Working in a variety of industries prior to joining Haskel, Steve Yager brought his breadth of experience to the team when he took on the role of Production Manager. We sat down with Steve to learn how his roles in other types of industries prepared him to lead a major department at Haskel.
Thanks for joining us Steve. Can you start by telling us about your previous experience?
Absolutely – my experience over the past 21 years has primarily been in manufacturing, operations management, and production management.
I worked for a two-shift manufacturing company where we had upwards of 1,000 employees and as the General Production Manager, I managed both of those shifts. That gave me a lot of experience in overseeing production teams. From a Human Resources and EH&S standpoint, I was heavily involved in quality from a product and component standpoint.
As far as manufacturing processes, I implemented a lot of lean manufacturing, a lot of production line layouts, as well as shipping and receiving and packaging. Over my 21 years in these roles I have been involved with materials all the way from raw materials coming in the door to finished product going out the door. If I wasn’t in full ownership of the processes, I was managing the key aspects that touched the product in every phase of the manufacturing process. I gained a really strong background in manufacturing and manufacturing processes.
What brought you to Haskel?
I joined Haskel in July of 2019 and what really drew me to the company was the name brand in the industry. Haskel is a known leader when it comes to high-pressure pumps, valves, and components. They have a great reputation and design high-quality products that are in demand around the world, which really caught my interest. Since I've come on board, it's been a blast and I have been able to pick up on the knowledge my co-workers have.
What other types of companies did you work in beforehand? Was the high-pressure industry a big shift?
It was definitely a shift in product type, but all the core fundamentals as far as manufacturing, quality, and guiding employees are still relevant and applicable. I am just applying my knowledge to a different product.
The previous industries I worked in included computer manufacturing of robotic backup systems, the ones that backed up large quantities of data for businesses of all sizes. I was involved with quality assurance and the manufacturing part of that business. Then I was involved with the manufacturing of office consumable items for laser printers and fax machines, like toner cartridges. We manufactured these for many of the major companies producing those products and we even manufactured the aftermarket consumables for some of those companies.
What interests you most about the team that you work with at Haskel and the projects you have taken on?
As Production Manager, I work with three different departments:
That's a lot of teams to manage. How do you keep that all organized?
I am very fortunate because, over the years, Haskel has put in a lot of good systems, processes, work instructions, and drawings. Also, we really have a solid team of veteran employees who have years of hands-on experience with the products. Some have upwards of 30 years of experience which is a huge advantage. If it wasn't for the strong team and supportive management structure it would be more challenging. There are the day-to-day challenges as with any system, but we've got a great system here that was put in place over the years.
What are some of those day-to-day challenges?
I say challenges, but they are also opportunities. We have such a great demand for product that sometimes we fall into an urgent situation where customers need an order quickly that doesn’t allow for our normal lead time. We're fully there to meet the needs of our customers, especially when they are truly leaning on us in urgent matters. The challenge in needing a quick turnaround comes with rearranging the schedule for the day and being creative with the support team. I really see those as opportunities to show our dedication to the customer. For example, today so far, we've had three of those situations and each one of those will be resolved quickly. We're about to get back to customer service with the news that we'll get that out by the end of the day.
How do those challenges and opportunities motivate you and your team?
I always look for improvement opportunities and everyone on our team is open to making changes. Just because we do something one way doesn't mean that's how we have to keep doing it; this applies to everything – quality, safety, ergonomics, efficiency, and morale. Right now, I’m working directly with our manufacturing engineer on a program to create improvement opportunities on the production floor. We're meeting with production personnel to become more aware of the perspective of the assemblers. When we pull them off the line and create a conversation, we learn where the opportunities are for improvement. From fixtures and tools that we could build and implement to changing production layouts, they have shared many ways to increase efficiencies. We have over 14 potential projects that we’re analyzing and ranking on a cost analysis, then we’ll move into the implementation phase.
How do these internal improvements turn into customer benefits?
It’s all about quality. I have really never worked with a team as strong as the team here at Haskel and am truly fortunate to work with great people that, in all situations, have the customer’s best interest in mind. We really have a team that surrounds themselves with the needs of the customer – from production and engineering to the stockroom. It just takes an email, a question, or a phone call and when someone knows there is an issue with a customer delivery, all hands are on board trying to help no matter the situation.
That alone is very reassuring. As a production supervisor, sometimes it's easy to feel like you're on your own trying to pull all the strings to make something happen. But at Haskel, it's really different because you can lean on engineering and they'll come down to the floor, you can lean on a purchaser and they will work with a vendor to get a part. Or, we can work with our own internal machine shop to have a part expedited. We work together as a team and at the end of the day, that’s what helps us shine in the eyes of our customer.
You mentioned your work in EH&S departments as well. Can you tell us how you balance customer focus with prioritizing your internal team?
I've been assisting the Environmental Health and Services (EH&S) department in safety since I came on board. We have an excellent employee engagement program where we use what we call observation cards. Through these we continuously get feedback from employees, such as safety suggestions or observations that they have, even something such as near misses.
I've been helping to collect and report that information, including any incident reports site-wide, so that we can really examine every aspect of a health, safety, or environmental incident. We go through the four Ws to analyze the root cause:
I'm trying to help optimize this process and offer a production perspective so we can have a continuous improvement program for safety. There has been a lot of positive change in the facility with COVID-19 from an organizational standpoint, like social distancing adaptations and other regulations.
COVID-19 has created a lot of changes in how teams operate with distancing rules in place. What’s in place at Haskel?
We have implemented a number of program-wide changes and daily protocols, including temperature screening, symptom reporting processes, mandatory masks, and cleaning and sanitizing process throughout the company. Everyone is required to sanitize all the tools and unique equipment that they use, as well as anything that might be a social item like a mouse or a keyboard on the production floor.
We have minimized touch points by installing automatic door openers and foot pedal openers. All break times were altered for better social distancing, which impacted my production teams. It was a lot of big program changes, but our employees have been really open to it and understand the importance of the changes. Since we always have our customer in mind, we know they're leaning on us and if we have an incident that jeopardizes output, that's going to impact them. It’s also been a good opportunity for our employee programs to grow. It's really been quite an educational process and I think a lot of the things that we've done will just continue to be part of our lifestyle here at work.
With so many COVID-19 changes, how do ensure your teams still maintain their level of productivity?
We’ve been able to keep many of our social aspects and routines in place. For example, every morning at the shift start, all departments get together in small groups to review a series of topics. I'll drop them off at all departments or email them to employees that are working remotely, so company-wide, everyone is getting the same message every day.
Through these topics, we reinforce safety at the start of the shift start. They cover anything from gas cylinder storage and how to report near misses to proper use of utility knives, heavy lifting safety, or ways to prevent getting the flu. We read through the day’s topics and then discuss how it applies to each department. We make sure we’re helping everyone keep safety and important reminders top of mind. After our startup meeting, we stretch for about 10 minutes. We make sure everyone is physically and mentally prepared for the day, plus it’s much more stimulating than just going straight to work when they come in. Those programs are just two key ones that really build employee engagement.
What’s the next big focus for your teams?
Company-wide we’re moving toward ISO 45001. It’s exciting; this program is safety related at its core and it incorporates employees at all levels. It will expand our safety program and fully engage employees in all aspects of the program. They will get to take part in writing the procedures and implementing the changes. It gives them ownership over safety. We're working with Quality Department on this and we’re excited to implement it.