It is a new year and a new season, and we also got a new studio. Donovan got a minute to talk with Chalmer Ritzert our VP here at Imperial Systems. Chalmer talks about his tier 1 auto manufacturing background and how that helped build the future for a more efficient and better company. He also touches on all of the new things going on in the shop, and how we are always continuing to get better.
Narrator: Welcome to the Dusty Jobs Podcast from Imperial Systems, industry knowledge to make your job easier and safer.
Donovan: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Dusty Jobs Podcast. We’re in our new studio today filming our second season, episode one of the Dusty Jobs Podcast. We’re glad that you guys could all make it back. If you like how this looks and you think we’re doing a good job here we’d be glad to show you our entire facility. We do virtual tours and virtual demos now. If you like that, you can log on to our website and let us know. We’d be glad to give you a full tour. Today as a guest we have our Vice President, Chalmer Ritzert. How are you doing today Chalmer?
Chalmer: I’m good Donovan. How are you?
Donovan: I’m doing great. I’m doing great. Thanks for taking a moment out of your busy schedule to come and tell us a little about yourself and your history. We’re going to talk a little bit about how Imperial is growing and changing and some things we have going on here.
Donovan: Yeah, so that’s exciting stuff. Now, if I remember this correctly, you haven’t always been in dust collection your entire career, right? Your career started somewhere else, right?
Chalmer: No, I have not been in dust collection my entire life. I’ve been in manufacturing over twenty five years now. I actually started in the automotive industry.
Donovan: Now, that was straight out of college?
Chalmer: That was straight out of college. I did my internship, and then I worked for a company in the automotive industry, a tier one automotive manufacturer. We made parts for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, numerous companies. Our main customers was General Motors. We were actually an injection molding company. We made interior and exterior doors, dashboards, those kinds of things, and then exterior bumpers and side fascias and boilers. You know, all the things you’d see on the outside of cars and we shipped them directly to the automotive manufacturers to put on the cars.
Donovan: Got you. So you guys were in a parts facility and had machines that shot injection into a mold and then it popped out a part? Is that right?
Chalmer: We had enormous injection molding machines. We would make hundreds of thousands of parts a week. If they were exterior we would paint them and assemble them, send them, really, all over the world, but send them to assembly plants where they would put the parts in, sequence them in place, and put the parts on the cars. We would do the same thing with door panels, with dashboards, with center bezels, and those kinds of things.
Donovan: Now, you weren’t working the paint line there or –
Donovan: What was your role?
Chalmer: So when I first started out of college – my degree is actually in environmental health and safety. So, I was first hired as environmental health and safety and there was about seven hundred employees in one facility and we had another seven hundred in another facility and I was responsible to do environmental health and safety. In a painting operation, environmental is a huge piece. Safety is another huge piece. So I kind of cut my teeth as a twenty-two year old kid doing that kind of stuff. I did all the permitting. I did all the reporting. I did all the inspections. I did everything for that. That was kind of what I went to college for. Somewhere along the line I got the opportunity to fill in for the manufacturing manager of the company. He had left and they said, “Hey, will you fill in for this guy?” I was into everything.
“Will you fill in for this guy while we try to fill the position?”
I said, “Sure, I would love to fill in for him. The only thing I ask is that you give me an opportunity at the position as well. Thats kind of where everything started. I slowly started to move out of the environmental health and safety. I still maintained all those responsibilities, but I moved into manufacturing manager where I had about four hundred employees at that time and I was responsible for all the injection molding in the company. Three shifts, seven days a week. Just a very high stress, high volume, high quality – you know, I got all my experience in terms of lean manufacturing, in terms of high pressure, in terms of making sure that parts were on time and parts were perfect and those kinds of things early on in my career. I used to have this full head of hair, and then I got into automotive.
Donovan: Didn’t we all?
Chalmer: Now look at me. That is a direct result of being in the automotive industry. Anybody who’s in the automotive industry will tell you that it is one of the most high stress, high volume. It can just be crazy at times.
Donovan: That’s so interesting that from that environmental position into that management position, and I’m sure when you were in that environmental position it just gave you an opportunity to see how everything was working. That just lent itself to probably having a better understanding.
Chalmer: So, for me, first of all I had some people in my life in the company that were great mentors. Second of all, being the environmental health and safety person you’re kind of involved in everything. You’re involved in the day-to-day, doing this and moving people around. You have to be, from a job rotation and ergonomic standpoint, making sure people are fitted for the job and work stations are right. You get into engineering. You get into machine design. You get into all those kinds of things. So I’m involved in the day to day operations and I’m kind of around it all the time. I’m kind of involved. I’m kind of having conversations. I’m doing those kinds of things and the guy that was the manufacturing manager, he literally just left one day. They were kind of high and dry. So they’ve got a three shift operation, four hundred people with no manager, but what was really interesting was the very next day they put me in charge and the very next day they were going to the people in the department saying that I was the safety manager yesterday. Today I’m in charge. Oh, and I’m twenty three.
Donovan: How long were you in that role? Did you stay with that company for a while? Did you move on to another company?
Chalmer: I did. I stayed with that company for eleven years doing that same thing, and that company, unfortunately, closed, which was a sad day. It closed in the mid 2000s. I went from there to a different type of automotive company where they made shipping containers for automotive parts for the tier one suppliers. So when you would make the parts at the tier one supplier they would buy a reusable metal rack and those racks had to be specially designed for all those parts to go back and forth.
Donovan: So that’s a little more heavy fab?
Chalmer: It’s very heavy fab. So I went from injection molding to metal work. To welding, to that kind of thing, and I was with that company for a while. It was, unfortunately – I laugh, but it also closed. None of this is my fault, but I like to say that I learned a lot of lessons along the way because of the failures of the companies that I was with. You know what I mean? Manufacturing is manufacturing, but you start to learn different processes. From a manufacturing standpoint I was really good at the automotive kind of thing. I could play the game and I could make things happen. I was solid in the environmental portion of things. Who would have guessed that I would ever end up in dust collection?
Donovan: Well, yeah. How in the world did you go from…
Chalmer: Well, it gets even better, because I leave the automotive industry and I actually got involved in the largest company in the world that made promotional products. We made and decorated promotional products. It’s the largest company in the world that does it.
Donovan: When you say promotional product, I’m not even sure I know what that means.
Chalmer: Water bottles, pens, MP3 players…anything that has a logo on it from a company we made.
Donovan: So you’re saying that if I go to a trade show and I’m filling my bag up with stuff, all the stuff is what you guys made?
Chalmer: It’s got to come from somewhere. There was a boom in manufacturing and in the economy in 2006 and 2007, around there, and this company had grown and then they had bought a new facility, and it was just an empty building. They hired me as the plant manager to take over and build that facility up, and I did that. We got up to about three hundred employees in about a 400,000 square foot manufacturing facility. It was pretty neat. It was a real good opportunity for me. In 2009, the economy dropped and the place closed.
Donovan: We all know what happened in 2008.
Chalmer: So, the company that Chalmer was at closed down. As they were starting to announce that the place was going to close there was an ad in the local newspaper that said “Operations Manager Needed.” I called the number. It was just a little short note. I called the number and the rest is history. Here I am.
Donovan: You got Jeremiah on the other line.
Chalmer: I actually didn’t get Jeremiah. I got the lady who was the accountant at the time. She said, “He’d like to meet with you. Come in and bring your resume.” That kind of stuff. We met a couple of times. It was weird for me because I had been a high volume automotive, you know, doing those kind of things. Lots of employees, hundreds of employees. Managing all the workings and that kind of stuff. I show up for my interview and its a small place. They’ve got, like, eighteen employees at the most. It was just a different vibe altogether. I pulled into the parking lot for that first interview and I’m thinking, “Maybe this isn’t my fit.” Something pulled me inside and I went in and I met with Jeremiah and he and I hit it off. We have a good relationship and we’ve had a good relationship since day one. I was like, “You know what, I’m going to give it a shot.” I’ll be honest with you, it was the best decision I ever made in my life.
Donovan: As a person who works here, we’re glad to have you. We’re glad you chose to come here. You’re a great go-to person for a lot of things.
Chalmer: I appreciate that.
Donovan: And if anybody is out there listening, this is not the announcement of the shut down of Imperial Systems. We are still going strong.
Chalmer: So I would like to reiterate all of the good lessons that I learned by being involved in those. Because I know now not to do those kinds of things, and I know the kinds of things that will make us successful.
Donovan: I’ll speak to this. The success we’ve had in the last year and the way we’ve been able to pull through it as a company, the year 2020. Where that could have went and where we are actually at is incredible. I think that is largely due to you and Jeremiah and everybody here pulling through and using a lot of wisdom in what we have, and knowledge, and experience. In my opinion, I think we came through 2020 stronger than we went into it.
Chalmer: Absolutely. You can say about the pandemic and you can say about the issues that it caused but I believe that issues like those will only make you stronger. I believe we make good decisions. We made some poor ones. I wouldn’t say that we’re perfect, but we made some good decisions. We managed things well. To be honest with you its easy to make good decisions when you have a backing of really good people. I would say that’s the blessing of Imperial Systems for me. It’s the people that work here.
Donovan: Thanks. I know we all appreciate hearing you say that. I think the other thing that really helped lean towards our success during this year is that our whole model, our whole idea, our whole process here is being a lean manufacturer and not having a lot of waste, and not having a lot of overhead because we’ve taken this lean model. I know that’s something you champion a lot and that’s a lot coming from you and your history in automotive. Can you speak to that and our philosophy on that here?
Chalmer: So, automotive is very high on the lean manufacturing principles. It could be Six Sigma. It could be 5S.
Donovan: Let me pause you for one second, because maybe we’ve got somebody out there listening who doesn’t understand what lean manufacturing is. So we might have to define that for them. Could you give us a quick definition on what lean is?
Chalmer: For me, the best way to describe lean is “how you can do your job easier”. For me that is the most simple, broke down way to explain how we can make the job easier for people. If you’re looking at lean, at the ultimate end of the day, how can you make it easier for that person and eliminate waste, time, or whatever.
Donovan: Taking less steps. Using less material.
Chalmer: Sure. To be honest with you, it’s a lot of common sense is what it is.
Donovan: I think the other thing you say that we talk about – we have a Wednesday morning meeting and one of the things I’ve heard Jeremiah say and you say is, “If there’s something that annoys you, let us know because we will try to fix it.”
Chalmer: Absolutely. Fix what bugs you.
Donovan: Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you there. Keep going. How has that impacted our company, our culture, our community here?
Chalmer: So, when I was involved in those lean manufacturing projects – huge manufacturing projects – and I saw success. Where I saw success was where it was broken down individually and kept as simple as possible. Then I would see that grow. I would say about five to six years ago we were made aware of a local presentation on a process called 2 second lean. I had been skeptical. To a certain extent I can be skeptical about a lot of things. I had been traditionally trained in the Six Sigma, 5S, and those types of processes. I went to this conference and they were talking about this 2 second lean. It is such a simple process. It is so simple. It literally is ‘fix what bugs you’. Jeremiah and I both fell in love with it right from the get go. Its really hard to institute a huge, sweeping thing, but 2 Second Lean is so simple that people just kind of buy into it and go with it. For us, we identify waste. We empower people to identify waste, to look for waste, but the key to it for us is that I don’t want you to come to me and say, “I’ve got a solution. What do you think about doing this?” I want you to come to me and say, “Look what I did, and I made my day better, and I fixed this,” or, “I did this,” or, “I moved this, and I made my day better.” We’re trying to empower people to have the authority to change their own day, to fix things on their own. It’s been hugely successful. They don’t need that kind of permission to move…
Donovan: That garbage can two feet closer.
Chalmer: Yeah, sure. I mean it’s that little stuff that makes such a huge difference in people’s day. When you add that all up at the end of the year the process is so much better. The product is so much better. People are so much happier.
Donovan: It’s great. If you do a virtual demo with us, and you do a virtual tour with us you can go through and you can see all our carts and how everything is labeled and there are shadow spots where all the tools go. It just helps the guys in the shop to stay organized and allow them to not be wondering where things went and not having to pull all your tools from here to there. Everything’s on a cart on wheels. It’s really neat to see all that.
Chalmer: You just put a little effort behind that stuff. A lot of that stuff is not very expensive to put into place. A lot of that is Harold in assembly doesn’t want to walk twenty feet every five minutes to pick up a different tool. Well put all Harold’s tools right there where he’s working.
Donovan: Let him load the cart up with all the bolts he needs and wheels the whole thing over.
Chalmer: It’s common sense, but if you don’t do it, if you don’t put some effort behind it, you’re going to waste all that time.
Donovan: And I think the other thing that I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is that not only are we willing to do the little things to make our process more lean and efficient and possibly one of the most up to date fab shops in our area, I couldn’t tell you how far, but I know we’ve been making some moves to…I mean, you could talk more about that. You’ve been pretty essential in making all that happen.
Chalmer: Sure. Again, we learn by failing. When you first start out in a business and you’re growing a business, you use what’s available to you to get the job done, and you use what you can afford. As you grow you start to look at different options. We make investments in equipment and processes that make people’s lives easier and that make our product better. What we find is that inevitably every one of those things pay for themselves very quickly. For example, in the olden days, in the first iterations of the CMAXX, those were all wet painted. It was a brutal process to wet paint these things. It wasn’t environmentally friendly. It just wasn’t. So we invested in one of the largest batch powder coating operations around.
Donovan: When you’re saying large, you could fit…
Chalmer: I could park two of my trucks in our bake oven easily. We make big stuff. We make big stuff. You make big stuff, you’ve got to paint big stuff. We invested, and we did a lot of research on how these various powder coating operations worked and what kind of material handling system we wanted to use and what kind of guns and what kind of powder. There was a lot of research that went into it. We came down to this operation now where we can paint a fourteen or fifteen foot diameter baghouse and put it in our oven and bake it. There are no batch ovens around that could even come close to doing something like that.
Donovan: Not only did that make our product stronger, it lasts longer. It’s healthier. It’s more environmental, but it also made it faster.
Chalmer: We went from in an eight hour shift maybe painting two rounds with wet paint to painting twelve to sixteen rounds with powder coat, made the quality better, made the product better. In addition, we have zero environmental footprint here. There’s no exhaust from the paint. The wash that we use is environmentally safe. It doesn’t go anywhere. It’s evaporated off.
Donovan: It’s great for all those guys working on the paint line. It’s healthier for them.
Chalmer: And for the community. Theres nothing going into the water here. Theres nothing going into the air here. We’re very conscious of our environmental footprint.
Donovan: And it cuts our lead times down for our customers. It lets us get our products out to our customers a lot faster. So we’ve done that. That’s our one thing. That’s one of many. You got anything else you want to touch on that we’ve done recently?
Chalmer: So, we invested in a new brake press to try and speed the process up. The newer brake presses are fast and they’re considerably more accurate. What happens is we are able to break parts quicker. We’re able to brake more parts, eliminating welding in a lot of cases, or shortening up the amount of welding that’s necessary. Our parts fit better together. We’re able to brake the parts that we do brake faster. What once was a huge bottleneck in our process is now one of our best manufacturing efficiencies out there. We have just recently gone down the road and started to invest in a laser. For years we’ve used plasma cutting. With plasma cutting you have high accuracy. It does a great job. I’m a huge fan of it. You can do big stuff on it. We needed to pick up some speed and a laser is faster. It has its limitations in terms of size and those kinds of things, but it certainly gives us the speed and the clean up afterwards. Theres no slag or anything on the steel. The cleanup afterwards is considerably better. So we’ve invested in one of the newest and greatest lasers for our facility. It will be installed here before too long.
Donovan: So if you have a cleaner cut and a better bend, that just takes less time for the guys to weld it. It’s less grinding.
Chalmer: Absolutely. You think about in a normal manufacturing process for sheet metal there’s a lot of grinding and buffing and cleaning up corners and knocking off slag and that kind of stuff. If you can eliminate those kinds prior to paint and stuffs coming out nice and clean we’re making a better product and we’re making it faster.
Donovan: And that’s healthier for the guys too.
Chalmer: It’s absolutely healthier for the guys.
Donovan: Now who was it? One of our welders, his name is slipping my mind. He does all our tubes.
Donovan: Terry. Terry was telling me that he got to try a new welder out. Something happened with that. He had to go back to the old one. He felt like he was welding in sand or something. He was telling me it was so slow. What’s this new welder that Terry got?
Chalmer: Terry makes the header tanks for the CMAXXs. He’s the main guy for making the header tanks on the CMAXXs. It can be a tedious process. We had reached out to the welding supplier and they had brought us a demo unit of what’s called a pulse welder. Its just a different way to weld. Terry fell in love with it. It was faster. There was no BBs or slag coming off of the weld, the cleanup or anything like that. It was great. It was a demo. It was a very expensive demo. Terry kept stopping me. “Are we going to keep this? What are we going to do?” Finally we had to give the demo back. So Terry had to go back to his old welder. I remember the day I got to walk out there and tell him, “Hey Terry, your new welder will be here in a week or so,” and he got a new welder. In fact, the new welder worked so well that we’ve actually bought more of those welders for the facility. We’re using them in other areas. Less cleanup, faster, those types of things. There a little more expensive type welder, but they pay for themselves very quickly. So when you’re thinking about things that bug you, and thinking about things that go quicker, and do those kinds of things these are investments that Imperial makes to, even in the downtimes, to try to make our product better, and faster.
Donovan: It benefits our employees. It benefits our environment. It benefits our end users in the end. That’s why we can offer a lifetime warranty on our products because we are so assured of the quality of what’s going out that we feel confident in doing that.
Chalmer: This facility right now is operating at the highest its ever operated from a quality standpoint, from a speed standpoint, from an efficiency standpoint. It’s never operated like this.
Donovan: We’re excited for 2021 and continuing to be a lean company, continuing to make those improvements. Who knows? Maybe we’ll have to have you on again in two years and see where we’re at then.
Chalmer: We’re going to continue to invest. We’re going to continue to grow, and we’re going to continue to push forward and be the best. That’s the intention. If we are the best here, then we’re putting out the best product that you can buy.
Donovan: Well, Chalmer I just want to say thanks for coming on. I know you’re busy. You have a lot on your schedule. Thanks for taking a minute to catch everybody up on what’s going on in our company and how we’re continuing to improve and move forward. I just want to say that if you guys enjoyed this and there’s anyone out there listening we have some more backlog that you can listen to too. If you want to subscribe we’re putting these out every month. Like us on Facebook. We put this on every social media aspect out there. Like, subscribe, do that, and until we get a chance to talk to you again stay healthy, stay safe, and have a good day.
Chalmer: And again, thank you.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to the Dusty Jobs Podcast. Breathe better, work safer.