Skilled Manufacturing, Inc.

Success with The Center

SKILLED MANUFACTURING, INC.: Boosting Automotive Production With Lean Boot Camp

Training with The Center helped SMI strengthen employee competency and significantly boosted our ability to squeeze cost, improve quality and support our customer relationships. Customers aren’t buying parts, they are buying human capacity.
-- Rick Watson, General Manager

Skilled Manufacturing, Inc. (, or SMI, includes three divisions – automotive, aerospace and specialty. The automotive division is a Tier 1 supplier of drive train components, power steering pump brackets, oil pans and other assemblies, with customers including General Motors, Honeywell and Woodward. Led by CEO and President Dodd Russell, the company maintains a lean manufacturing environment and makes continuous improvement a priority. Lean thinking and practice are driving forces of the company’s business and overall culture. SMI employs 134 at their Traverse City facility.


The company looked at pursuing cross-training efforts across divisions while working toward a “One SMI” organizational structure. The challenge was how best to proceed. They decided to participate in a company-specific Lean Manufacturing Champion Boot Camp offered through the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center’s Traverse City office at Northwestern Michigan College.

“Cross-pollination supports our One SMI culture by allowing trainees to step outside of their wheelhouse and tackle our biggest problems,” said Teri Lamie, Director of Compliance & Business Systems for One SMI.

While the company has been utilizing boot camp training for a few years to tackle a range of improvement projects, one recent additional challenge was to double hourly production of a particular oil pan to meet customer demand, reduce square footage and reduce labor.


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In order to meet this ambitious goal, project team members looked to several key lean tools in the boot camp. With the goal of increasing hourly production of the oil pan from 7 parts per hour (pph) to 14, the team examined the current situation – including cell layout and production cycle times – to outline an action plan with countermeasures. Among those actions were a cycle time study, analysis of cell production and cell part failures, and implementation of a new cell layout.

Rick Watson, General Manager of SMI Automotive, said many of the lean projects at SMI involve reevaluation of cell layouts to save on floor space. “One key measure of lean is sales per square foot,” he said. “Lean is about combining Daily Evolution – many small steps with Periodic Revolution – fundamental shifts in the way things are done … to realize continuous improvement.”


  • Cost Savings: $710 per day, or $11,350 per month. These savings are derived from improvements in productivity, quality, energy usage, environmental waste stream, machine maintenance and safety.
  • Square footage of the cell producing the oil plan was reduced from 2,520 square feet to 2,109 (1 square foot = $64).
  • Increased parts per hour from 7 to 14.
  • Change in cell layout reduced the amount of labor needed, allowing an extra operator to be used on other cells.
  • Completely eliminated one non-value added process in the cell and significantly reduced the time spent on another non-value added process.