A group of Harvey Mudd College students developed manufacturing innovations that helped raise $3 million of additional annual revenue for the hose company Purosil LLC during a summer 2017 fellowship.
The HMC team, made up of Ankoor Apte HM ’19, Bohan Gao HM ’19, Giulia Castleberg HM ’19, Rachel Perley HM ’19, and professor Kash Gokli, assembled as part of the Riggs Fellowship Program, which facilitates consulting projects with local manufactures.
The Riggs Fellowship helps small companies become competitive on the global scale. “We wanted to make [Purosil] world class manufacturing,” Gokli said.
Purosil LLC, based in Corona, California, produces hoses for a wide range of customers, including individuals, car companies, and the military, Apte said. Before the students arrived, the company was two months behind on orders and was considering “moving [their operations] to Mexico, India, or China because their United States counterparts are less competitive in terms of pricing and efficiency,” Gao said.
Due to the customization needed for each customer, it was difficult for Purosil to make the manufacturing process fast because every product was very different, Apte said.
In order to increase Purosil’s efficiency, the Mudd team used a modern production technique called lean manufacturing, which focused on reducing waste and optimizing output, Apte said.
In addition to changing Pursoil’s production style, the students updated Purosil’s technology and implemented simple work station improvements, Gokli said.
The students conducted a number of subprojects that ultimately increased Purosil’s output. “We did everything that saved time … it was a lot of common sense stuff,” Apte said.
One of these projects improved information flow in the factory. The students implemented a program to track the parts of the hose as they traveled through the factory by giving every piece an ID number, Apte said.
Another problem for Purosil was its layout.
“There was not a very well-defined flow, so [the workers] walked more than they needed to,” which wasted time and caused inventory buildup, Gao said.
To fix this, the students mapped the floor and changed the inefficient layout to a ‘U-shaped’ production line. They also measured the time required for every small task, which was like “the heartbeat of the factory,” Gao explained.
Every step of production had to be completed at this pace; if a section was falling behind, the team brainstormed ways to make the station more efficient, and if a section was fast, they allocated it additional tasks to maximize efficiency, Gao said.
Some of these operators who were allocated more tasks were unhappy with the added workload, Gao said.
“[Others] were very skeptical, because they had been at the company for 20 years and now there were a bunch of students coming to the factory and telling them what to do and what to change,” Gao said.
Another operator said the changes the students made “were not what he wanted, and so he didn’t do his job for awhile,” Apte said.
Some operators feared that the improved efficiency might might lead to layoffs.
There was an “interesting conflict of interest, because optimizing the process from the company’s perspective means optimizing labor costs,” which could potentially lead to firing workers, Apte said.
However, when a company becomes more competitive, it sells more and is able to hire more operators to meet the new demand, according to Gokli. Even if one section of production becomes automated, operators can move to other cells within the company, Gao added.
The increase in revenue has also led to a lower turnover rate, Gokli said.
“We are seeing that it is making the company more stable, and made the workers happier,” he said.
Despite the initial pushback, the operators “were all kind of fascinated by the group of twenty-year-olds wandering around the factory,” Apte said. When the workers saw the results of the innovations, “they became very helpful,” Gao said.
By the end, the operators were even sharing ideas with the students and really believed in the new system, according to Gokli.
Gokli was very impressed with the students’ persistence and ability to execute their tasks.
By the end of the project, the students “got to know a lot of people [at Purosil], and won them over with their work,” he said.