Continuous improvement plays a key role in the Cambridge culture - we are always striving to better ourselves and our processes. After learning about 2-Second Lean from Paul Akers and adopting it in our shop, we then explored the methodology of continuous improvement and found Kata. Most recently employees were introduced to it through the AME 750 and 24-week continuous improvement training. 


The structured practice of continuous improvement, Kata has proven to enhance our lean methodologies and give us the process to see a project through with enhanced outcomes.

In this video, Becca Jenkins does a great job of explaining how our Operations Engineering team uses Kata to improve different production lines and processes. Used first on our S-series HTHV heating line, employees formed teams and came together to create experiments. Through many experiments guided by Kata, we have been able to drastically cut down on the space required to perform tasks while also reducing the number of errors made during our processes. These improvements have been most recently implemented on our new paint line. Using Kata, we have identified ways to improve our line density with quality in mind.  That means we can load more parts in the same amount of space which means better line efficiency. Through Kata experimentation, we have learned how to deliver parts to the new paint line so that the loaders can hang the parts as efficiently as possible in the sequence that makes the most sense for processing the parts after they are painted and unloaded from the line.  These improvements are consistently being made to enrich the lives of our Cambridge colleagues.

During our morning meetings each day we share the latest improvements to give a space for employee genius to be celebrated and inspire other areas of the shop. If you would like to get a glimpse into our Kata process and culture of continuous improvement, please join us for a morning meeting. 
 

Each year, on the first Friday in October, the manufacturing community opens its doors to the public. This is known as Manufacturing Day. Manufacturers try to give insights into the problems and solutions that the modern manufacturer faces. This year Cambridge had the pleasure of hosting an event on creators wanted that provided a glimpse into manufacturing. 

Cambridge believes that everyone has the ability to lead and just needs to right opportunity. We believe in growing our leaders from within using multiple avenues for this development. In the clip below our marketing ambassador, Tony Spielberg, goes into detail as to how we develop leadership across the company. 

The Cambridge Air Solutions brand and our commitment to “Enriching Lives” is more than a name, an icon, or a tag line. It is our promise to our people, our customers, and to our supplies, that Cambridge desires to make an impact on the world. 

Megan Solter, Jesse Hummel, and Thomas Little were panelists and provided a live Q&A segment. They go into detail on their experiences at Cambridge, and the ways in which the culture has impacted them. 

Please join us for a morning meeting if you have any questions, or would like to experience our culture first hand!

No matter the business, quality issues remain a factor. After all, quality impacts all aspects of a business and improving it is a big undertaking. At Cambridge, our method involves a focus on employee genius and continuous improvement.

The problem is in the process, not the individual

Throughout the day, employees track quality issues using a communal iPad. These issues are compiled into a report that is then shared in an open conversation each day with the entire production team. Most issues are presented with a picture and a clarifying description of the problem. Throughout the conversation, there is never a moment of blame or causing shame to an individual for a mistake. Cambridge believes that the process failed the individual. If the proper procedure was in place, then the quality issue would not have occurred. The best part is: the process can be improved.

Quality issues are then archived in order to identify reoccurring issues. Whenever quality issues become repetitive, the process must be evaluated. When this happens, a team of employees steps up to address the issue. Employees volunteer during the quality meeting and come together to find a solution. Rather than a supervisor telling them what they should do in order to fix it, Cambridge believes that those performing the job are the ones who will come up with the best corrective actions. This employee genius will allow for the process to be improved in the most effective way. 

Process improvement in real life 

One example of this was with the orientation of gas train components. There are shutoff valves (SVs) and safety shutoff valves (SSVs) that must be orientated to the correct direction to ensure proper functionality. The SVs and SSVs were configured incorrectly on a few occasions, and there was a significant risk if these components were not correct when shipped out into the field. A team of employees came together to correct this mistake and ensured the process would drive the solution. It was decided that after the gas train was installed, the gas train builder would place orientation indicators on the SV and SSV. Proper orientation now goes through multiple checks ensuring the process will not allow for failure and for an incorrect gas train to make it into the field. 

Making improvement a central idea to culture

Standardized workflows that clarify what must be done help our employees achieve high expectations of a quality product. The perfect people to develop these processes or improve them are those who do it every day by using their employee genius. Open conversations without the fear of punishment allow for all quality issues to be addressed. Cambridge employees understand that there is no shame in making a mistake. Embracing failure and prescribing solutions enriches the lives of our employees and of our valuable customers.

Come and join us

Each morning Cambridge goes over quality issues that had happened the previous day. We discuss what went wrong within the entire organization and share what improvements will be made to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Come and join us for a morning meeting to see this in action!

Often there is a divide between those in the office and those who work on the floor. This divide can seem as if it is a wall that stands between the two parties. Building a strong culture brings unity between the two, but a great culture cannot exist as two separate entities divided by a shop floor wall. Though we have yet to achieve our final goal of breaking down that “wall,” we hope that through continuous improvement we can become that great culture we strive for.

If you think of this process as removing “one brick at a time,” the process began with the dress code. There was an apparent disparity in the way people looked on the shop floor compared to in the offices. Those on the floor had to wear jeans or durable workpants while those in the office were required to wear slacks or other dress clothes. Doing away with this allowed for a more uniform code that made all employees feel like equals.

A focal point of our strategy towards building a solid culture is allowing for employees to utilize their genius. One way this happens is through creating leadership opportunities. At Cambridge, companywide meetings take place every day and provide full transparency into details about company operations - whether it be finances, safety, or delivery timing. These meetings are led by different individuals every day. Employees sign up and are given a chance to lead in front of the entire company. Not having the same higher-ups conducting the meetings every day clarifies that anyone can be a leader, regardless of their official position. 

When working on the shop floor, most of the day is planned for you as there are quotas on production, unlike in the office, where the time utilization is more at the discretion of the individual employee. To ensure that all employees feel as if their ideas are appreciated, time is set away each day for “lean” ideas. This is when the employees on the floor have no task that is required of them, and they are allowed to think of anything that can improve the company freely, whether it be changes to the processes, their workstation, or something that could improve safety. Empowering individuals is a centric idea of this culture and lets it be known that genius exists within every individual. 

One glaring disparity that can cause frustrations between the office and floor is indoor air quality and comfort. It is apparent to people on the floor that they are seen as less valuable when working in poor air quality conditions. The office should not be a comfortable temperature while the floor is cold during the winter or hot during the summer. The investment of thermal comfort does more than meet a code standard, it signals to your employees that their company cares for them. 

The pandemic brought with it many challenges. One of which being the fact that office workers gained the ability to work from home while those on the floor were still required to be on campus. We realize that the ability to work from home is not going away. However, through continuous improvement, we are striving to find a solution that will bring equality to both sides. 

Breaking down the wall between the office and floor is certainly not a task that can be completed overnight. Rather than being one large change, it comes with small changes or removing of “bricks”. For a healthy culture to exist, it must be unified. Finding ways for employees to dress and think the same are great ways to ensure that everyone feels appreciated and on the same playing field. The benefits of overcoming the challenges are quickly apparent as it improves moral, recruitment, and retention. Help create an awesome workplace by joining Cambridge for a morning meeting to see these ideas in action.

The Manufacturing Leader Podcast: Restoring Glory and Dignity to Manufacturing with John Kramer and Marc Braun

Podcast by Joe Sullivan of Gorilla76 Marketing
Listen on Gorilla76's website

Would you rather focus on people or profitability in your business?
You can’t have it all.

But maybe you can…

Maybe people and profitability go hand in hand, and each makes the other stronger.

In this episode of The Manufacturing Executive, I talk with John Kramer, Chairman & CEO at Cambridge Air Solutions, 
and Marc Braun, President at Cambridge Air Solutions, about what it means to restore glory and dignity to manufacturing through both culture and business practices.

We also talked about:

How to build a culture that celebrates people.

How profitability fits in with a people-first culture

How to adapt to crises in a way that cares for people and drives business forward.

Extending a Company Culture across Multiple Facilities

When a company decides that their strategic goals and growth plans include the need for additional space – be that office, production or warehousing space – it begs the question: “How are we going to do this?”

To add to the complexity of multi-facility continuity, Covid introduced a unique situation where many companies offered the ability to work from home and plan to incorporate these workspaces in some fashion moving forward. The reality is that a company might operate at four business addresses but have remote workers dialing in from home offices across the country.

The good news is that a spirit of creative and intentional planning with the understanding that everything can be improved upon can make the process seem less daunting.

The operational “How?” starts to get sorted out through interdepartmental organization, communication and infrastructure investment. Planning for leasing, staffing, IT expansion and beyond becomes a beautiful challenge of logistics and operations. As these plans start to formulate, you can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and envision of how the success of the expansion will come about.

The less tangible “How?” – the one that deals with extending the essence of the company beyond the original four walls is a little less concrete and arguably harder to plan. At Cambridge, we are proud of the culture of family, teamwork and lean  that we feel throughout our offices, our shop and in our morning meetings. We would be lying if we said we weren’t concerned about being able to extend that culture to our newest facility down the road in Wentzville, MO. While the second Cambridge facility isn’t all that far by mileage, ensuring that each employee experiences the same core values and unconditional love is where the challenge arises.

We know that we are still at the beginning of our multi-facility journey, and reserve any opportunity to improve as we learn, but here is an action plan that helped us feel comfortable that the Cambridge culture will reach all of our employees.

Take a stroll through your facility and take note. 
When you are walking someone through your workspace, what features are you always sure to point out? For us, a favorite stop is a picture wall full of our families and hobbies that help us remember each other’s whole selves. This simple installment will also live at our new facility and will serve to keep faces familiar that we don’t see day-to-day.

Create continuity. 
We wouldn’t be authentic if held one facility to a gold standard and one as an overflow facility, especially since our talent lives in both places. Many of the fundamentals from our headquarters can be easily shared – signage, inviting breakrooms, collaboration spaces, etc. Beyond the basics, we will rely heavily on our 2-Second Lean training and rest assured knowing that each and every employee will make their workspace work for them by eliminating waste and struggle. Our whole culture and operating system is based on the belief that the genius of each and every employee shines through the improvements that they make, so much so that it takes the stress out of making sure the lean (and clean!) workspaces is consistent among facilities.

Create some friendly competition. 
While it is important for everyone to know that they are working toward common goals and are part of unified team, it is also fun to bring in a little competition, especially when it gives employees a chance to show off their employee genius. 

Some of our favorite competitions were centered around who could find and eliminate the most safety risk and which department could produce the best lean improvement. Unsurprisingly, employees ran with the challenge and winners received gift cards or lunch. The spirit of competition and team comraderie can easily be launched in many different locations with leaderboards available to see where each location stands.

Create communication touchpoints. 
Now that many companies have embraced virtual meetings, the idea that communication should be built into daily rhythms is seemingly obvious but can still be difficult to implement. We embrace our daily Morning Meetings as a home for announcements, a review of our revenue, safety, quality and delivery metrics and a way to share our lean improvements with our fellow coworkers.  We have been intentional in ensuring to have equipment in place on Day 1 for the new facility to log in to our Morning Meetings.
 

Other companies rely on an intranet, cadenced emails or a dedicated social media channel or app to keep information flowing among employees. Whatever your choice of communication may be, just be sure that the training of the platform and importance of participation is part of the rhythm of the company and not just used for one-off communications. 

Team Build in each facility AND across locations. 
Taking advantage of virtual capabilities makes it easier than ever to get everyone “in the same place.” Virtual platforms are now commonplace for productive meetings, but can be of value in the team building arena as well. For our 2020 Christmas event, our Activities Team hired a comedic  party host that led us through an engaging hour of team building activities that were refreshingly fun and engaging. You can now also do virtual escape rooms and talent shows.
 

You could also just plan similar activities to occur at the same time at each facility so that no one feels left out of the fun.


We hope in the next year to be able to have all events that make up our culture – morning meetings, lean tours, employee celebrations – as live, in-person events. But if we’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that we need to learn to be flexible and creative to not get sidelined by obstacles.

As we hit milestones for the opening of our expansion facility for our M-Series ventilation line in Wentzville, Missouri - we understand the importance to pause and celebrate the hard work that's gotten us this far. This event is especially important for us as it is the first in a year that we've been able to celebrate in-person! 

This 1 minute video shows the highlights of our banner lowering at our Chesterfield Facility and the raising at the Wentzville Facility!

'Gearing Up'

If you were not able to participate in this year's 'Gearing Up' conference put on by the Missouri Association of Manufacturers, you're in luck! The Association has made the recap of the event available on the website, including a segment where the Governor of Missouri, Mike Parson, provides his take on issues that manufacturers face in light of the global pandemic.  

The highly relevant "Rethink. Reboot. Rebuild" conference theme brought incredible insight and advice from local manufacturers on how to sustain and grow the local manufacturing economy amid many unforeseen challenges.

We had the pleasure of hosting a virtual plant tour, as well as a Q&A panel for the Cambridge executive team. Many of the challenges discussed are not unique to our organization, so we hope that sharing our approach might provide ideas and inspiration to others in other people-centric and/or manufacturing organizations.

Here is a sneak peak of the topics we cover:

Human Resources Challenges
Topics covered by our VP of HR, Meg Brown

What is the right mix to create a “healthy working environment” and how does it help to hire and retain employees? 

Communication and on boarding can be difficult anytime, and made harder when the whole company may not be physically present. How can you make that work?


Inviting People in during a Pandemic

Topics covered by our VP of Sales & Marketing, Doug Eisenhart

Why does Cambridge offer lean tours and virtual tours of the plant? What is the value of these tours? 

What is the Morning Meeting daily rhythm? What is its purpose?


Creating and Maintaining a Company Culture

Topic covered by our President, Marc Braun

How do you approach keeping a strong culture during the pandemic?


Moving Forward with Strategic Goals

Topic covered by our CFO and COO, Kevin Thompson

How did you decide to continue with a strategic expansion plan during a year of uncertainty?
 

Thank you to Michael Eaton, the Executive Director of MAM, for including us in this great event as well as all of the great Missouri and Midwest organizations that work every day to bring glory and dignity back to manufacturing.

This lean culture blog was guest-written by Matt Lanham, Regional Sales Manager at Cambridge Air Solutions.

Ask anyone in sales what it’s like to do public speaking and the answer will likely be quite different from the paralyzing fear that some experience. We sometimes take it for granted.  But we all remember that first time we stood up in front of a crowd, trying to remember the lines we memorized, when the question from the back of the room derailed us … yep, there’s that paralyzing fear.

Public speaking, a presentation given live before an audience, remains a common fear for most people. And being able to convey a message, share something personal or educate people plays a vital role in many institutions and in the art of developing solid relationships.

And every day, we practice public speaking by asking our employees to jump in and “take the reins,” although it’s not required.

A daily rhythm

Every morning we experience our morning meeting – a rhythm of anniversaries and birthdays, grateful appreciation ,metrics, improvements and announcements. Scattered inside are stretching, “good mornings” and sometimes hugs (virtually these days). All lead by anyone – literally anyone who wishes to emcee today’s meeting and often share something or anything about themselves.

It’s not about the content, it’s about the action

Inside that sharing, we get to know our emcee better and understand the things that motivate them and things they care deeply about. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious; but we always walk away knowing SOMETHING more about that person, and conversations start to flow. These are the beginning stages of relationship building.

They sign up to do it again ... and again.

It’s some of the first stages of developing leaders. Those that are willing to jump in, mess up or nail it and feel the rush of fear and excitement all in one 20 minute timeframe. It’s about remembering that first time and exuding more and more confidence in subsequent runs in front of your peers and guests. That confidence spills over into small group meetings, peer groups, friends and their home life.

Come witness for yourself

For years I have been saying that our customers love us for a couple simple things – the quality of our products and the ease of doing business with us. None of that is possible without laying witness to our greatest asset and what I refer to as our “secret sauce” – our people and our desire to help build up the leader within them.

Come see us on one of our morning meetings – you will see what we see daily – the growth of our people and the respect we have for one another. Come see us on our journey to improve everything we do – everyday.

Employee retention is a puzzle that can seem impossible in a normal year. Enter a global pandemic and hiring shortages, and it is even more critical that you are actively creating a workplace that your employees will feel a sense of loyalty to and want to stay at to advance their career.

Sure, that’s easy to say, but how do you create such a workplace? We have a few ideas that have helped us, and we are always happy to share (and learn if you have ideas of your own!)

It’s important to know that we try to approach every initiative with a lean mindset. If you are unsure what a lean mindset is, we invite you to come visit how it is ingrained in our culture. In a nutshell: lean is eliminating waste and improving quality through continuous improvement. Starting to use this thinking will prove to have positive short term and long term effects on both your people and your product (and therefore - your customers), a win/win/win every time.
 

With a lean mindset in mind, here are 3 surefire ways to better employee retention:
 

1. Make them comfortable. 

According to Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, extreme heat “can reduce the energy, focus and passion employees can dedicate to their tasks.” Discomfort that crosses dangerously with workplace safety in extreme climates needs to be addressed by facility leaders and planned for ahead of the seasonal changes.

Providing a healthier and more comfortable workspace for your employees is conversation we have frequently with our project leaders – but to be authentic, we needed to be sure that we were holding ourselves accountable. St. Louis, where our headquarters are, is known for its heat and humidity, and our employees could certainly feel the effects. We couldn’t figure out the best path to fix that, until we started working closer to evaporative cooling technology that is designed for high-bay buildings like ours. Now that we’ve designed, manufactured and installed a two-stage direct and indirect cooling unit for our building, there is a great sense of relief knowing that our employees will have a much more enjoyable working environment when the warmer months are back.
 

2. Create autonomy to better their workplaces.
It’s time to abandon top-down directives that could rely on inefficient, miscalculated or unnecessary processes. A lean culture depends on each employee’s genius to be an expert in their own processes workspace, and to be able to improve upon them as they see fit.


Imagine being encouraged to fix a process or a process that has been bugging you. Is there a better way to log that test? Is there too much back and forth motion between lines? Your employees probably already know a better way to do things, allow them to implement change (with the understanding that quality and safety must be maintained) and everyone will see the reward.

The continuous improvement that comes from having ownership over processes and workspace will not only provide better quality to your customers but will create a higher satisfaction to your workers.
 

3. Celebrate them.
It’s easy to get caught up in deadlines, budgets and day-to-day crises - so much so that you forget to notice the achievements your team has made. Going too long without pausing to celebrate the progress made, the hard work of your employees and the milestones passed might make you lose sight of what you’ve accomplished and how much hard work your team put in to get there.

 

What steps are you taking to create a healthy (both physically and mentally) for your employees? We’re always looking to improve upon our practices!