Manufacturing Extension Partnership Keeping South Carolina Manufacturers Competitive
August 14, 2011 | 6:04 pm CDT
The South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership is aiding the state’s smaller manufacturers by offering business and technology assessments, engineering expertise and lean manufacturing solutions.

The South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP) helps small and mid-sized manufacturers in South Carolina solve problems with business and supply chain processes. The not-for-profit organization, located in Columbia, SC, offers support to companies through onsite consultations, partnerships with state technical colleges, research universities and the South Carolina Department of Commerce.

According to Ed Maier, a technical specialist with the SCMEP, 2005 saw the organization serve more than 2,000 manufacturers, saving them $23 million in costs and helping to create or retain 1,175 jobs. Maier recently discussed with Wood & Wood Products the SCMEP’s contributions to the South Carolina wood industry.

Wood & Wood Products: How many wood manufacturers are located in South Carolina?

Ed Maier: There are more than 400 primary and secondary wood industry manufacturers in the state; the vast majority have less than 50 employees.

W&WP: What is involved with the project to address the manufacturing issues facing South Carolina’s primary and secondary wood industries?

Maier: In South Carolina, small manufacturers account for 97 percent of the wood industry. They are critical to the economy. However, smaller manufacturers are less likely to know about and implement technology, modern manufacturing processes and cutting-edge business practices.
Many of the issues facing members of the wood products industry are similar to those in the rest of the manufacturing community: quality, scrap rates, manufacturing inefficiencies, low productivity and outdated technology. Addressing issues for this industry is, however, complicated by the relative isolation of these very rural manufacturers and their localized and isolated supply chains, making fuel costs and logistics issues which will be addressed in this project as well.

The overall project goal is to improve the competitiveness of the wood products manufacturers of South Carolina by implementing a successful, targeted, program of technology, business and marketing solutions that lead to growing industry profitability while improving the sustainability of the hardwood asset base of South Carolina.

W&WP: What criteria make a company eligible for assistance?

Maier: Companies need to be small- to mid-size, with less than 500 employees, have wood manufacturing concerns and operate in South Carolina. Eligibility covers manufacturers over the entire industry spectrum, from logger to finished good fabricator.

W&WP: What type of assistance and services are provided to companies involved in the program?

“In South Carolina, small manufacturers account for 97 percent of the wood industry. They are critical to the economy.” — Ed Maier
A Success Story

Fairforest Lumber Sales Inc., a manufacturer of pre-cut lumber in specified grades and size that serves the southeastern United States, employs 30 people at its facility, with average annual sales between $4-5 million.

A classic bottleneck problem existed at Fairforest. After the product was graded and sorted, it was distributed to various locations on the company grounds. This method of processing required many non-value-added steps, especially in queue times where the product was waiting for further processing.

An SCMEP Manufacturing Specialist was invited to visit the plant and offered a plan of action to address the issue. Partnering with Fairforest, SCMEP designed a new facility layout that eliminated as many of the non-value-added steps from its processing as possible. With engineering assistance, measurements of workspace requirement dimensions and current machine dimensions were gathered for the new layout design.

SCMEP also assisted the company personnel with capacity analysis and establishing basic labor standards to be used in scheduling, costs and variance analysis.

Fairforest says it has increased and retained sales in the amount of $1.2 million and experienced cost savings of $400,000. The company also indicated it has increased utilization of technology, enhanced productivity and implemented better business management processes.

Maier: In the project, SCMEP looks to improve the economic competitiveness of South Carolina’s wood products manufacturers. Experienced manufacturing specialists, wood industry experts, educational resources and forestry service resources are provided, in partnership, to address key issues this industry is facing that impact business health. We provide hands-on manufacturing business evaluation and assistance, as well as implement new technology, worker education and productivity solutions. We provide marketing and exporting advice, and incorporate the resources of the Wood Education Resource Center (WERC), specifically resources that assist with safe and effective integration of the growing Hispanic employee base, the incorporation of technologies that prevent the spread of invasive species, waste minimization and innovative wood industry technologies. SCMEP has formed partnerships with WERC, Clemson University, South Carolina Forestry Service and other Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers to implement the program.

W&WP: What do the SCMEP’s alliances and partnerships with schools,
agencies and organizations encompass, and how do they work?

Maier: SCMEP’s Manufacturing Education program, in partnership with the South Carolina Technical College system, provides training courses and informational events to manufacturers throughout the State of South Carolina. This benefit is offered to ensure South Carolina manufacturers have the resources needed to find necessary and up-to-date training, in an affordable format. Courses range from lean manufacturing to ISO conformance to a wide range of other manufacturing and business management topics.

SCMEP also partners with governmental agencies and affiliated organizations to ensure provision of cutting edge research and advisory services. These public and private partnerships help small manufacturers compete at a global level, sharing best practices, processes and technologies of worldwide manufacturing operations. SCMEP also has strong relationships with many private consultants and third-party vendors throughout South Carolina. Working with outside consultants ensures that SCMEP provides the most up-to-date and professional services available to its manufacturing clients.

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