Ver-Mac and Createch – A Partnership with as Much History as Future Potential
Ver-Mac is a third-generation family business founded in 1957, and has carved out a leading position in road signage, safety and lighting equipment manufacturing. Its mission is making roads safe for everyone. The company has designed a range of innovative products—variable-message signs, traffic arrows, speed display panels, mobile traffic lights, speed sensors, light towers and monitoring platforms. The company also provides connected solutions for smart worksites and equipment fleet management. Ver-Mac is also a leader in the Canadian and American markets, distributing its products internationally thanks to its 350 employees and two factories in Quebec and Texas.
Chaos and Apprehension
In 2010, seeing its orders growing steadily and its delivery times lengthening, Ver-Mac was no longer able to meet the demands of its customers. After numerous meetings with supervisors and active listening, the company realized that this wasn’t an easy problem to solve. The team wanted to improve the fluidity of the production line to be able to produce its variable-message signs in a few days instead of several months, but couldn’t figure out where to start.
So, Ver-Mac enlisted the services of an industrial engineer. After a few months, they realized that the difficulties experienced by the company exceeded the capacities of a single expert, who resigned due to the magnitude of the task. However, they offered one last key piece of advice that sowed the seeds of a long and happy collaboration: seek out a firm specializing in process optimization, like Createch.
There was an understandable reluctance about this recommendation. The company had had a disastrous experience with consultants in the past, resulting in significant loss of time and money. Despite all that, confronted with a feeling of helplessness about their future, the Ver-Mac team agreed to explore this option. Each stakeholder had done everything they could to the best of their knowledge without finding a viable solution. The company was ready to hear an external point of view and be open to change.
Createch inspired the Ver-Mac team dream by supporting its position with accomplishments at other companies. After seeing the concrete benefits at one Createch client, the Ver-Mac management team expressed interest in becoming another success story and showing their factories to other companies seeking performance improvement.
Createch brought Ver-Mac’s employees together in small groups to document everyone's vision and aspirations and ensure everyone was on the same page. By first focusing on the psychological aspect of the project, Createch was able to establish an unshakeable climate of trust between the two companies, even before implementing anything in the factory. This solid base allowed everyone to readily accept the changes, defusing any resistance among the teams. Reassured to see that Createch was not there to impose their views, but rather to collaborate for a better solution, Ver-Mac jumped into the project headfirst.
“Createch staff members have helped many of our internal employees grow thanks to their educational approach. Rather than telling us what to do, they gave us food for thought so that we could draw our own conclusions, which is a much more sustainable approach.”
Marc-Antoine Moisan, VP Operations, HR and Performance, Ver-Mac
Summary of Developments
2010: Initial Mandate
The first project entrusted to Createch in 2010 was to develop Ver-Mac's operational vision and transformation strategy. The team of consultants applied the concepts of Lean Manufacturing, which are still at the heart of the company's decisions to this day. From then on, the Ver-Mac team embarked on the project with dedication. Their willingness to question their practices without hesitation led to excellent results. In a few weeks, an ambitious transformation program was defined with the first project on the bottleneck equipment—i.e., a revision of the batch planning on the SMT (Surface Mount Technology) line. While studying the possibility of acquiring a second line at a cost of $500,000, which would also require a reorganization of the space, the Ver-Mac team was surprised, but quite satisfied with the suggested transformation program.
The new performance dashboard was diligently monitored by both the Ver-Mac and Createch teams. Any deviation from the scope of the projects was detected quickly and the issues were addressed immediately. The management mastered the principles explained by Createch and recognized the importance and the benefits of their efforts. Armed with new knowledge, the co-chair of Ver-Mac was even able to reorient practices when new leadership wanted to change planning methods. Seeing the owners of the client company preserve the original vision made the Createch team very proud. The enthusiasm was quite palpable for pursuing the objectives set out. However, good performance of the plant depended on rather complex aspects such as planning by equivalent units and the launch of production by product mix. Spectacular results were obtained rather quickly—the weekly rate of production went from 24 to 34 units in just a few weeks! All the projects were completed over three years, and they made it possible to achieve a production rate of 55 units per week in the same space, without major investments.
However, even with this new boost in productivity, the company was still overwhelmed—new units always found buyers. Given an ever-increasing demand, time was running out to develop a different approach to planning and demand management. That was the beginning of a new era: optimizing of the management of operations and supplies.
At the time, Ver-Mac was already operating an enterprise resource planning software (ERP). After exploring various options, it was agreed to continue with the same software. However, the platform lacked some features to support Ver-Mac’s operations. Once again, the company called on Createch to lead an upgrade project. Thanks to their creativity and analytical minds, the members of the Createch team were able to optimize the processes with the tools in place and thus extend the life of the ERP by several years.
“If the right tool doesn’t exist, Createch invents it. The integrated software we use has its limitations, but this has never stopped Createch's momentum. They not only allowed us to make the most of the system in place, but they also improved it. They know how to make do with what they have on hand, and have the means to improve any process, always in collaboration with the internal team and without ever neglecting the training aspect.”
Andrée Dumas, General Director, Ver-Mac
2013: Introducing a New Partner
Year after year, the growth of the signage giant remained constant. That’s why, in 2013, Createch introduced Ver-Mac to the Dancause Group to support it in its strategic development and positioning decision-making, particularly about establishing a new factory in the USA. This new collaboration has paid off in several ways: great success in the market, the development of distribution networks, the creation of the sales team and the design of the brand image. While these are promising and exciting advances, this rapid progress also resulted in significant pressures on the business organization. So, Createch helped Ver-Mac review all its business processes in growth management to allow it to become a robust company, and took part in the strategic development of the new American factory. As a leading player, Createch absorbed growth internally and ensured a reliable strategic link between operations and the marketplace. At this point, the factory was able to deliver 60 units per week, still without expansion or investment.
This growth has obviously had a significant impact on the entire supply chain and on production planning. To overcome the shortcomings of the ERP, the sales department used capacity analysis tools to visualize the sales cycle in real time and balance the load according to the production capacity. Subsequently, reengineering of the procurement process and using a purchase suggestion tool based on rigorous management of inventory management parameters led to a 25% reduction in inventory levels in just six months. Several other improvements have been made over the years: receipt of goods, the requisition process, document management, store layout, and more.
After the organization of supervision and the development of leadership, metal fabrication in turn became the bottleneck. Before hastily turning to an expensive option, Createch’s skills were employed to review and validate the investment strategy. Despite the presence of a few pitfalls during the project, the initial technological choices were nevertheless reviewed, to everyone's satisfaction. Once again, the process paid off!
In the face of rising material prices and significant competition in certain product lines, Ver-Mac redesigned some product platforms to reduce cost and labour by using the DFMA (Design for Manufacturing Assembly) approach, first with a pilot product, then with other product candidates, with unprecedented speed! Unsurprisingly, the initiative met with great success.
Finally, it was the office spaces’ turn to become the bottleneck. Createch supported Ver-Mac in its consideration of the overall optimization of the layout. The offices were completely redesigned thanks to an innovative vision. In just a few months, the working environment was taken to the next level and the building was refurbished.
2019: The Workforce Crisis Hits
In 2019, Ver-Mac, like all other companies, had to reinvent its approach to performance to tackle the workforce crisis. A new 4.0 project has been launched with the support of another partner and long-time customer of the Createch team: Automatech Robotik. For this project, the attitude is “anything is possible.” The objective was to define a new vision over a span of three to five years to set up efficient operations by exploiting cutting-edge technologies: integration of robots, logistics optimization, modernization of the management platform, optimization in the lab and much more. Two promising initiatives of the transformation program are currently under development, namely the implementation of a robotic cell at the welding station and the integration of a world-class ERP system that will allow Ver-Mac to access Industry 4.0 technologies.
Thanks to its optimized organization, Ver-Mac was able to achieve new efficiency levels and regain pride in its factory. Beyond improving the morale of employees, the improvements have enabled Ver-Mac to recruit high-calibre candidates, motivated by the idea of being able to practise their profession in a fast-paced environment that’s on the lookout for best practices, and focused on continuous improvement.
A Close and Unique Relationship
Together, the two teams reached several important milestones, from Createch's 25th anniversary to Ver-Mac's 50th. After so much history, there’s no place for complacency in business. The solid bond of trust between the two companies translates into absolute transparency and a frank collaboration that’s always beneficial. Thanks to this willing relationship, Ver-Mac has developed the reflex of validating the merits of all its improvement projects with Createch before undertaking them. Although it is a customer supplier relationship, Ver-Mac isn’t alone in reaping the benefits of this partnership. The success of the relationship relies heavily on the interdependence of the two companies—both get added value from it. All of Createch’s skills have been employed at one time or another for the projects undertaken together.
“Ver-Mac's management has always succeeded in creating a hyper-productive environment thanks to an exceptional culture of collaboration with its partners. This approach has increased the scope of the projects carried out together.”
Francis Bazinet, Senior Director, Performance Improvement, Createch
What the Ver-Mac team retains from more than ten years of collaboration is an egalitarian approach to consultation, always based on mutual respect, where we always experience a lot of enjoyment. In that kind of working atmosphere, it’s easy to take a few minutes to discuss the latest gin, the latest movie in theatres, or to hear about the family. Thanks to this deeply human approach at Createch and Ver-Mac, a strong bond of trust has been created, making collaboration simple and effective. It’s almost like a single cohesive team, as the line which separates the two entities is so blurry. For example, when the purchasing manager at Ver-Mac had to take sick leave, a Createch advisor volunteered to perform his duties and ensure continuity of operations. Some Createch employees are even invited to Ver-Mac's Christmas parties!
“We no longer think of Createch as a consultant, but as a floating team that’s part of Ver-Mac, and which comes to help from time to time in the processing of cases. Createch is an integral part of the management and plant implementation committee at Ver-Mac.”
Sandra-Lee McBain, Owner and Co-Chair, Ver-Mac
Createch and Ver-Mac have also had the opportunity to celebrate their close and fruitful collaboration on more than one occasion. First, during a lunch conference to present the successes of the DFMA approach, then during an open house at the factory during which several companies in the region were able to visit the premises. Just like Createch did in the very beginning, Ver-Mac was able to inspire growing businesses!
Many more projects are on the horizon for Ver-Mac, which is still thriving after 65 years in business. We can already foresee a robotic welding line, a relocation for expansion of the American factory as well as the integration of Microsoft's Finance and Operations application by Createch. The partnership between the two organizations continues to grow with the arrival of this major project, which will undoubtedly require the employment of a very large number of resources from both companies.
“A successful project requires a balance between the three parts of the process technology people triangle, but it’s the people at Createch and here at Ver-Mac who really run the show!”
Andrée Dumas, General Manager, Ver-Mac
Long live Ver-Mac and its partnership with Createch!