On the Right Track to Continuous Improvement

This company’s focus on four important areas has already strengthened operations and should continue to impact its future success.

Plast-O-Matic Valves Inc. of Cedar Grove, New Jersey, designs and manufactures thermoplastic valves and controls for a variety of industrial applications. The company has operated for 48 years and during that time has built a reputation for producing high-quality, high-performance and long-lasting products. It also is known for offering customers simple solutions to complex problems.

Always focusing on ways to improve the company, President Tim DeLorenzo has strengthened operations through planning, delegation with accountability and reliance on lean principles as well as growing worldwide sales through an unwavering commitment to customer service. Here’s how Plast-O-Matic has employed these four elements that have been so critical to the company’s success.

Planning. One of DeLorenzo’s first actions when he took over the company a little more than two years ago was to develop a strategic plan. He did not want this to be a large, complex document that sat in a drawer somewhere, but a simple, useful tool to guide the company during his first year in charge. He and his management team developed a two-page strategic plan following the completion of a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of the company and the industries in which it operated. The strategic plan included the company’s core values and purpose, core competencies that could be leveraged, key initiatives (along with key performance indicators, or KPIs) and specific financial/operations goals for the year. Those on the management team were then asked to developed goals and KPIs for their departments that would support this strategic plan. “This got everyone rowing in the same direction, at the same pace, because we all knew exactly what we wanted to accomplish that year,” DeLorenzo says. The goals and initiatives were then divided into quarterly milestones. This made the strategic plan easier to manage, as this process was unfamiliar to some on the management team.

Delegation with accountability. DeLorenzo understood that he could not be successful micromanaging his team, which consisted of managers with years of experience at the company and newly-hired managers who had a track record of success in other companies. Each manager was charged with running his or her department to the best of his or her ability. However, along with this delegation of responsibility, came the need for accountability. The strategic plan proved to be most helpful here. Although there were the usual meetings required to address day-to-day operations, DeLorenzo scheduled a meeting every quarter to review the strategic plan and assess each manager’s performance on specific goals and initiatives. All managers came to these meetings with facts and figures that reflected their progress. Accountability was welcomed by all. If things were not on target, actions were agreed upon at that meeting. Each manager recognized that it was not sufficient to simply manage his or her part of the business; things had to improve. Because if each department improved, the company improved.

Lean principles. Like many manufacturing companies today, Plast-O-Matic has adopted lean principles as a foundation for continuous improvement. DeLorenzo is a “waste hunter” and has strived to instill this trait in his managers. Although the manufacturing operation is the largest component of the company, it is not the only area to employ lean principles. Customer service processes were reviewed and steps taken to streamline by eliminating waste. Accounting procedures were analyzed with the objective of shortening the month-end-close cycle. The quoting process was evaluated, and an improved quote tracking system was put in place. Some of the more manufacturing-related lean tools like the 5S system of workplace organization, quick change-over methods and even pull scheduling were introduced to simplify processes in the machine shop and injection molding areas. Cross-training assembly employees to increase skill levels and provide greater flexibility is currently underway and likely to further improve manufacturing throughput.

Customer service. As good as any company is at planning, delegating and improving internal processes, there can be no long-term success without satisfied customers. DeLorenzo, his management team, and everyone else at Plast-O-Matic are acutely aware of this. The need to satisfy customers is clearly spelled out in the company’s mission statement in phrases such as “customer-centric” and “exceeding customer expectations.” And these are not just words—the company’s customer service, technical sales and development engineering departments frequently get high praise from customers for being easy to deal with and willing to go the “extra mile” to help solve a problem.

Plast-O-Matic’s focus on planning, delegation with accountability, lean principles and customer service will surely support the company’s growth plans for the foreseeable future.