in the accuracy, speed and labor-saving potential of advanced mechatronic instruments,” according to the company. “With THK’s LM Guides, machine tools and industrial robots become capable of ultra-precise operations, and semiconductor-manufacturing devices can operate in submicron units. More recently, the system has been applied in liquid crystal manufacturing lines, railway carriages, assistive vehicles, medical equipment, skyscrapers and residences, and amusement devices.”
According to the company, THK focuses on toughness, high quality, and know-how, saying, “We aim to contribute to the improvement of society and development of industry by focusing on these three principles in our technology development and product manufacturing processes.”
Fairfield, NJ — www.epmtechsales.com
Ray D’Alessandro and his wife, Clorinda, started Electro Product Management Inc. in 2001.
The company specializes in designing, verification testing, environmental stress screening procedures, tests and hardware for electrical, electronic, and electromechanical (EEE) components used in the aerospace, defense, and industrial electronics industries. The ISO 9001:2015 and AS9100D certified and ITAR registered company has about 18 employees—many who have been with the company from its early days—four contractors, and no salespeople. “Business is based on recurring sales,” says D’Alessandro, VP-Engineering, which means that quality and service both must be top-notch, he says. “Quality is the most important thing that I live by,’ says D’Alessandro. “Customers keep coming back. They trust us, and they know that they’re going to get their parts back with no issues.”
“Having the right people, with the proper training, and treat them with respect. That’s my formula,” he says.
The company tests components for a variety of high-profile aerospace and defense contractors in accordance with standard and customer driven specifications. This might mean testing for a missile system, a submarine, or an aircraft. “All these parts have to have a reliability high enough to withstand these extreme environments,” he notes.
While military specifications are not the easiest thing to read if you’re not familiar with them, D’Alessandro notes that the company’s services are much clearer. “Our services are provided with the utmost transparency,” he says, with a quotation and detailed plan. Customers can even visit the lab to see the testing take place if they wish.
D’Alessandro offers this advice to other companies looking to improve quality: “Most importantly, treat your employees with respect,” he says. “They will appreciate that and want to do a good job, which translates into good quality and good service.” He tells his staff, “As a small company, I’m only good as you and your performance.”
In addition to respect, he emphasizes the importance of training. Employees go through yearly training, and the company continues to adapt to changing market requirements. For example, they are now working on their cyber security certification, which every contractor in the defense supply chain must go through. Since they started the process a while ago, they are now ahead of the process.
Camarillo, CA — www.coc-aerospace.com
It’s no secret that aerospace has no room for errors. COC Aerospace takes its mission seriously, with more than fifty years of experience and customers in 40 countries.
The family-owned company focuses on just one aircraft type, Northrop F-5. They are headquartered at Camarillo Airport (KCMA) and have offices and shop facilities right on the runway. On the company’s website, CEO Chris Garville says, “COC was founded in 1967 by my father, Armando Garville. He was first generation Italian American raised in ‘Hells Kitchen’ New York. He served 5 ½ years in WWII, awarded two purple hearts, retired as Captain US Army. His passion for excellence, ethics and integrity live on at COC today.”
The company is AS9100 Rev D, approved globally by Airbus Defense and approved on F-5 by the U.S. Navy. The company’s innovations include: “COC designed F-5 parking brakes, anti-skid braking systems, canopy refurbishment and upgrade, complex structural spares, rebuild of leading edge flaps, rudders, main wing panels, landing gear and more.”
They work with technologies such as photogrammetry, surface software, laser trackers, electronic discharge machining and video projected work instructions to accomplish their goals.
Waukegan, IL — www.tecnova.com
Tecnova Electronics tops our Quality Leadership ranking year after year. And despite the pandemic, they’ve still maintained their edge. Parts shortages have not stopped the electronics manufacturer from producing quality products—though they have had to deal with a lot in the past year. Though 2020 involved longer lead times than normal, last year shortages really began in earnest—with lead times for some parts of 52 weeks—and they don’t expect this to improve for the first half of 2022.
In order to maintain their quality and growth, the company expanded their planning and purchasing teams and added new technology to quote more efficiently, says President Terence Coleman Jr. This meant adding additional experienced buyers to search for new qualified suppliers and constantly adjusting the build schedule. “I am calling this year a large puzzle,” says Kathy Fox, executive vice president. “We’re constantly shifting our schedule to accommodate the parts that are available. We’re building in smaller quantities to accommodate our customers as much as we can. It hasn’t reduced our business; although, we have a larger backlog than we’re used to having.”
“We are encouraging all of our customers to plan much further out than they are used to,” Fox says. “Start thinking about the future much sooner. There’s just not parts readily available.”
Maintaining high quality in the face of these challenges is still possible, however.
“A lot of it has to do with flexibility,” says Scott Martin, quality manager. In addition to being flexible, they continue to rely on their established quality programs. This involves a lot of training as well as clear visual work instructions that are constantly tweaked to address any issues, as well as ISO certification.
And these quality objectives are never far away. As Fox notes, the quality objectives are listed right on everyone’s badge to get in and out of the building.
New technology is also contributing to their success. In the past few months they began working with new smart camera technology on the production line. Though it was still in a pilot phase when we spoke, the company said it looked very promising so far.
“I think training is one of the key factors and making sure our equipment is running well,” Fox says. After all, even the best-trained people can’t do much if the equipment malfunctions.
San Clemente, CA — www.irpmedical.com
When staff at IRP Medical find themselves in a hospital or clinic, they often find themselves looking around. Often, they will spot a familiar component, leading to a proud moment of “Hey, we made that!”
Rey Obnamia, VP of technology & regulatory & operating partner at IRP Medical, says employees understand the critical nature of their products. “We reach out to customers to ask, ‘Where are the devices used? How does it save lives?’”
Once employees understand where a part is used, they understand why the company inspects every component so carefully.
“Quality comes first because it saves lives,” he says. “If that one piece of a component fails, it can cause medical failure and could lead to the death of a patient. And that patient could be you. Or a family member. Components have to work correctly all the time.”
For the past thirty-two years, IRP Medical has been dedicated to a singular focus: custom molding critical to function engineered components for the medical device industry.
With ISO 13485 certification and FDA registration, the company’s 40,000 square foot facility is focused entirely on the medical industry. The company currently works with class 1 and 2 medical devices but is planning on expanding into class 3, implantable devices and silicone extrusions. To maintain the required high quality, the company uses tools such as Lean, 5S, Kaizen, Jidoka (Build In Quality) and other concepts of TPS (Toyota Production System). It was a culture change. This has been working well for the company, as seen in their sales and revenue growth as well as quality.
The key to quality involves taking these ideas to heart and really understanding the problem’s root cause, says Obnamia. He cites the concept that you have to “understand it a mile deep although you may only move an inch forward.”
In other words, moving as fast as you can means that you may miss some opportunities, he says. Therefore, they focus on every component knowing that it could be life-changing for a patient.
“This commitment makes us proud in serving our industry,” Obnamia says. “We can say, ‘I think we’ve saved some people’s lives today.’”