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By Brad Fougere

It’s often said that when a company is world‑class in one category, it’s likely they’re world-class across the board. To that end, there is something special happening at CenterLine (Windsor) Limited, an early SMART program participant

The automotive sector supplier of integrated welding solutions, founded as a tool and die shop by current CEO Michael Beneteau’s father Donald in the late 1950s, isn’t just a success story in a world of hard knock automotive supply chain troubles. It’s a palpable cultural experiment that is leading to productivity gains that should be envied across sectors.

“We have a lot of people that are in the 25 plus, 30 plus (years) and they worked directly with my dad in the early days,” says the younger Beneteau whose brothers also work in the company. It’s not just the experience of those tenured workers that drives productivity, the openness inside of the three Windsor plants and the ­ability for mobility within the organization have created a transparent and ­encouraging environment.

“CenterLine is very participative in that anybody from the floor level to the CEO can have equal input,” says VP International Operations Doug Matton. And this open dialogue doesn’t stop at the doors of the plant.

During a recent product development cycle, Vice President of Sales, Phil Campbell, put forth an innovative method of engaging not only the organizations that were part of CenterLine’s existing client base, but also those who were not using their products.

“One of the things I suggested we do was go out into the marketplace and actually engage our clients and bring them right into the product development cycle,” says Campbell. “Even as a consumer I’m sure when you get satisfied with a particular brand of a product you become loyal to it and it’s very hard to change that without a compelling reason.”

Centerline plant floor

Being able to contribute to the development cycle of CenterLine’s highly innovative product line proved compelling Campbell adds. “It’s certainly a productivity gain in sales output by just being a little bit more creative in the way we engage customers.”

Internal training allows the culture to flourish says Beneteau. Welding training puts tenured employees alongside fresh hires to allow a free-flow of ideas. As well, incorporating LEAN principles provided another avenue for employees, company wide, to make innovative suggestions. “LEAN was driven by the exchange rate. We were forced to get more productive or we were going out of business,” says Beneteau. “We initially started with a target and, I would say, some relatively easy things it evolved to today where we’re going to all employees asking for suggestions.”

Productivity gains and the innovative culture at the company has seen operations grow globally in India, Brazil, Mexico, Germany and Romania. “We’re trying to develop strong training programs internationally so that whether the customer buys the brand from India, or from Brazil, it’s still got the CenterLine flavour to it,” says Matton. And, naturally, these training programs aren’t a one-way street. Matton says that processes and best practices on the floor in India are just as likely to permeate the shop floors across the organization.

CenterLine’s adoption of water jet technology on their machinery division plant floor provides an example of their willingness to embrace advanced production only when there is a business case to do so. “It was just something that when we saw it we were like ‘oh, ok, we can use this. This will save us money, it will allow us to make more flexible, better tooling for our customers,’” says Beneteau. “That’s something that you have to keep in mind when you see new innovations.”

“We’ve made a commitment as an organization to be introducing at least two new technologies or products, every year” says Matton.

Productivity improvements of all kinds can help a company gain a competitive edge in their industry, supply chain and on their bottom line. Capital infrastructure and automation investments, implementation of LEAN principles and innovative practices can push a company to become more effective process by process. But, being able to continuously improve on methods depends more on culture than practice and a productive culture is what CenterLine (Windsor) Limited possesses in spades.

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