Lending a helping hand

Adrianne Kroll, right, with Industry Expansion Solutions works on an improvement project with employees at Sirchie's plant in Youngsville, NC.

Adrianne Kroll, right, with Industry Expansion Solutions works on an improvement project with employees at Sirchie's plant in Youngsville, NC.

IES agent Mac McNulty leads a hazardous materials training session on Centennial Campus.

When Kyle Martin needed help with a redesign of the office space in the manufacturing plant he oversees, he knew where to turn.

Martin, who is vice president and general manager of Electroswitch Electronic Products’ Raleigh manufacturing facility, turned to Industry Expansion Solutions (IES), the College’s extension unit serving manufacturers, healthcare providers, government agencies and service sector companies across North Carolina. The son of an NC State engineer, Martin had long been familiar with IES and has used its services previously in past positions.

Martin’s company manufactures switch products for electronic applications, including switches that arm bombs, control the windshield wipers on a 737 and set the position on a dog training collar. The company was working to improve its processes on the manufacturing floor but also wanted to make the arrangement of the building’s office space more efficient with an eye toward an eventual upgrade of those offices.

It’s something Martin had some experience in doing but not enough time to take on.

Founded in 1955 as Industrial Extension Service, IES focused on helping North Carolina industries grow and prosper. It was also the first organization of its kind in the United States. Today, IES has broadened its reach to other industries while still maintaining a strong base in working with manufacturers.

“We have developed a myriad of things that we do to help organizations get better and make strategic decisions on how they’re going to move forward,” said Phil Mintz, IES’ interim executive director and state center director of the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP).

That could mean helping a manufacturer become more energy efficient or helping a nonprofit identify grant opportunities. It’s teaching workplace safety courses or streamlining a government agency’s processes to save taxpayer dollars and better serve clients.

Based on NC State’s Centennial Campus, IES has multiple regional offices around the state, allowing regional client development managers quick access to clients from Murphy to Manteo. “They are constantly visiting with clients, asking them about their pressing needs and offering solutions,” Mintz said.

A better way

IES spent a few weeks visiting Electroswitch, observing and asking questions of employees in sales, finance, engineering, human resources, purchasing and other offices.

Martin knew there was wasted space in the building. But the study IES produced did more than just fill it. By gathering data on the way those employees communicate with each other, it identified a better way for them to be positioned in the building.

“We have people that are at opposite ends of the hallway that talk multiple times a day,” Martin said. “They would be better if they were co-located. It was an eye-opener. It wouldn’t have been how we would have laid the office out if we had done it freehand.”

When the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) obtained grant funding to help state and local agencies introduce process improvement plans to design, test and implement more effective, streamlined and integrated approaches to helping low income families, IES provided training to the state employees who would then go out and assist those agencies with implementing new processes. The Division of Social Services Operational Support Team looks for roadblocks to efficient service delivery, like redundant job responsibilities or outdated client forms and excessive wait times.

Thanks to that IES training, the team has worked on 27 projects across the state.

“Obtaining certification for the state level staff so that they can facilitate process improvement projects across the state has been very beneficial to the organization,” said Regina Watkins Bell, an Operational Support Team manager with DHHS.

New areas

IES has long focused on the state’s smaller manufacturers; some client businesses have fewer than 10 people.

“There are consultants who do some of the things that we do, but they’re typically calling on the larger companies and they’re not going to spend any time trying to help with the small ones,” Mintz said.

As IES has expanded into other areas, it has taken many of the same solutions developed for manufacturing to other sectors. So lean manufacturing and lean healthcare or lean government share many of the same ideas and methods.

That includes a big focus on hospitals and public health agencies, which are often dependent on the level of government reimbursement for their bottom line. As those reimbursements fluctuate, IES has done things like examine emergency room workflow to help rural hospitals, so vital to their communities, survive.

IES grant evaluation services is a new growth area. The need for evaluation of grant projects has increased over the years, as funders and nonprofits have become more sophisticated and focused on results. IES has a team of evaluators who are trained to monitor the success of projects while providing information for improving projects and overall programs.

Another new area of focus is helping companies address cybersecurity. While many small-business owners might think they are too small to be victims of cyberattacks, IES is working with companies on the importance of cybersecurity and helping traditional manufacturers transition into solutions that involve use of automation.

“No matter the client and no matter the solution,” Mintz said, “IES is a partner working hand in hand to make improvements and find fixes.”

Return to contents or download the Spring/Summer 2017 NC State Engineering magazine (PDF, 3.7MB).

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