Our new tagline, “focused on innovative solutions,” refers to more than how we approach the marketplace. It also describes how we tackle our own internal processes, and informs our continuing evolution as a manufacturer.

A writer for Efficient Plant Magazine recently visited Draper’s Spiceland, Indiana, facility to learn more about many of our processes, and how they’ve evolved over our 115 years in business.

One of the things that most impressed Michelle Segrest was just how far things have advanced in Draper’s manufacturing technology and processes. Here’s a section of the article:

“Less than 20 years ago, operators still used bulky, 5-lb. scissors to hand-cut fabric shades and projection screens, and a seamstress would sit at a table and operate a traditional sewing machine with a foot pedal.

‘After 40 years of hand-cutting with these heavy scissors, some of the operators had some unique calluses,’ remembered Mike Broome, vice president of manufacturing and a 49-year veteran of the company that was founded by his grandfather, Luther O. Draper.

Today, following a focus on lean manufacturing that began in 2000, automated machines do the cutting and sewing and much of the other manufacturing for the company that is located just 40 miles east of Indianapolis.”

Michelle’s visit included an in-depth factory tour with director of engineering Harold Seib; Nick Mullen, equipment and process manager; Chris Field, facilities engineer; and Ryan Abbott, process engineering manager. And while it was all pretty impressive to Michelle, who’d not been to Draper, I also learned some new things even after being here for 18 years.

Going Vertical
With manufacturing space at a premium, Draper has been making more efficient use of our space by building vertical storage racks. One aspect of this effort that was new to me is the parts elevator. This impressive piece of equipment is about 25 feet tall and includes several shelves. To gain access to parts stored in the vertical storage unit, a person looks up the part on a computer screen, and a motorized lift retrieves the relevant part and brings it down to floor level.

Still Evolving
There is still room for improvement. This is always true, but it was really brought home to me by this quote from Ryan Abbott: “[T]his business has been around for 115 years. There are a lot of practices that are still from that era of manufacturing. We are working toward building that up and moving further and further down the Toyota Production System concept of Lean Manufacturing processing methodologies that can help us become more efficient.”

Sewing Machines
When I started at Draper there were still people sitting at sewing machines. We still have sewing machines, but now they’re automated. The operator enters the specifications into a digital interface, and the machine takes care of the rest with some assistance from the operator from time to time.

Cool Change
When some of our first new Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) cutting tables were introduced, they weren’t exactly a big hit.

“[I]t just sat there for three months and no one used it,” [Nick] Mullen said [in the article.] “They were afraid of it. They would rather put knee pads on, climb on top of the table, and cut by hand.” In the end, people came to see the benefits of the equipment, but it did take time.

To read Michelle’s “outside-in” view of Draper for Efficient Plan magazine, click here.

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