Ajax Workforce Unites Behind “Essential” Status

Ajax Workforce Unites Behind “Essential” Status

Minneapolis, April 13, 2020 – Kent Djubek, president of Ajax Metal Forming Solutions, has seen a lot in his 30 years at the company. But what he sees now from his Ajax coworkers is unique. “I’m just so impressed with this workforce, and so appreciative,” Kent said. “They’re clearly inspired to keep producing parts despite what’s going on.”

What’s going on is unprecedented in the company’s 75-year history. On March 19, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, issued its Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers.  It reads in part:

“If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, defined by the Department of Homeland Security . . . you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”

The Memorandum spells out the industry DHS definitions.  Among them:

“Critical Manufacturing – Workers necessary for manufacturing materials and products needed for medical supply chains, transportation, energy, communications, food and agriculture . . . “

And:

“Transportation and Logistics – Employees supporting or enabling transportation functions, including dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, warehouse workers . . .

Kent quickly realized his company would fit the DHS critical infrastructure definition. Ajax makes parts for companies that manufacture essential products in climate control, transportation, architecture, construction, auxiliary power, and related industries.  The lights would stay on.

But that coin has two sides. The first was a mild sense of relief. Ajax has never closed its doors since the company’s founding at the end of World War II. A government-ordered shut-down, even if temporary, would have been hard to bear.

Then there’s the chilling side to the DHS edict. Coronavirus is a nasty bug. Death is unlikely, but it’s happening all too often, seemingly at random. Ajax people would now stay on the job while most Minnesotans remain safely at home through May 4, as ordered Wednesday by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.

In response, the Ajax maintenance team modified and intensified the company’s already-rigorous daily cleaning schedule. Daily reminders for each shift help keep safety measures like hand washing and social distancing front and center in everyone’s minds. Protective gear is widely distributed. 

But that’s playing defense. Those efforts yield no guarantee. Regardless of what his team does, Kent’s colleagues at Ajax might fall ill. What’s more, as Ajax people commute to and from the plant, they will need to stop for gas and supplies. That means more interaction, more public touchpoints, more risk.  Ajax colleagues would need to be courageous.

So Kent is staying positive. “We have contingency plans in place,” he said. “If the country’s economic picture darkens, we have the resources to support our colleagues and their families. Heartland Equity, our ownership partner, has our back on this.  Our financial footing is solid. We’re fortunate in that regard.”

Brandon Holmes, Ajax Production Manager, said that spirits remain high on the plant floor. “I can tell that our colleagues are proud of their designation as an essential supplier, he said. “Everyone seems happy to be working. We know we’re making a difference.”

Brandon said that communicating with coworkers before and after shifts is vital. “We share safety ideas and any new information from the CDC. We also go over the extreme-sounding information we pick up on the news or social media and set priorities. So far, we’ve made the right moves.”

Tom Ahonen, Chairman of Heartland Equity Partners, a mission-based private equity firm and an Ajax co-owner, said in a letter to the entire company that his firm would continue to support Ajax operations and colleagues through this crisis.

“As we navigate this crazy and unprecedented time together, I want my Ajax colleagues to know that my partners and I are grateful for your hard work, commitment, and spirit,” he said. “We are in this for the long haul, and shutting down isn’t good for our customers, our suppliers, or you. Together we’ll get through this season and come out the other side stronger.”

Kent agrees. “I am so very thankful that our colleagues here at Ajax are showing great courage despite unavoidable adverse conditions,” he said. “With a team like this, success is not merely possible; it’s likely.”

More content is available on the Ajax Metal Forming Solutions blog. Please visit www.ajaxmfs.com/ajax-news.

About Ajax Metal Forming Solutions

Ajax Metal Forming Solutions is an ISO 9001:2015 manufacturer that produces engineered parts for companies in climate control, transportation, architecture, auxiliary power, engineered products, and related industries. The company’s diverse ownership group includes 3rd generation family members, key company leaders, and Heartland Equity Partners, a mission-based private equity company. Ajax employs about 75 colleagues at the company’s Minneapolis campus. Visit Ajax at www.ajaxmfs.com.

About Heartland Equity Partners

Heartland Equity Partners is a Midwest investment fund focused on value creation through a process of investment, growth, and long-term retention. The fund invests in successful Upper Midwest manufacturing, value-added distribution, and business services companies that demonstrate stability and profitable growth opportunities.  Visit Heartland Equity Partners at www.heartland.fund.

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Workcells Boost Efficiency, Cut Waste

Workcells Boost Efficiency, Cut Waste

Since the publication of “The Machine That Changed the World” by James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos in 1991, companies have sought to improve on the workcell idea. Also known as the kaizen process, workcell benefits are undeniable: minimal waste, reduced production bottlenecks, and — best of all — lowest possible final cost of production. What’s not to like.

The first beneficiaries of workcells were automakers. Their huge production runs of similar, internally planned products yielded immediate rewards. But companies like Ajax face different challenges. Ajax produces products specified by our customers. That means Ajax’s workcell development must be responsive to customer requirements.
Using RIEs To Implement Work Cells

RIEs (Rapid Improvement Events) isolate key departmental managers and tasks them with improving a single business process in a short amount of time. The event is not considered complete until the process improvement actually takes place. RIEs require quite a bit of advance planning to be successful. Most of the prep work involves gathering decision-making data so that the process does not stall. Top management must also make sure the RIE team feels free to make important decisions. Some of these decisions may require significant changes within the organization. That can cause disruption.

“REIs aren’t necessarily easy,” said Ajax Vice President of Sales and Marketing Don Wellman. “It’s all about making our processes better for our customers.”
“We place emphasis on the rapid part of RIEs,” Don continued. “Corporate speed makes a big difference when working with world-class OEMs. We need to move as fast as they do.”
Don said Ajax plans on doing at least three RIEs this year. “Workcells are a priority with our RIEs, since they yield so many benefits that directly improve customer service and value”.

The Cutting Edge: New L3 Laser At Ajax

The Cutting Edge: New L3 Laser At Ajax

Ajax will take delivery of another new Salvagnini L3 laser in the fall of 2018.

“Ajax has employed laser cutting for more than a decade with great success,” said Ajax Vice President Don Wellman. “There’s just so many advantages over other metal cutting methods. We’re sold on the technology.”

How it Works

Laser cutting works by directing a high-powered, computer-driven light beam onto sheets of material. The thin cut lines vaporise, leaving very fine edges.
Here are just a few of the L3 advantages Don referred to:

Precision – Laser cutting rays are thin and super accurate. Complex parts are produced with almost no waste, keeping costs as low as possible.

Non-contact – Since the laser head doesn’t physically touch the material, there’s no handling marks.

Low Power Consumption – Lasers require about 10kW of power to operate while other methods require 50kW and up. Yet another way the L3 can help keep customer costs as low as possible.

Very Safe – Laser cutting has proven to be a far safer method than other metal cutting processes. The cutting beam is sealed in a tight enclosure with no chance of operator contact.

Wide Range of Materials – Stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper and many other metals are no problem for the L3. It can create intricate shapes — even with tough materials — that would be impossible through traditional methods.

Speed – The L3 is fast, producing parts in a comparably short period of time, which, again, helps to keep customer costs as low as possible.

Finishing – The L3’s edge quality is amazing. Laser-cut parts can easily be deburred using the Ajax LOEWER deburring machine.

Smart – The L3’s computer can detect anomalies in the material, then remodulate parameters to resume cutting with no work stoppage.

For more information about laser cutting capabilities at Ajax, please contact our sales engineering team at 763-277-7760.  Remember to visit our blog this fall for a video of our new Salvagnini L3 in action!

Forming A Citizen

Forming A Citizen

The path to American citizenship is neither fast nor easy.  It’s not supposed to be.  Find out how the Ajax HR department helped make an employee’s dream possible.

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Forming Ajax Careers, Now And In The Future

Forming Ajax Careers, Now And In The Future

“We’re building a deep bench,” said Ajax Director of Operations Curt Jasper.

Curt Jasper and Courtney Mickelson devote huge amounts of time and energy to the people side of the business.

No, Curt wasn’t talking about a company softball team. This busy manufacturing company needs multi-skilled people who can step into pretty much any role on the plant floor as needed and perform well. As leader of Ajax’s talent management effort, Curt has been innovating new ways to build his workforce since he joined Ajax four years ago. He and Administrative Assistant Courtney Mickelson have devoted huge amounts of time and energy towards the people side of the business.

“It’s all about managing talent. We’ve examined every corner of our business looking for ways to improve our career focus,” Curt said. “Every organization has practices they need to get better at, including us. But we wanted to avoid becoming too inwardly-focused.”

The Ajax team is proactively learning how to grow the company’s talent pool by volunteering on local organizations’ boards or discussion panels to understand colleague and employer issues.“ We always look for new avenues to approach our next career objective,” Curt said.

The Company’s #1 Talent Builder – The Skills Matrix

Ajax Plant Manager Brandon Holmes is a perfect example of how development programs can identify and grow talented people quickly. Brandon joined Ajax in 2007 and worked his way up through production, fabrication, logistics, and management roles to become the company’s newest Plant Manager.  Brandon is a credentialed Class A Journeyworker whose professional development includes creating, attending, and instructing the M-Powered manufacturing program at Hennepin Technical College and the sheet metal program at Anoka Technical College, both in Minneapolis. Brandon has completed coursework in lean manufacturing and six sigma process improvement, and is a Certified Professional Project Manager (CPPM).

Plant Manager Brandon Holmes keeps the company’s Skills Matrix current.

That’s a pretty impressive resume for such a young professional. But Ajax managers believe Brandon’s success story should not be all that unusual. In fact, they believe it’s repeatable using a key weapon in the Ajax workforce arsenal: the Skills Matrix.

The Ajax Skills Matrix is a color-coded grid that shows a composite of production skills needed and mastered by members of the Ajax workforce. This at-a-glance talent management tool, posted prominently in the company break room, inspires workforce members to learn new skills and become the multi-skilled team that boosts production efficiency. Managers can also assess the available skills at any given time and contrast that to the production schedule, enabling them to quickly identify and correct any future gaps.

Benefits To Workforce and Customers Alike

Put yourself in the Ajax customer’s shoes (if you already have, thank you!) and imagine you’ve just handed off a critical project on a tight time line. Wouldn’t you be happy to know the many ways the Skills Matrix improves performance on your project? Here are just a few examples:

  • Increased workforce competency and greater personal commitment to your project’s success.
  • Greater management understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of people assigned to your project.
  • Increased production capacity and efficiency through earlier detection of skills shortages.
  • Improved recruitment efficiency through hiring and training people with backgrounds in areas of need.
  • Better project planning based on projected availability of skilled people.
  • More consistency and stability, keeping the company, and your projects, moving forward.
  • Better product quality and reduced production bottlenecks.
  • Inspires workforce members to build their talents because the company’s steady growth yields new career opportunities.

It Starts At The Top

The Skills Matrix only works when company management is committed to seeing it through and keeping it embedded in the minds of people at all levels of the company. Vice President of Sales Don Wellman said the Skills Matrix must become part of the Ajax core culture. “It starts with us,” he said. “Management needs to prioritize the Skills Matrix in order to get the most from it.”

Don said once people begin to see the benefits of the Skills Matrix, the cultural embedding gets easier.  “The good news is that everyone can see how well it works,” Don said. “That gives the entire Skills Matrix project plenty of momentum to keep it rolling forward.”

Tooling Innovation Gets Tight Results

Tooling Innovation Gets Tight Results

Ajax was recently challenged with producing a four-nut backing plate for a refrigeration unit hinge. The company’s solution checks all the tight tolerance boxes.  The article gives you a view from the tool designer’s perspective. Includes Video.

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