MMT Chats: Molder/Mold Builder Provides Multi-Level Support of Local Community during COVID-19
MoldMaking Technology Editorial Director Christina Fuges chats with Amanda Wiriya, the Manufacturing Support Manager for Wepco Plastics about the leadership, skills and team that have come together to help their local community during the coronavirus outbreak.
I want to take a few minutes to spread some more “positive” news (some lessons and opportunities) and recognize some of the work the industry is doing to help the country move through this crisis.
Christina Fuges: Meet Amanda Wiriya. She is the manufacturer and support manager with Wepco Plastics. Amanda, can you quickly give us a little background on you, Wepco, and then we'll get into the Q&A.
Amanda Wiriya: I’m in charge of offering support to all of our manufacturers on the floor. We are a tool shop as well as an injection mold her. We focus on building aluminum prototype tooling and do short- to medium-run injection molding in-house. We strive to do all of that in three weeks or less. So timing is key.
We know that your products and your designs are important, so we want to get them out to you as fast as possible. My day-to-day can range from HR to sales to helping out on the floor to overseeing purchasing—a little bit of everything. However I can support them best, so that they can focus on manufacturing.
Fuges: Because you are not stuck in one aspect of the business, you're able to see the impact of the virus in several areas of the business. I'm familiar with the company's leadership and culture, but can you talk a little bit about how leadership has stepped in to bring the company together?
Wiriya: So I think, during this crisis, it really changed our outlook and our definition of leadership. We always strive to be leading and not managing. There's a big difference. And if you ask someone, they're never going to tell you they want to be managed. They want to be led, and we always strive to have that mentality.
What does leading mean? Does it mean sitting at home and working from home while we have key members of the team out on the line, making products that are essential to our customers? Or does it mean getting out on the floor and interacting with them and walking out to our molding machine operators and asking them how things are at home, ways we can support them, etc. It was a call to action that we needed to take a more in-depth look at what we consider leadership.
Fuges: How are you keeping up morale?
Wiriya: By the hour, things can change drastically. So we focus on the little things to keep morale up—whether that's me walking around with a snack bucket and offering Cheetos and drinks, or giving out gift cards. Last week, we gave out $50 gift cards to local restaurants. Something small, but we wanted to support them, encourage them, take care of a meal for them. And also have them be able to go out and support other local businesses because that's really important too. When we say, we're in this together, we mean it. We want to put our money where our mouth is and help support some other local businesses during this time.
Fuges: Has Wepco changes its process?
Wiriya: 65% of our business is medical, so we usually have a high sense of urgency for a lot of things that we get out. However, right now that urgency is obviously yesterday, last week or last month because we're reactive now, not proactive to what our customers are facing.
To us, the solution to that is old-fashioned Lean principles. We carry them out every day. But recently we’ve stepped back and asked ourselves if we are still staying true to these principles. Are we still executing on what we implemented a month ago or a couple of years ago because we implemented it for a reason. We believe in that. We believe that it changed our speed drastically when it came to getting molds out. We went from 6 to 8 week lead time to be able to do them in under three weeks. We are fine-tuning what we already have there to make sure that we can really expedite those orders for our customers.
If you're making something that could save someone's life, we want to make sure that we can follow that sense of urgency and get it out as soon as possible. We have the business, and we are very privileged that we have orders coming in. We haven't had customers cancel orders, we've had them putting in orders. We've had an increase in business and quoting. However, to get all of this out and converted into revenue, you need a team, so our challenge is finding a way to keep our employees safe while we execute these orders.
Fuges: Are you guys doing that taking the temperature?
Wiriya: We are not taking temperatures currently, however, like everything else right now, that could change hourly. We are trying to be very proactive about cleaning. I actually went around on the shop floor today and set up cleaning stations at each machine. We have a gym-style mentality—wipe it down before you touch it and wipe it down after you touch it. We've put up some visual guidelines to help everyone see what six feet away looks like. We are trying to be as respectful of each other spaces to lower that contamination point.
Fuges: So on the social side, Wepco is very active. One of the interesting things that I saw posted was about your new morning STEM activities. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Wiriya: A lot of our leadership team has young kids who are all at home without school, indefinitely, so everyone is balancing parenting and homeschooling at the same time. We knew we weren't the only ones in that situation, so we really wanted to do something where the kids could be learning and having fun. Plus, give parents a way to engage with them. It's a light-hearted fun way to do a STEM activity.
Fuges: Anything else to add?
Wiriya: I do have one more thing. There's been a pet project we've been working on at Wepco. As this crisis developed, we received a critical e-mail from Connecticut’s Chief Manufacturing Officer with a list of personal protective equipment that was lacking at hospitals, daycares, and all other frontline heroes who did not have what they needed to stay protected while doing their jobs. It was heartbreaking. We really wanted to be able to help fill that void, so we looked at that list, got a little creative, and decided that we could make face shields. This is not something in our normal everyday capacities as a mold builder/injection molder, as there's no injection molded parts on it butt we wanted to do this and make a difference.
Not only is this going to make a difference for the frontline employees that are out there helping get through this medical crisis, but it's also going to help us employ new team members. So, when other businesses are laying off, we're able to actually employ new people. We also have another manufacturer that we're going to team up with and they are going to do some assembly work for us. So instead of that company having lay people off, we're going to source all of these materials, handle the supply chain and the customer relations, and they are going to do the assembly work for us and send out the parts. We are in this together.
Fuges: Is there anything out there that you want to tell anybody, or anything that you guys need, that we can put a call out for?
Wiriya: All the information is on LinkedIn if you'd like to be able to partner with us on either purchasing the materialsa or helping us assemble parts. We are also a critical need of additional resources for the plastics, so that we can get these shields out even faster.
Fuges: Thank you for your time and for sharing some positive news. For more of our coverage on the impact of recent events on moldmaking, how to participate in our New Sourcing Assistance Program, and everything moldmaking, visit moldmakingtechnology.com And to all of you out there stay safe and healthy.