Vital Signs of Totowa, New Jersey designs, manufactures and markets single-use medical products for the anesthesia, respiratory, critical care, sleep therapy and medical emergency markets. Originally founded in 1972 in New York, the company reincorporated in New Jersey in 1988. Its corporate offices and main manufacturing facility are located in Totowa, while additional manufacturing and warehousing facilities are in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Colorado, and subsidiaries exist in Maryland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Worldwide sales total about $200 million, and the Totowa location employs approximately 300 people.
The idea for contacting NJMEP arose at a management meeting following the success of Lean implementation at Vital Signs’ Pennsylvania plant. David Najjar, Director of Manufacturing Operations, and NJMEP Field Agent Dorothy Repka scheduled an initial meeting at which they discussed the company’s goals. These included reducing process time; improving customer satisfaction; reducing waste; increasing profitability; and expanding the skill set and involvement of employees.
Vital Signs began their Lean Journey in 2006 however management desired grant assistance to meet its growing needs. Field Agent Repka and Director of Manufacturing Operations Najjar worked together to obtain a NJ Competitive Workforce Development Grant, while also initiating pre-grant Lean Workshop and Value Stream Mapping projects. Mrs. Repka also served as one of the workshop presenters and participated in some of the VSM meetings. During the pre-grant stage, NJMEP structured a phased approach comprising a Lean Workshop with Live Simulation for managers and leads, followed by a Value Stream Map of Vital Signs’ returns process, including both shop floor and office loops. This pre-grant training lasted about six weeks. The initial phase of the project resulted in reduced processing of returned goods and the elimination of duplications and delays that were inherent in the former processing procedure. Customers were satisfied by the resulting increased responsiveness, viewing the ability to resolve a return and process the necessary accounting within the same billing period as a distinct advantage.
According to Mr. Najjar, the VSM event for returns cut the information flow period between customer service and customer from ten days to two-and-one-half days; reduced rework product processing from receipt to finished goods to 1.1 days, down from 2.8 days; removed the customer service department from the process once the RGA was initiated; and redirected receivers with RGAs from AR directly to Accounting for credit.
Vital Signs has chosen NJMEP and its third party resources to implement the second phase of its Lean Transformation, which is expected to last 12 months. During that time, the company will invest more than $160,000 in combined out-of-pocket and grant funds to increase the skill sets of about 200 employees and implement Lean concepts throughout the NJ location. Management also is considering improving the work environment by offering courses in communication, English as a second language and computer skills.
“The added value from these classes was in supporting the ongoing commitment to evaluate, identify and challenge our processes,” assessed Mr. Najjar. “The assemblers and staff learned that there are always better ways to organize work areas and minimize waste.
“We need to constantly challenge the way we do things to remain competitive,” he continued. “NJMEP is helping us to do that.”