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Publication Date: 06/1/2010
Archive >  June 2010 Issue >  Electronic Mfg. Services > 

How Burton Helps US OEMs Stay Domestic
Burton offers box build as well as board level solutions.

Founded in 1978, Burton Industries, Inc. has a long tradition of providing customized manufacturing solutions to OEMs in the medical, industrial, motor control, specialized consumer, security, building controls, defense and professional tool markets. Production is done in a facility in Ironwood, MI and administrative activities and sales are handled in a facility in Hazelhurst, WI. Both locations are Hub Zone-certified.

The company specializes in high mix, variable demand projects and supports the full product lifecycle from product development through end market support services. Production facilities are certified to ISO 9001 and lead-free processes and the Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) Control program have been certified by outside agencies. Burton was also awarded a Wisconsin "Business Friend of the Environment" Award for its early implementation of lead-free soldering processes.

Lower Cost Labor
One of the reasons management chose to locate production operations in Michigan's upper peninsula was the availability of a Midwest location with lower cost labor than would be found closer to major cities. And, since the location is also near some prime Michigan and Wisconsin vacation and hunting spots, customers have the option of mixing business and pleasure, if site visits are needed. However, what makes Burton attractive to its customer base is its combination of high service and ability to support variable demand. In short, Burton competes by delivering lowest total cost to customers with highly specialized needs.
A new fixture that resulted from the company's continuous improvement process.

While it is easy to cut measurable cost from a high-volume project, high-mix variable demand projects often carry hidden costs, such as the opportunity cost that arises when a supplier fails to meet unanticipated demand or implement engineering change orders (ECOs) rapidly enough.

Part of the of the company's formula for achieving this lowest total cost is based on developing unique production strategies and providing a responsive support team. It focuses on projects that have specialized requirements and benefit from regional support. However, its customized solutions are built on a standard philosophy. Key points of the company's philosophy include: early involvement, teaming with local suppliers, tap employee expertise, optimize test, look for hidden cost drivers, provide a total solution.

Early involvement. Where possible, Burton provides input into customer product development efforts which helps reduce manufacturing costs, enhances the ability to support schedule flexibility or better supports customer quality requirements.

Teaming with local suppliers. While Burton does source globally and regionally, it also collaborates with a consortium of local suppliers to address needs for specialized custom components in projects or variable demand requirements.

Tap Employee Expertise. Continuous improvement ideas developed by employees on the project are shared with each customer.

Optimize test. The company's range of test platforms facilitates test strategies which minimize cost while supporting customer quality.

Look for Hidden Cost Drivers. In analyzing

opportunities for cost reduction, demand trends and shipping costs are closely evaluated and strategies such as kanban, raw materials and finished goods stocking, returnable packaging or ship-to-end market are recommended to increase flexibility while reducing cost. Provide a Total Solution. Post-manufacturing support services such as repair depot or refurbishment are offered to allow customers to tap existing production resources, thereby eliminating the need for separate inventory or test fixtures associated with a separate repair operation.

The company's formula for supporting the high-mix, variable demand equation includes:

  • Teaming with customers to understand historical product demand trends and likely future requirements.
  • Teaming with suppliers to develop kanban-based material strategies which minimize inventory, yet assure sufficient material availability to support variations in demand.
  • Use of lean manufacturing principles in production to minimize changeover time, which enhances support for smaller lot sizes and flexible scheduling practices.
  • Build-to-order configuration for customers with significant variations in demand for customized product.
  • Raw materials and finished goods kanban strategies which provide customers with both responsive support to demand variations and minimized inventory liability.

This system actually competes well against offshore competition. For example, one of its box build projects involves a camera used in hunting applications that is sold through sporting goods stores. The customer was actively engaged in the process of moving offshore, but Burton was able to work closely with the company to reduce onshore costs and maintain their competitive edge in the marketplace. The company was also able to offer a level of service that would be difficult to maintain with an overseas supplier because of the seasonal production demand and mid-level volumes. In the end, the customer determined that they would be better served by Burton, for both cost and service, than by the Asian electronics manufacturing services (EMS) company it had selected. In addition to building the product, Burton maintains a finished goods kanban to support this customer's variable demand. It also provides repair depot services for both warranty and out-of-warranty units.

Continuous improvement is also a key area of focus. When employees say, "We treat your product as if it were our own," they actually mean it. Burton is predominately a family-owned company with a commitment to building its business. This has created a strong team culture, where employees recognize the connection between building quality products and business growth. The company's continuous improvement program involves all employees, because management recognizes that the people closest to manufacturing are the true experts in identifying areas for improvement. Quality data and project goals are shared with all employees in monthly continuous improvement meetings. While focused kaizen events are used to address identified issues, employees are also encouraged to independently identify ways to improve quality, reduce identifiable cost or simply improve overall production efficiency.

Even the smallest improvement suggestion is acted upon. Improvement teams are created to research and implement changes. When a continuous improvement suggestion involves recommended changes in a supplier or customer practice, that information is shared with the supplier or customer. A robust Preventative and Correction Action system enables improvements and changes to be made rapidly and effectively. The end result is a focused team looking for ways to improve a little every day.

While none of these concepts are new ideas in EMS, the combination of employee involvement, a culture focused on delivering high service and management's old-school commitment to building a business, rather than an exit strategy, helps Burton attract and grow customers. One result is that many of its customers have been with the company for over a decade.

Contact: Burton Industries, Inc., P.O. Box 250, Hazelhurst, WI 54531 800-356-9494 fax: 715-356-5138 E-mail: Web:

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