STI-CO Industries, Inc.

Lean Product Development

> RESULTS

  • 67% reduction in time to develop challenging new product
  • 15%-20% more time freed up to do new product design
  • 200% increase in new product orders over most historic results
  • Three new spin-off products introduced within two months
  • Additional high potential product started and is rapidly moving through development

> COMPANY

STI-CO Industries, Inc. (STI-CO) specializes in the design and manufacture of antenna systems for emergency, police, fire and investigative communications. Primary customers include federal, military, state and local agencies in the U.S. and Canada. The company is especially known for its covert antennas, used in undercover operations. Their interoperable antenna simultaneously handles the multiplicity of different radio frequencies used by fire, police and emergency agencies for emergency response coordination.

STI-CO is a woman-owned business, founded in 1967 with sales of approximately $3 million annually. They employ 30 people. Product development, sales, and manufacturing are conducted at their location in Orchard Park, NY.

STI-CO competes against larger companies by developing new products which are customized to meet its customers' requirements. STI-CO is eyeing potential sales growth from new applications and new markets, but that growth is dependent on the development of new products.

> SITUATION

For the last few years STI-CO's sales have not grown to targeted goals. In addition, several new products on the company's development 'wish list' were not started. The new products were intended to pursue strategic new growth markets. Products under development were taking a year or longer to complete — much longer than expected. In some cases the completed products did not meet sales expectations.

The five person engineering team was hard at work on multiple projects, but the more technically difficult projects seemed to be languishing. The culture within the company was very positive, and cooperation among departments was very good. The question from the leadership team was, "Why can't we turn out as many new products as we would like?" One challenge expressed by the Engineering Manager was, "It's very difficult to schedule creativity when solving challenging technical problems."

> SOLUTION

STI-CO had successful results from several operations and quality improvement projects led by Insyte Consulting. This led company management to contact Insyte for assistance in improving their Product Development process with the goal of developing more new products faster.

For this project Insyte's consultant 'joined' the STI-CO Engineering Department, initially consulting with the department manager and then as a project manager. The consultant evaluated each engineer's responsibilities and activities, reviewed the ISO documented product development procedures and reviewed all the projects in development. The goal was to free up more of the engineers' time for value-added technical development. A series of recommendations for more streamlined management of the department and projects were developed.

Once department changes were made to free up more engineering time for technical design, the consultant led the engineering team from start to finish on the development of a new covert antenna product. The development challenges were how to select one of the seven possible design alternatives, how to address technical feasibility issues with all the alternatives, and how to determine if the selected alternatives would be acceptable to end-users.

The consultant led the design team through a series of sessions in which the seven design alternatives were methodically compared with each other, especially in terms of technical feasibility and end user acceptance. The result was a prioritized list with a clear preference as to which design alternatives might be best in achieving their objectives.

To gauge end-user acceptance upfront, two 'quick and dirty' mockups of the preferred alternative were created in 10 days; one to test performance and the other non-working model to show alpha site end-users. Critical new insights were gathered from the testing and alpha site comments. The consultant then led the group in week to week management of the project, providing tips and techniques for keeping the project on schedule and for overcoming obstacles.

STI-CO's Scott Crawford tests Field Portable VHF Antenna used by emergency management base stations.

The evaluation of the engineering department resulted in implementation of the following: Routine orders for 'new' modified standard products were delegated to a manufacturing lead person versus processing them through the engineering department. Certain activities previously handled by the Engineering Manager were delegated to the Senior Design Engineer to free up the Manager's time for addressing the most challenging technical problems and for planning new growth products. Some non-engineering administrative activities handled by the engineers were transferred to an operations support group and to customer service. Drawing standards for modified standard products were simplified and standardized for speedier completion of documentation. All engineers were trained in Bill of Materials entry, product costing and AutoCAD, thereby eliminating a bottleneck in documentation completion. Non-value added administrative activities were eliminated or reduced. The result of the streamlining was to add an additional 15% to 20% to department time available for product development, as well as opening up opportunities for individuals to pursue further professional development.

As a result of the consultant leading the new covert antenna design team: The new covert antenna design was completed in only four months instead of what normally would have taken over 12 months (67% reduction). The targeted prospective customers were enthusiastic about the product because it met their performance needs and did not have installation issues that were often encountered in many competitors' products. Orders started coming in at double the rate previously experienced for similar new products. Three new spin-off products were developed in two months; one for military applications, one for dual frequency bands, and one for SUVs. The consultant and engineering team had time to begin another high potential new product. According to Chris Goetz, Director of Engineering, "Using our new methodology we've already completed the design and brought the product to market. Using our previous process, we would still be debating which conceptual design alternative to pursue."


"With Insyte's help we not only completed the product in one-third the time, but we're already getting orders based on the beta site testing we did during development." - Kyle Swiat, Vice President, STI-CO Industries, Inc.