Custom Products, Standard Training | SME Media
Rosenboom of Sheldon, Iowa has built a thriving business providing hydraulic cylinders designed for specific applications and custom solutions. It provides precision hydraulic cylinder systems to the construction, waste, agricultural, fire rescue and transportation industries. The company motto is “Custom. Made. Cylinders.
The custom designed hydraulic cylinders he manufactures range in bore sizes from 1″ to 12″ (25.4mm to 304.8mm), stroke lengths up to 24′ long (7.31m ) and operating pressures up to 5,000 psi (34.5 MPa), with peak pressure up to 10,000 psi (68.9 MPa). The company produces almost all types of cylinders and a variety of valve options and integrated sensors.
To produce reliable custom products, Rosenboom has adopted standard cellular manufacturing processes with a culture of continuous improvement. A good process is important, but more is needed. Good workers are essential. Experts trained in their specialties, such as CNC machinists, and trained in the production process the company has adopted are key to Rosenboom’s success.
Difficulties in training people to become experts and keeping them experts in their specialty is a problem often faced by manufacturers large and small, and this was the case with Rosenboom and its 770 employees when Tooling U- SME first partnered with them in 2007.
Internal training to respond to external requests
There are many reasons for needing an effective training program, according to Don McLeland, manufacturing trainer for Rosenboom. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires certifications under an industrial cart program in which Rosenboom is involved. “It was a key trend at the time, forcing us to create a more standardized training program.”
Market success also created its own problems. “We had grown rapidly,” McLeland said. The company was keeping its customers happy, but there were difficulties with on-time product delivery, as well as take-back and scrap issues, which weighed on profits.
“While a training program existed, it had gaps and managers at the time knew the training needed more consistency,” McLeland said. “We turned to developing a standardized training program.”
A key external demand in today’s manufacturing environment is competition for personnel. It’s intuitive that for many workers, a company that helps them succeed through training is a place they feel loyal to. “Competing for workers is about recruiting, getting benefits, and giving them tools to do their job well,” said Angie Johnson, training and development coordinator at Rosenboom.
In-person, online and hybrid training meet the need
“In 2007, we made significant changes to our onboarding process,” McLeland said. “We insisted that new employees complete learning assignments as part of their introduction to the company. Our methods were classroom teaching, on-the-job training with on-the-job trainers, and then [online training modules with] U-PME tooling,” McLeland said.
Like any good employer, Rosenboom also surveyed these employees. “Of the three methods we used, responses indicated that Tooling U-SME was the most useful because they learned things online that were immediately applicable,” McLeland said.
The results were so successful that for new Rosenboom employees, taking the courses is now expected. “Since 2014, when we onboard employees into production roles and do those first assignments, we tell them that [completing the training] is an expectation, and we ask them to work daily until these missions are completed. Sometimes it takes about a month. They can have 25 missions, taking about an hour at a time over the production day,” McLeland said.
Better retention, less waste
Something worked. Just before the pandemic, for a period of almost three years, Rosenboom had delivered 98% on time, McLeland reported. “Improvements in our training program were not entirely responsible for this change, but they certainly contributed to it.”
Employees find personal benefit in training. According to Johnson, retention increased by at least 10% as measured by the company in the early years of the program. “It also helps our employees understand a little more about what ISO certification is, which helps us create that culture of continuous improvement,” McLeland said. Especially for employees new to manufacturing, a training program helps dispel any misperceptions they may have, especially around lean principles. “To untrained eyes, a lot of things just don’t make sense,” McLeland said.
The online format was important. Johnson noted that employees can work at their own pace, as well as view videos that help illustrate key concepts. It’s hard to see all the intricate details when looking through the cabinet window of a real CNC machine. U-PME tooling courses help visualize an operation, even if that’s not exactly what Rosenboom does. “We can always take parts of the training and then go out there and say that’s how it applies,” Johnson said. Because Tooling U-SME is available online, employees can also fit it into their schedule when it suits them, rather than working around a set classroom training schedule.
Video and visualization are key features, McLeland pointed out. It is well known today that everyone has a different learning style. Some can read and learn, others can listen and learn, still others need visualizations to learn, and some may need a combination of these. “We have people who don’t read; they know how to read, [but] they just don’t,” McLeland said. “Some will only listen to the audio part, and that’s an attractive feature.”
The training has proven so useful that, since 2014, new employees are encouraged to complete the e-learning modules. The company incorporates it into its skills assessment certification and remuneration system. “You won’t necessarily lose your job if you don’t take the courses, but U-PME Tooling training affects their earning potential, and they know it,” McLeland said.
It also helps ambitious employees switch roles. “We have a woman who went from being a forklift operator to being a CNC manager. Watching the Tooling U-SME videos really clicked for her, and she was grateful. It helped her make the transition to CNC machining,” Johnson said.
“The relationship between Rosenboom and Tooling U-SME has been excellent,” concluded McLeland.