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Brazing and Thermal Processing Company Using Team Approach to Pass Leadership Knowledge to Younger Employees
A brazing and heat treating company with 50 employees in Orange, California recently initiated a new program to transfer knowledge from its older, more experienced staff members to its highly-educated, but less experienced younger employees. The project at Thermal-Vac Technology, Inc., dubbed TEC TEAM 2020, is an attempt to create a learning stream between the older, more experienced employees in decision-making positions, to five young staff members (ranging in age from 27 to 35) who will eventually lead the company. The five members of the TEC Team (TEC stands for Talented-Experienced-Collaborative) are Sean Driscol, director of operations; Heather Falcone, director of quality assurance; Dr. Matthew Aggleton, Ph.D., engineering manager; Jennifer Kovatch, company controller; and Juan Paredes, braze manager and engineer.
Thermal-Vac (www.thermal-vac.com) closed out the year 2011 with revenue growth and "record profitability" for the second consecutive year. The company attributes the increase in revenues to its work for the aerospace and energy sectors, and anticipates steady growth in sales revenues through 2014.
"What we're doing is very unique, especially within our industry," explains Harry Rowe, the executive director of sales at Thermal-Vac and one of the founders of the project. "We first started putting together the TEC Team in November 2011. Other companies in the aerospace industry talk about it all the time, but we're actually doing it. I haven't heard of another company that's doing this, so I think we're in the vanguard with our Team. The owner and founder (CEO Steve Driscol), the president (Aaron Anderson) and myself aren't members of the TEC Team, but are officers in the company. We sit in on the Team meetings and guide them, but we let them do the work and the due diligence for proposals."
Moreover, changes in sales and marketing at the company include the launch of the new Thermal-Vac brand, a new website that went on-line in January 2012, and the addition of Shop Tech E2 ERP software that will provide a seamless administrative process, connecting all disciplines of business administration from start to finish. Also new is an On Demand reservation system that will allow customers to pre-schedule services as if Thermal-Vac's equipment was their own system.
Tribal knowledge is a fairly common term used by most aerospace companies, according to Harry Rowe. It refers to a specialized body of knowledge that is often not documented, information that has been handed down from individuals "in the tribe," or in this case, the manufacturing company. Factual information, shared experiences, informal lessons, traditions, and proprietary technology can be part of tribal knowledge.
"A prime contractor's concern is that as their firms get less work, they might have to lay people off and lose experienced people," states Rowe. "The same thing happens in their supply base. One of the major concerns that they express to us is about tribal knowledge. Experienced people eventually go away and the experience doesn't get transferred to the next level of employees. So what we did is set up the TEC Team to answer that concern, and to give them confidence that we're taking the tribal knowledge and flowing it down to our young people."
Quite a few of Thermal-Vac's customers are high-end, aerospace prime contractors, such as Rocketdyne, Aerojet General, and Pratt & Whitney—OEMs that build highly-technical, critical-application rocket engines. Many of the processes used to braze, fabricate, and heat treat these specialized rocket engine parts were created at Thermal-Vac especially for these aerospace titans. Thermal-Vac offers all of its clients a specialized aggregation of high-precision secondary and finishing processes that include aluminum dip, induction, and torch brazing; heat treating; precipitation hardening; aging; stress relieving; degassing; cryogenic treating; and other thermal processes.
Another unique aspect of the TEC Team is the high level of education that they bring to the company. One Team member has a doctorate in physics; there is a member with an MBA, and other people with graduate degrees. "We're allowing Team members to participate in the actual decision-making and running of the company from an operations and administration standpoint," says Rowe, himself a chief operations officer for 40 years in several aerospace companies. "So, 2020 is midpoint when these young people on the TEC Team will be running the company. I will be retiring, and I'm sure the owner, Steve Driscol, will be retiring before then. So we have them transitioning into decision-making positions right now."
A major goal of the TEC Team is to create a personal knowledge transfer process, whereby standard operating procedures for virtually every process in the company will be documented. "This means that people in the company that have a lot of experience are writing things down about what we do and why we do it, step by step," Rowe pointed out. "We call it a personal knowledge transfer process. These standard operating procedures will then flow down to the TEC Team, which will implement them and put them to work in the plant or the administrative offices. The goal is to stream the knowledge from the old timers to the young folks," he added. "For example, we have a young controller who is out interviewing banks and accounting firms. This is all new to a grad student fresh out of college. It may be uncomfortable to sit in the middle of a roomful of bankers, but we're training them to do that. Eventually, they'll lead these meetings. So the TEC Team is a training program."
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