“It’s unusual to find supply chain and operations willing to stand beside each other during a transformation,” states Leah Slaughter, Vice President of Supply Chain at SigmaPoint Technologies. The two business processes are generally segregated and segmented, but Slaughter and Stephane Dubreuil, Vice President of Operations and Lean Enterprise Solutions, have worked closely to streamline and combine them to maximum effectiveness. “It was imperative for us to get rid of traditional philosophies and methodologies and design something new between supply chain and operations, in order for SigmaPoint to become a lean enterprise leader. The tension and arguments that happen otherwise cost more money and are wasteful, so we’re putting an end to that.”
SigmaPoint: the paradigm shift
As an electronic manufacturing services provider which delivers end-to-end assembly services, SigmaPoint has not only broken, but shattered the mould of traditional manufacturing and supply chain industries. Dubreuil joined SigmaPoint 11 years ago, with Slaughter introduced in 2014. The former’s immediate task was transforming the company into something lean, as part of a then-very small team, and the changes were seen swiftly.
“I spent the first eight months doing small things to improve the company here and there, and changing the foundation of some areas,” he says. After a large project fell into the business’s lap, the team experimented with lean manufacturing, and it became apparent that there was huge potential benefit for the company to work on its lean thinking on a large scale. “From then, it became a priority for SigmaPoint. I started as an engineer and evolved into an executive, which shows how much the company has changed and how much they needed that change.”
According to Dubreuil, there are three levels of lean manufacturing: “Entry level is where you do some bits here and there and improve some processes. Second level is where you start to see a stream that is connected to the lean flow of the feed. At the highest level, you see a tight flow in production, combining a lot of productivity and maturity. We’re working on that third level, where we are connecting manufacturing with supply chain more and more with one common goal, rather than two siloes working side-by-side but not communicating.”
Lean thinking and the combination of supply chain and operations – which the company calls SCOPS – is what has allowed SigmaPoint to disrupt its industry to the extent that it’s bringing business back onshore. The default position of so many manufacturers is “to attract customers at the design stage, then move production to a low-cost country,” Dubreuil says. “That’s where we’re different. We do everything from designing to prototyping, low to high volume, under one roof.”
“Every customer has a large amount of waste that gets built into their process,” adds Slaughter. “Offshoring means paying a lower labor rate, but that amounts to paying less to handle only that waste. At SigmaPoint, we eliminate waste and bring costs down; in an industry where it seems like everybody is pre-programmed to go to China, we can do it all right here in Cornwall, Canada, with exceptional quality and with very agile and flexible strategies.
“North America is a technological hub and if companies can stay in North America, with the rapid prototyping we’re capable of just a short plane ride away, why wouldn’t a customer reshore to us? We provide an end-to-end forecast and find the customer a pure solution using a new way of thinking. We find the right price point, manage our own level-loaded demand stabilization to achieve 100 percent on time delivery at customer request with less inventory, balance supply, provide flexibility and agility, optimize people, machines, and tools, and provide high volume at low cost in your back yard.
SigmaPoint makes the effort to create tailor-made processes for each customer, removing that waste and securing trust. In an interview with Boss Magazine, VP of Engineering Steve Blouin described the company refusing an enormous order because it would have produced massive waste, which it eliminated by altering the contract to include only what the customer needed – even though it meant SigmaPoint losing out on money. Certainly not standard practice for a manufacturing company, since so many of them have a minimum order requirement, but something that proves its credentials as a business that has made the effort to create a holistic approach for customers. This level of care, attention, and the ability to reshore also stands as a testament to SigmaPoint’s efforts towards SCOPS collaboration.
“Unfortunately, when operations and supply chain come together, one usually gets repressed by the other. That’s not the way it is here,” says Slaughter. “Stephane and I are equal partners in this and our teams go at problems together, and it’s incredible to have a partner in crime with whom I can go back to the lab and create the ingenuity and vision that will form our future evolution. We’re one group looking outwards in both directions, and it’s a cradle-to-grave process. We’re challenging and disrupting the rules traditionalists lived and live by.”
Slaughter and Dubreuil are keen to express that none of SigmaPoint’s incredible transformation would have been possible without a strong and like-minded team.
“Everyone talks about the bottom-up structure, but before you can even dream about that you need to have a good top-bottom structure,” Dubreuil explains. “You need to engage, strategize, and use that strategy to inspire the workforce. We refer to the team as an army of scientific thinkers; we give them a direction, and the goal is that they evolve the business so quickly that our competition can’t follow.”
While the executives create the vision and act as a think tank, they don’t actually run the company: “It’s our managers that do that,” says Slaughter. “They take all the tasks, the challenges, the experiments, and make it work. Other companies’ executives might say “this is what we’re doing, just make it happen” – but not us.”
Alongside the thinkers stand lean coaches, who have been used for the past two years to measure the team’s ability to bridge the gap between the current and future states of the company.
“The coach monitors the gap by asking questions,” says Dubreuil. “It’s a way to understand what the team’s objective is, what they expect from taking that step, what obstacles they foresee, and what they have learned. The coach is an expert in the use of tools for continuous improvement.
“As a result, our management has raised the level of what we expect from them, which is not only to push the product out every day, but to ensure we know how to troubleshoot the gap.”
As part of the expansion required in a company which is evolving at such an astounding rate, SigmaPoint is about to open a new site within Catalyst 137, which Slaughter calls “a 475,000 foot think tank of new inventors; an incubator for brilliant young minds”. It will continue SigmaPoint’s transformation into an industry leader in lean enterprise, further improving its rapid prototyping capabilities and offering supply chain, manufacturing and lean enterprise workshops, led by Dubreuil and Slaughter.
Slaughter adds: “We’re making sure we’re part of the education and knowledge base here in Canada and North America, and that allows us to disrupt the rest of the world.”
For the supply chain, Slaughter looks for those who can problem-solve, that are highly passionate to succeed, and are ready to eschew traditional processes in favor of all things lean.
“A conservative mind is not really what I look for in the DNA of this modern lean supply chain,” she explains. “People in this supply chain need to be, to some degree, adrenaline enthusiasts. We don’t conduct supply chain in a traditional way, so we need to be able to think quickly while multitasking, creating an exceptional experience for our customers, and ensuring we’re covering everything. We’re changing and evolving every day; DNA changes in management cascade downwards. We also have to maintain strong relationships with operations: without that, we don’t and can’t become what we’re on our journey to become, which is an amalgamated presence between manufacturing and supply chain.”
Slaughter concludes: “If it wasn’t for the strength and brilliance of our people, we’d never be what we are today. The atmosphere here is one where we welcome ideas and you speak your mind, and this is thanks in part to our leader Dan Bergeron, who is our motivation and our teacher. I think it’s important to know we’re a really big family here. That gets us through each day.”