Industrial Nameplate faced a major dilemma when its largest customer, Oshkosh Corp., suddenly required all its suppliers to become ISO 9001:2015 certified.
The small Fox Valley manufacturer of industrial signs and labels had to decide whether to invest the time and effort, as well as the money, to satisfy the requirement or part ways with a vitally important, long-term client.
“Of course, we didn’t want to lose their business,” company co-owner Lynn Lanser said.
Nonetheless, the move caught Industrial Nameplate off guard. Uncertainty and frustration followed.
“They gave us a deadline and made it clear that they’d go someplace else for the business if we didn’t get certified,” Lanser said.
Industrial Nameplate didn’t know where to turn, said Lanser’s daughter, Nicole Swanton, who co-owns the business and serves as its vice president.
“We didn’t know what ISO was and we’d never even heard of a quality management system,” Swanton said.
Industrial Nameplate contacted the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership for assistance.
Lanser admitted that an initial meeting with WMEP manufacturing consultant Jennifer Arnold wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.
“As a business owner, you don’t want someone coming into your business and telling you what to do,” Lanser said.
It took time for the frustration to ease.
Swanton described the ISO 9001:2015 certification process, which took nine months from start to finish, as “life changing.”
“It was the most challenging thing I’ve done in my career, but it was the most rewarding process I’ve ever been through,” Swanton said.
ISO 9001:2015 is an internationally recognized standard that spells out the criteria for a quality management system.
“I figured we were doing things very well, but then Jen came in and saw where we could improve things,” Lanser said.
A 5S workplace organization process turned out to be most beneficial to the company, Swanton said.
“Our shop didn’t have much organization,” she said. “We eliminated so much clutter and it made our processes that much clearer.”
Industrial Nameplate also revamped the way it handles inventory.
Some employees resisted the changes brought about by the process.
“It’s hard to have someone come into your work space, but when they realized it’s for the greater good and it’s a team effort, then they embraced it,” Swanton said.
Manufacturers that embrace the ISO standard actively prevent problems and employ a system to consistently improve their business, the WMEP’s Arnold said. The quality management system needed to be the appropriate size for Industrial Nameplate’s small-scale operation, she added.
Lanser’s father, Fred Ziegler, founded the business in the basement of the family’s home in the early 1960s under the name Thunderbird Industries.
After incorporating, the company moved to downtown Appleton in 1980. It had just three employees at the time. In 2003, the name of the business changed to Industrial Nameplate.
The business moved to its current location in Outagamie County in early 2006. The facility also houses Top Dog Screen Printing and Embroidery, a sister business owned by Lanser and Swanton.
Just one year after moving in, business growth prompted an expansion of the new facility. The company, which has grown to 17 employees, manufactures custom signage and labels using metal, stainless steel, aluminum, polycarbonate, vinyl and plastic.
Oshkosh Corp. accounts for a large percentage of Industrial Nameplate’s overall business, including Appleton-based Pierce Manufacturing Inc., a division of Oshkosh Corp., which produces custom fire and rescue products. Another long-standing major customer is Seagrave Fire Apparatus of Clintonville, which makes and refurbishes pumper and rescue units, as well as aerial towers.
Industrial Nameplate also produces labels in a variety of languages for Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., a Savannah, Georgia-based company that manufacturers and services business jet aircraft in Appleton.
The company drums up business mainly through word-of-mouth referrals and ships its products all over the United States. Industrial Nameplate’s business has been strong and even experienced an increase during the deep recession due to government contracts, including defense deals.
Swanton credited the WMEP and Industrial Nameplate’s management team for successfully leading the company through the ISO certification process.
“It was a very painful process at first. There were tears and I was confused,” Swanton said. “Jen at the WMEP was very organized. She kept me on track. Her expectations of what needed to be done were very clear.”
Emotions spilled out when Industrial Nameplate was awarded unconditional ISO 9001:2015 certification.
“I couldn’t help but cry with happiness,” Swanton said. “Our team worked so hard on this.”
Lanser and Swanton had high praise for the work of the WMEP, especially Arnold.
“We really needed Jen,” Swanton said. “She had the background knowledge that it took. She’s very experienced, organized and detailed.”
For more information about continuous improvement programs and other offerings from the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, go to www.wmep.org.