Common Keys to Success

This year’s Lead Time Leader award winners have more in common than meets the eye, including heavy investments in workforce development and a bottom-up, employee-driven approach to continuous improvement.


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The staff of Westminster Tool gathers for a daily production meeting. President Ray Coombs says the shop invests as much in its people as technology. (Photo courtesy of Creative Technology Corp.)

At a glance, the shops that took the top two spots in this year’s Lead Time Leader program couldn’t be more different. The winner, Westminster Tool, operates a 32-employee, 13,000-square-foot operation in Plainfield, Connecticut. The company has been expanding its service offering with medical industry customers in mind, although it also maintains significant customer bases in the aerospace and consumer packaging markets. The runner-up, Aalbers Tool and Mold, is much larger, and occupies a different market niche. Focused mostly on large molds for interior and exterior automotive trim components, the company employs 124, and its facilities in Oldcastle, Ontario total more than 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

Look a little deeper, however, and it turns out these mold manufacturers actually have more in common than one might expect. Among the most striking similarities is the recognition that people provide a competitive advantage that can’t be duplicated (as opposed to, say, facilities, software or equipment). That view has led both shops to invest heavily in workforce development. For instance, Aalbers Tool and Mold participates in an apprenticeship program in which high school students split time between the classroom and the shop. Westminster Tool is part of a collaborative, diverse group of manufacturers that aim to influence local community colleges’ curriculums. Both also invest heavily in training.

Even more importantly, both companies understand how to leverage this critical resource. Indeed, both Westminster Tool and Aaalbers Tool and Mold are, to a large extent, driven by their employees. At Aalbers, employees meet monthly to discuss recent tool builds and generate ideas for how the process might be improved. Westminster not only hosts similar gatherings, but also has made coming up with improvement ideas a job requirement for all employees, from front office to shop floor. For both shops, the result is a bottom-up culture of continuous improvement that keeps the staff engaged and performing at top potential. Beyond that, each company takes extra steps to provide a positive work environment and ensure employees know their efforts are appreciated.

Both shops’ approaches to workforce development are covered extensively in two June issue articles, as are a host of other factors that led to their selection as 2014’s Lead Time Leaders. Click here to view those articles, as well as a video tour of both shops. Finally, feel free to visit both at the Amerimold show, which starts in just a few days. Westminster Tool will be at booth 725, and Aalbers Tool and Mold will be at booth 721.