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Ace Metal Crafts — a Bensenville, Ill., family owned manufacturer — was faced with a major challenge: its largest customer required it to reduce its production lead time from eight to three weeks for a component Ace produced that is used in the client's meat-processing equipment. In addition, the company – which specializes in stainless-steel fabrication and machining – had "grown at a very fast clip; it was very chaotic and we had delivered some items late to our customers," said Jean Pitzo, CEO. "To stay competitive, we needed to reduce the lead time. That's what the Toyota Production System (TPS) is helping us to do."


• There was no system in place to identify when a piece/product was supposed to be completed; shop floor “ahead or behind” conditions weren’t visible, meaning they didn’t have a viable way to process product through the factory.

• Understanding lead time and where it could be cut.  For instance, many pieces sat idle while waiting for a component (bolt, etc.), or parts were lost, components missing.  That resulted in having to go back to the beginning of the process.

• Lack of “sequenced” production, which resulted in product getting out of order on the line.


Toyota advisors and Ace team members designated the shipping department as an improvement pilot area, creating lanes and taping a section of the floor the size of a truck so team members would know exactly when they had a full trailer of parts. Each customer order was visualized on a white board; it became the “meeting area” where floor leaders would gather three times a day to review orders and discuss any problems. 

Also, a new document was created that acted as a checklist.  It showed what each component looked like via a 2-D drawing.  For each job, a person now checked off on it — this fixed the issue of pieces sitting idle. 

Finally, problem solving became a focus and priority for the operation.  What began as three to four people working on a problem together, transformed into a company-wide culture of improvement.


The company has achieved its goal of becoming more competitive and holding on to its largest customer.  Production lead time was reduced by 38 percent and gaining momentum to achieve the three week ideal condition.  Time has been cut dramatically in the quoting and layout of orders.  TPS, first implemented in shipping, has been “spread” across the entire operation as set-sequence production was put in place. 

“Through these continuous improvement workshops we are changing that culture and making it everybody’s job,” said team member Katarina Pantelic-Orb.  “Our goal is to have 116 problem solvers here at Ace.”

It’s a formula for operational success and sustainability.

“Since we started our work with Toyota, we’ve gained more orders, more customers,” Pitzo said.  “Not only did we not let anybody go, we added 20 more people.”

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