Superior Plastic Products & Affiliated Companies Newsletter

Second Quarter of 2019 Superior News

Using the 5 Whys of Lean to Solve Shipping Issues

The shipping team had a problem.

Superior Hauling - Superior Plastic Products

They were responsible for picking and packaging the small parts that go with large shipments, but almost every time a shipment went out, packages of small parts were being left behind. Maybe they were left on the shop floor. Or maybe the truck driver didn’t pick them up with the large packages.


No one was quite sure where the breakdown was happening, so the team decided to get together and figure it out.


This is where the 5 Whys come in. The 5 Whys are a tool in the Lean manufacturing arsenal that can be used to identify the source of a problem. Instead of simply saying, “Jane didn’t do it right” and blaming a person, the 5 Whys allow teams to go back and ask why something happened. Asking why Jane didn’t do something correctly can lead to an answer like, “because she wasn’t trained on how to handle this” and another why? question might reveal that other team members didn’t consider it their jobs to do training, which could eventually lead to a solution: a designated trainer taking responsibility for coaching new employees.


Josh Kulp, who led the shipping department, called a meeting with his team and Chris Kauffman, the manager of Superior Hauling, to start asking “why” these small parts shipments were being missed. The question: “why are these packages not being picked up?” led to a series of other questions that uncovered the real problem: there was simply no process in place for either shipping or hauling to follow.


Kulp says that when the 5 Whys are employed, usually one of three things are uncovered: 1) there is no process in place; 2) the process is flawed in some way and needs to be fixed; or 3) individuals are not following the process.


Now, understanding the real root of the issue, Kulp and Kauffman were able to put a plan in place. They created a series of numbered cubbies. Each number corresponded to a shipping lane. Since each truck has a designated shipping lane, each driver made it a point in their process to check their numbered cubby as a final step before pulling out for the day. And the shipping team made it a point to put all small packages into the appropriate cubby. Kulp says they haven’t had a missed small parts package since they put this process in place.


“I’d say that before we started employing the 5 Whys, we were at about 97% efficiency,” said Kulp. “Now we’re consistently holding at 99% or more and have been for 18 months. Sometimes we have 1,500 orders going out per month, so that’s pretty impressive.”

Placid Point Lighting Shines On

95% Brighter!

It sounds like a marketing gimmick, but our product engineering team actually did the measurements. With a couple of changes to the light structure, and a couple of additional LEDs, Placid Point Lighting’s decorative and pyramid caps are now legitimately 95% brighter than our original lights.


With our original Placid Point Lighting, we were balancing the needs for low wattage and energy use with brightness. But our customers made it clear that brighter lights were important, even if it meant increased wattage. The good news is, we were able to make the lights brighter without greatly increasing their power draw.  The old light required .74 watts and the new requires 2.4.


So what’s different?


First, a new, larger common board holds 6 LED bulbs instead of the original three. While the old board was around 1.5”x 1.5,” the new board is 3×3. While this bigger board is necessary for the additional bulbs, it also successfully keeps light from escaping down the post and instead forces the light up to the reflector and out through the lenses.


Second, the reflector has changed considerably. The old reflector was a small reflective disc taped to the underside of the cap. The gap between this reflector and the LEDs was considerable, meaning the light was not being reflected to maximum capacity. The new reflector is a sizeable piece of sheet metal specifically designed for light reflection. Nylon spacers hold this reflector directly above the LED board and light hits the reflector and shines out through the lenses.


Orders for our pyramid and decorative lens lights are now being filled with the new, brighter Placid Point Lighting. We have kept some of our original, dimmer lights in stock in case customers require a few of the dimmer variety for deck expansions or warranty replacements.


We hope you enjoy these new and improved lights!

Customer Service Continues to Grow at Cardinal Building Products

Cardinal Building Products is out to improve their customer experience.

Part of improving customer experience is hiring. Last year, Cardinal Building Products added two dedicated outside salesmen, Darin Shepherd and David DiCostanza, to devote their time solely to Cardinal customers. Long-time Cardinal customers will be familiar with Mel Weiler, who has handled inside sales at Cardinal for six years. But Mel is now joined by two very experienced sales staff, Mike Shaub, who has about 35 years of sales experience, and John Matthew Lapp, who brings six years of sales experience to the team. Both these men have worked in customer service at Superior and Key-Link and are now ready to help take Cardinal’s customer service to a higher level.


For those unfamiliar with the Cardinal name, Cardinal Building Products is a sister company to Key-Link and Superior, and is a wholesale distributor of quality building products in the Mid-Atlantic region.


Rick Hess, Cardinal’s General Manager, is excited about all of his new sales staff. “This new team and their experience, as well as the increased manpower, will really help us serve customers going forward,” he said.


Meet Cardinal’s inside sales staff:


Mel Weiler
9 years of experience at Superior and affiliates, 6 at Cardinal.
Favorite thing about sales: meeting and talking to customers, especially when everything goes well.
Things he does for fun: softball and reading


Mike Shaub
35 years of sales experience, 2.5 at Superior and affiliates
Favorite things about sales: meeting customers and building relationships. Mike also loves cold calling because you never know what you’re going to find.
Things he does for fun: golf, helping with high school football, cheering for the Baltimore Ravens


John Matthew Lapp
6 years of experience at Superior and affiliates
Favorite things about sales: interacting with customers, writing up orders
Things he does for fun: reading and hunting

First Quarter of 2019 Superior News

Maximizing our Manufacturing

The Vertical Cable Cell Goes Lean…with Excellent Results.

Ralph Landis and Daniel Zook


When Ralph Landis and Daniel Zook started in the vertical cable cell at Key-Link, they didn’t really have any number goals to meet. There was simply a stack of paper orders that the team would work through until they couldn’t; maybe the shift was over, or they were out of parts, or they finished today’s orders and had no new ones.


There were multiple team members, but no guidance about how much they should be producing.


However, in Key-Link’s journey toward being lean, as well as continuously improving, it became clear that the cell could operate in a much more efficient way. Landis and Zook, along with management, became invested in ways to produce more product, more efficiently, and with less waste.


One of the first massive improvements came with hard numbers. Instead of a stack of orders, Landis and Zook were challenged to output a certain amount of boxed railing per day. With that goal number in place, they began to look for ways they could meet and then increase their output goals. They knew what they needed, and they shared those needs with management.


First, they got rid of “Frankenstein.” This machine, which crimps the wire so a nut can be added to the end, was inefficient and hard to work with, and they nicknamed it Frankenstein because it had been welded together so many times. The new machine (which does not have a name!) is much faster and easier to use.


One of the principles of Lean is minimizing waste as much as possible. Movement is one kind of waste. A worker who takes only one step to reach a needed piece of product is more efficient than one who has to take twenty steps. With their move from one Key-Link plant to another, the vertical cable cell found themselves in a much less wasteful situation as they were able to move the railings and other pieces that they needed to within only a few steps of their cell, as well as adding shelving for additional storage. Now they don’t have to walk across the warehouse to get rails or other material.


But doing everything in their power was still going to be a problem if they couldn’t get the fittings they needed. Early on in their tenure, Landis and Zook did not always have the machined fittings required to put the vertical cable rail together. However, with the addition of new Swiss machines at Key-Link, fitting production increased and getting the pieces became much easier.


Because of their changes and in response to increasing sales, the cell has been able to double production to meet the demand.


Lean manufacturing is about continuous improvement, so there are more changes and upgrades to be made, but Landis and Zook are happy with the way things are improving and with their small but efficient team.


“I wasn’t sure about Lean when I first heard about it,” Landis said, “but when I saw the numbers we were doing, I knew it worked.”

Put a Ring on It?

An issue with the aluminum handrail joint ring—and how we’re going to solve it.

Have you used aluminum handrail from Key-Link? Have you used a 90° Elbow Bracket?


You might know that our 90° Elbow Bracket comes with a joint ring. The 90° Elbow Bracket generally fits into one of the straight handrail pieces, and the ring goes over the joint where the 90° Elbow Bracket meets the handrail. The ring helps minimize any roughness, and some customers prefer the look of the ring to the look of the small crack between the pieces.


Unfortunately, some of our customers who regularly use both the 90° Elbow Bracket and the joint ring noticed that the joint ring did not fit the 90° Elbow Bracket without a lot of effort, and we realized we needed to reevaluate this part of the system for quality assurance. The Quality team here decided to remove the ring until we could determine the best way to make it fit.


Since the joint ring works on every other part of the railing system, it makes more sense financially and logistically to re-make the 90° Elbow Bracket. After talking with our vendor, we’ve decided to make a new die for the 90° Elbow Bracket and start manufacturing a new part, and, if things run smoothly, we expect to have the new 90° Elbow Bracket sometime in July. We will be supplying the original 90° Elbow Bracket without interruption until we receive the new version. The only significant change in the new version will be that it’s smaller in diameter and will more easily fit the joint ring.


In the meantime, if you would like a joint ring included in your handrail orders, please let your account representative know and we will happily send you the joint ring. If you do not need a joint ring, you don’t need to do anything more. Once we have the new 90° Elbow Bracket, the joint ring will once again be included in all orders.


Give us a call if you have any questions or if you’d like to request the joint ring.

All Aluminum

This year we’re switching to all aluminum handrail. We sat down with our lead product engineer to find out why

With the arrival of 2019 came the arrival of aluminum handrail for Superior Plastic Products. For Key-Link customers, aluminum handrail is old hat, but a lot of Superior customers have been used to vinyl secondary handrail.


As of June 1, 2019, we will no longer be selling vinyl handrail (with some exceptions). There are a couple of reasons for this. We sat down with Product Engineer Mike Alexander to get some answers about the switch.


Q. Why did we decide to switch everyone to aluminum handrail?


A. Aluminum handrail has a lot of benefits. In this case, our aluminum handrail is better in three ways. First, it’s ADA compliant. Second, it’s not only secondary handrail. You can use this system alone between two posts if you want to. And third, it’s code compliant.


Q. So it meets IBC and ICC codes?


A. Yes. It meets International Building Code requirements on 6-foot sections and International Residential Code requirements on 8-foot sections.


Q. When you say ADA compliant, what does that mean?


A. There isn’t a governing board that decides ADA compliancy the way there is with building code. However, this handrail meets the various clearance requirements and measurement requirements as specified in ADA documentation.


Q. What about colors? Does white aluminum handrail match white vinyl railing?


A. I think most people would be hard-pressed to tell a difference between the colors. We powder-coat the aluminum handrail to match the vinyl railing and the colors are almost identical.


Questions? Contact your Regional Account Manager.

Our Products are Manufactured in the U.S.A.

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