Staying Lean

SigmaPoint Technologies

SigmaPoint Technologies knows how to stay lean. The Cornwall, Ontario business has spent eight years perfecting this effective Japanese business strategy. Now, the team is passing on the benefits to its customers.

SigmaPoint Technologies is an Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) provider supplying end-to-end assembly services for intricate electronic products within the computer, telecommunications, defence, alternative energy, medical, industrial, and transportation markets. “We are really helping our customers reduce overall cost by outsourcing various manufacturing capabilities to us,” President and CEO Dan Bergeron shares. “That is a key benefit – helping our customers reduce their cost.”

The company is “unbelievably flexible” and able to move a large amount of product through the facility remarkably fast. “We do it locally and we get it done quickly and with quality,” Mr. Bergeron says. “That is a competitive edge.” Furthermore, the team is able to accomplish these objectives regardless of the complexity of the product. “We don’t like doing product that is easy,” Mr. Bergeron laughs. “It usually has to have a certain level of complexity.”

How does SigmaPoint manage to consistently deliver all of this to its customers? By staying lean. The company is deeply committed to lean principles and has even achieved World Class Lean Six Sigma distinction. The team constantly strives to maximize customer value while minimizing waste, which is the core idea behind lean manufacturing. As a result, SigmaPoint creates more value for customers using fewer resources, a win-win for both parties.

SigmaPoint began to embrace lean principles when Director of Operations Stephane Dubreuil came on board about eight years ago and pushed the concept. Mr. Bergeron admits he was skeptical at first. “I was worried about overhead,” he recalls. Seeing clear and tangible results after just one year of lean implementation, Mr. Bergeron and the rest of the team were sold. “It really was an eye opener for myself and the team,” he says. After the 12 month trial period, he was determined “to keep going into this lean management style. And we never looked back.”

Staying lean isn’t always easy, of course. “Many people don’t really understand lean,” Mr. Bergeron admits, “or they have tried it and it has failed.” SigmaPoint, on the other hand, has stood by the philosophy for nearly a decade and has learned what it takes to make it work. “Lean manufacturing is like a tool box with tools in it,” Mr. Dubreuil explains. “But it is also way more than that. It is really a culture.” Achieving this culture requires a complete transformation from old ways of thinking and conducting business.

SigmaPoint has embraced the culture of continuous improvement, which is the foundation to a lean organization. In fact, the entire organization has been restructured to facilitate lean manufacturing. “All our management structure is set, not the North American way, but the Japanese way,” Mr. Dubreuil points out. “In our structure, the primary role for each manager is to continually improve their processes every single day.” This is in stark contrast to the traditional North American approach, which is much more reaction based, he says. “[Lean thinking] is more proactive. Every day you need to find waste in your system and remove it.” For instance, the management team meets every single morning for fifteen minutes to discuss how they can remove any and all waste from that day’s processes. The ultimate goal, Mr. Dubreuil explains, is perfection. This is, of course, impossible to ever fully achieve – but by striving for it, the company will continuously improve. “Every single day the management team needs to find a way to go a step toward that ideal state. Every day you need to learn from what you did yesterday and improve something.”

All SigmaPoint employees are responsible for maintaining the company’s lean culture. In fact, Mr. Bergeron insists that staff members must take an active part in improving business practices for lasting results to be achieved. He keeps in close touch with all of the company’s employees in order to ensure that they are given the opportunity – and agency – to offer their suggestions for improvement and waste reduction. “We are listening to what they have to say and acting on their recommendations,” Mr. Bergeron says.

Valuing employees – and their feedback – is an important part of SigmaPoint’s lean culture. “We respect every individual,” Mr. Bergeron insists. “Respect in the organization toward the employees is huge. In order to obtain this level of culture it is necessary to lead with humility.” This respect extends to customers as well. The team strives to create strong, long lasting relationships with everyone it works with. “We see it as a partnership,” Mr. Dubreuil explains. “It is not two companies that are dealing with each other; it is one company together.” As a result, the customer reaps the benefits from SigmaPoint’s lean thinking. “[They are able to] take advantage of all these principles that we put in place,” Mr. Bergeron points out.

Because SigmaPoint works to eliminate waste along entire value streams, instead of just at isolated points, the company’s processes are far more efficient than many traditional business processes. This means that SigmaPoint requires less time and less capital to produce quality products. Therefore, customers are able to see positive results faster and at a lower price than they would with many competitors.

The team is also able to use its expertise and experience to carefully guide customers through the process. This is particularly important as consumer demands increase and evolve. “We are in a society where everybody wants everything now,” Mr. Bergeron points out. “The timelines have changed over the years. The companies are having a harder time reacting to the demand. And that is where we really become strong.” With SigmaPoint’s EOD (Execution On Demand) program, combined with value stream principles, the team can stay on top and understand customer demand, Mr Bergeron explains. “We are able, to a certain degree, to advise our customers of what they need to order as opposed to them telling us,” Mr. Bergeron explains. “That’s huge. We are now the gatekeeper on what they should build based on the tool set that we have.”

“In order to make sure that our customers’ material flow is controlled, the team helps them to increase efficiency and eliminate waste within their own process, which ultimately translates into cost savings,” Mr. Bergeron explains. “We can help them become more lean. We can help turn their organization into a lean organization.”

Providing the best, most efficient service to every customer is what SigmaPoint is all about. And of course, the team is committed to continue pushing for even greater improvement. In fact, the company is planning to apply for the prestigious Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence. Dubbed the “Nobel Prize of Manufacturing” by Business Week, the award is the ultimate recognition of operational excellence for businesses like SigmaPoint because it honours companies that boast lean principles and techniques in core operational and business processes. “The Shingo is really about showing that your organization is able to sustain a very strong culture focused on continuous improvement,” Mr. Bergeron explains. Considering SigmaPoint’s commitment to always strive toward perfection, the coveted prize seems like a very good fit indeed.

July 17, 2018, 7:38 AM EDT

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