When we visited SEPCO-Erie in Summit Township, I expected to learn about the products and processes of the shop. What I came away with, however, was a lesson in communication.
On the day of the visit, SEPCO owner Dan Ignasiak invited me to attend his brief daily meeting with the staff. It was a fast-moving, informal talk that touched on safety concerns and company news, and also included few tidbits of humor and history.
What was best about the experience, for me, was seeing the open platform for communication between the company and the employees – the employees were privy to the company’s progress, and they were also encouraged to highlight suggestions or improvements that they, personally, were responsible for. It’s an idea that Ignasiak implemented after reading the book “2 Second Lean.”
In the meeting I attended, the brief lesson of the day that Ignasiak passed onto his crew centered on a quote attributed to noted American engineer W.E. Deming: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
That sentiment – which reflects the Japanese business philosophy of kaizen, or constant improvement – is one that SEPCO has taken to heart over the past few years. As we toured the shop floor, Ignasiak pointed out some of the changes that have not only improved the work environment for his employees, but have also boosted his bottom line.
For example, he explained to us how a coolant recycling system that was recently installed now collects, cleans and reuses the coolants that keep the machines running properly. The recycling system helped improve the air quality in the facility, Ignasiak says, and also helps the company save money on coolant. In fact, he says, the system paid for itself in under two years.
It is in those ways that Ignasiak shows that SEPCO-Erie has taken the kaizen idea to heart.
“We’re changing all the time,” he says.
About SEPCO-Erie: SEPCO, which stands for South Erie Production Company, was founded in 1966 by Ignasiak’s father. Today, the company has about 25 employees (some who have been with the company for 30 years) and specializes in fabricated metal parts, especially engine components. The company added its first robotic arm in 2015, with the assistance of a grant from the NWIRC, a nonprofit partnership that serves manufacturers in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Why Erie County: SEPCO has a lot of related support industries in Erie County, Ignasiak says – pointing out that Erie County has a higher concentration of plating businesses than Pittsburgh does. He also mentioned that it is easy for SEPCO to get supplies, since steel trucks can get here easily from major highway routes.
Challenges of Erie County: Ignasiak said he would like to see greater training opportunities for specialized industries – particularly in a community college model that would provide the necessary skills to young people while still being affordable and approachable.
Fun fact: SEPCO’s website seems to say it all about the company, describing the business as “Great people running really super cool machines!”
Coming up next week: We explore Allegheny Wood Works in Lake City.