Recap of January Stay Connected at MKS


January Stay Connected Event:

Tour at MKS Instruments
Brewery Lunch at Boulder Beer

Our January tour featured a smaller, more intimate tour at MKS Instruments in Boulder. Lunch and conversation were enjoyed at Boulder Beer before we headed to the tour site down the road. Several attendees expressed their joy at being away from the office for an afternoon learning experience!


Shane Coffey gave our group a brief history of the company and their beginnings before leading us through the process flow of two buildings on the MKS campus. Shane is a Manufacturing Engineer for the Integrated Process Solutions division at MKS, and served on the LEAN panel hosted by NoCo APICS in October.

The group saw a machining floor, welding shop, wash stations, bead blast room, modification shop, water jet cutter, huge lathes, and much more. Many of the shops/stations visited were actively running. MKS didn't alert the floor that a tour would be coming through, as they are always ready to be observed.


Shane answered questions about scheduling against capacity, volume, demand planning, QA and testing, and more as well as technical questions about the various areas the tour visited. He explained the flow of product and material, product preparation (including different methods of cleaning), and technological improvements (such as a 5-axis machining versus welding, or a robotic welder versus conventional welding).

Of note is the fact that all operators at MKS are trained in LEAN concepts upon hiring. Some examples of impact are a 25% increase in throughput and 25% reduction of WIP in the past 12 months. Shane explained that their culture was key to making the changes; using 6S as a vehicle, MKS leadership empowered operators to implement LEAN techniques and make improvements. The tour group saw how a simple kaizen-driven modification greatly reduced setup time in the machine shop as a tangible example of the many improvements MKS has instituted in recent years.

A great deal was packed into our hour at MKS Instruments. Be sure to catch the next one if you missed this opportunity!


Our tour guide, Shane Coffey, gave some insight into their process...

1. Does your facility employ Lean techniques and how hard was that for your company to implement?

Absolutely! As for how hard it was to implement… I'll let you know when we're finished. Joking aside, it certainly is a journey, and we see so many opportunities to improve that some days it feels like we've only scratched the surface. To get to where we are today, though, it honestly hasn't been a major struggle. We're very fortunate to have employees who chose to embrace these ideas, and between that and support from leadership, we're able to move forward day by day. It takes discipline, for sure, but in my experience if there's a "kicking and screaming" feel to the transformation, that indicates root causes that need to be addressed - that might be very normal in industry as a whole, but not in the 10% of companies (or less) that are going to achieve Lean success.

2. What is the difference between yours and the production systems run by your competitors? 

That can be summed up in one word: CULTURE. We keep a laser focus on creating and sustaining a culture that encourages the best from all of our team members. We want to hear improvement ideas from our process experts on a constant basis, and if some of those ideas are daunting and radical, that's cause for celebration. Some of the things we try won't work out, and that's O.K.; if your improvements are successful 100% of the time, you probably aren't daring enough. It's all about a culture of safety that allows us to support one another, occasionally fail forward, and ultimately succeed.

3.  How has your Lean management system bridged the gap between your organization and your customers?

At this stage of our journey, our 6S efforts are probably the biggest advantage to our customer relationships. A few years ago, we could only dream of conducting a customer tour with hours (and hours) of clean-up. Now, we consider ourselves tour-ready at all times. That's not to say we're perfect, but we're proud of the current state and eager to show it off. And the response we've received has validated that - our customers often comment that we're among the cleanest machine shops they've ever seen, and that sets a tone for the relationship, letting them know they're working with professionals who take pride in their workplace and their work.

4. Does your company have more of a focus on productivity or quality?

Quality. Of course we need to be productive, but our strongest value proposition is in providing custom solutions that our customers can't get anywhere else. From design to shipment, providing a solution that's reliable and correct out of the box is our mission.

5. What value has your company leadership seen as a result of your lean management techniques? 

We've definitely seen improvements in throughput and WIP levels, no question, but I think most would agree that our greatest value has been realized in our relationships with one another, our fellow business units, and our customers. We've been at this for over two years, but we're humble enough to recognize that this is just the beginning. We're excited about the "bottom-line" improvements, but we know that when we invest in our employees, empowering them to improve, in the long run there will be no limit to our potential. The ability of our team members to come to work in a place that values them and offers them ownership of their efforts, to get to see people smile or hear them say, "This is a good place to work"…you can't put a price on that, and ultimately it shows up on the balance-sheet, too. It's win-win-win.

6. What message would you want to give someone who might be considering lean management for the first time in their organization?

What are you waiting for!? There's a lot to learn, and there are sure to be challenges, but you have to start. If you have support from top-level leadership, see about investing in some training at different levels. If you don't, learn what you can on your own and start applying it in small ways that will win hearts and minds. Lean is all about a mindset, and when people start to rally around that, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish!


Join us at our next Stay Connected event! See our upcoming calendar here...