MBX Systems: Maintaining quality at a time of expansion

MBX Systems has been able to expand by continuing to demonstrate operational excellence

08/07/2013


Carl Nothnagel is the director of operations for MBX Systems. Courtesy: MBX SystemsAs a manufacturer of blade servers and rack solutions for data centers, MBX Systems found a need to expand its manufacturing operation from just under 20,000 sq ft to a new 80,000-sq-ft facility in Libertyville, Ill. Carl Nothnagel, director of operations for MBX Systems, talked with Plant Engineering about the myriad challenges of rapid expansion and making sure you have the talent on hand to keep growing. 

Plant Engineering: Now that the recession is behind us, what are the lessons you learned about your operations, your workers, and manufacturing?

Carl Nothnagel: You can still grow your customer base during a recession as long as you can demonstrate operational excellence. For example, in assembly manufacturing, off-the-shelf components are readily available to anyone and can be configured in an infinite number of ways. In this case operational excellence is measured by a combination of quality and performance. Quality is critical because customers expect their products to deploy perfectly; you never want to give them a reason to look elsewhere. Performance is rooted in how components are selected and engineered to work together. Well-built and well-engineered products create an uneven playing field when competitors’ operations are fighting to keep up and losing their customer base.

Bench strength is critical. During a recession you tend to hold off on new hires, and if you’re lucky you can afford to retain your manpower. But after a recession new team members need to be situated and acclimated quickly. To do this successfully, first you need the systems, processes, and tools available. Second, and more challenging, is to have strong, flexible, and cross-trained employees to help bring each new team member up to speed to start off on the right foot.

Adding capacity is expensive, which makes scalability invaluable. Velocity to grow becomes ever more critical after a recession. The ability to react and scale goes hand-in-hand with bench depth for each of our teams. Each team has to be prepared for serious growth and various growth scenarios.

PE: Why are you optimistic about your own manufacturing operations?

Nothnagel: We have continually invested in our infrastructure and our teams. We increased our capacity fourfold by relocating to a larger facility. We researched best practices for technology assembly plants, took the best of what we saw, and improved upon it.

Our in-house software developers designed our production software and continue to enhance its functionality to keep our operations highly scalable while remaining nimble. We closely measure quality and performance on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis and challenge ourselves to continuously improve year over year.

We are optimistic because the hard decisions we’ve made over the past few years have been validated by exceeding our new business growth objective and attracting larger-volume customers. Since moving to our new plant, our orders have increased 39% and our on-time delivery rate has improved on top of a 58% increase in shipments.

PE: Are you as optimistic about American manufacturing as a whole?

Nothnagel: I think for certain markets manufacturing will grow, and we are seeing an uptick in reshoring for technology manufacturing. Overall the growth is coming from industries that require higher quality, faster turnaround, increased customization, and variability in demand. For more commoditized manufacturing where cost is the primary concern, I think there are still more viable options overseas. In general I think we will see some gains in manufacturing this year and next, but overall I remain cautiously optimistic.

PE: What is the best thing you do in your plant today?

Nothnagel: The best thing we do is to stay on the forefront of the technology curve and make technology the backbone of our operations: our engineering team performance-tests components to develop new platforms while maintaining over 300 active platforms; our manufacturing teams operate with advanced Super Cell work centers, increasing employee throughput capability by up to 500%; and our warehouse team uses Bluetooth tablets with a picking app that has increased accuracy to 99.5% and speed by more than 100%.

- See more stories on the manufacturing revival below.



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Your leaks start here: Take a disciplined approach with your hydraulic system; U.S. presence at Hannover Messe a rousing success
Hannover Messe 2016: Taking hold of the future - Partner Country status spotlights U.S. manufacturing; Honoring manufacturing excellence: The 2015 Product of the Year Winners
Inside IIoT: How technology, strategy can improve your operation; Dry media or web scrubber?; Six steps to design a PM program
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Warehouse winter comfort: The HTHV solution; Cooling with natural gas; Plastics industry booming
Managing automation upgrades, retrofits; Making technical, business sense; Ensuring network cyber security
Designing generator systems; Using online commissioning tools; Selective coordination best practices

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me