Unstoppable. That is one of Gerber Gear’s famed taglines. It’s also one that perfectly sums up their manufacturing process since implementing VKS work instructions. To hit the ground running on its journey to becoming a lean manufacturer, Gerber turned to VKS to speed up its production and reduce waste.
Established 80 years ago, Gerber’s origins are as captivating as its tools. Although its founder, Joseph Gerber, initially started the family brand as an advertising firm, he eventually switched gears and diverged into the knife manufacturing business instead. This was a case of turning a hobby into a career as Joseph enjoyed gifting his advertising clients with sets of kitchen knives he made himself.
These knives proved to be so popular that in 1939, Gerber began selling them in larger quantities, eventually releasing the Gerber Legendary Blades, which are still popular to this day. Since their captivating beginnings, Gerber expanded into also becoming a top producer of equipment for hunting, fishing, as well as for every day, work, and defensive use.
To gain more insight into their manufacturing process, we caught up with Jeanine Burket, the Gerber Process Improvement and Logistics Manager. Jeanine is a Six Sigma Black Belt with over a decade of experience in continuous improvement. Helping to ensure that expectation levels are clear, she is an expert in optimizing work instructions and processes to help achieve a given goal in the same way.
“VKS helped introduce modern habits for Gerber, Jeanine explained. Now, Gerber uses VKS to keep four challenges at bay.
While talking to Jeanine, our very own Ryan, came to an intriguing realization:
“Everything comes full circle. The fact that it’s hard to update and maintain work instructions in paper format causes irregularities for the engineering team. As a result, people on the [shop] floor lose confidence in the work instructions. This goes full circle back around to the people who are creating them as they think operators don’t want to follow them. But really, it’s just a Catch-22 situation.”
Director of Business Development at Visual Knowledge Share Ltd.
Jeanine explained that for Gerber, “new product assembly introduction and the transfer of knowledge related to product assembly were both problematic from a training perspective.”
The implementation of VKS work instructions eliminated this challenge by reducing training times tenfold. While training used to require a lot of time through one-on-one interaction, now it’s as simple as showing a new employee how to use the intuitive VKS work instruction software one time.
Apart from saving a lot of time, the use of training software allows Gerber to gain insight into a new employee’s level of understanding in warehouse indirect processes. Using the VKS Forms, they implemented a questionnaire that prompts users to demonstrate their understanding of processes they have just learned. Through the VKS Rule Engine, feedback is then provided based on the accuracy of the answer.
“And the data that we collect from those forms gives us an understanding of how well that individual comprehended that instruction set and helps us identify how to better train our trainers and where to spend time with that employee to help them succeed in that work instruction.”
Process Improvement and Logistics Manager
At its core, Gerber is passionate about producing Made in USA hand-crafted knives, multi-tools, and other products. As the production of hand-crafted items can result in a large divergence in quality, maintaining consistency in the builds stood out as an important element in the Gerber production process.
“When you deal with a hand-crafted item and you have a dozen people who are specialists in building it, they all are specialists in their own ways. They have all developed their own methods of providing our specialized products. This creates some quality challenges in the consistency of each produced item,” Jeanine explained.
Using VKS, Gerber is able to standardize communication on the shop floor. Instead of relying on the ambiguity of different modes of production, they now have clear insight into each operator’s work. This allows them to standardize processes and helps reduce new employee on-boarding.
Along with checking the training level and progress of new employees, VKS Forms also increase interactivity. Gerber uses the forms to monitor productivity rates by prompting operators to answer whether their designated product has been completed yet. This allows them to improve processes in accordance with the results.
As with most companies looking to make the transition to digital work instructions, one of Gerber’s main challenges rested within its existing workforce. As much as digital work instructions may be seen as an “extra step”, the reality is that the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term development of a new habit.
Jeanine pointed out that it didn’t take long for previously skeptical workers with years of experience to see VKS work instructions as an integral part of their productivity. When re-work products started trickling in from other shifts and other employees, she explained, “They started realizing why it was important to use the visual work instructions and why it was important to standardize some of the processes.”.
“Simply providing the tool and information during the production process [made a significant impact]”, she also said.
Access to visual work instructions also simplified the production process. Previously, a skilled craftsman with 25 years of experience producing a specific knife was unable to straightaway become an expert in a newly-introduced knife. Now, an employee can quickly get up to speed on any product and switch stations with ease.
“The VKS software is a diverse tool that we use to deliver clear expectations in a variety of ways. The ability to create instructions ranging from read and comprehend for the warehouse to guided step by step work instructions for assembly enables us to specialize work instructions for any given work center.“
Gerber Continuous Improvement Engineer
Prior to VKS, Gerber had SOPs that were written and available. As with most companies who have yet to digitize their processes, Jeanine noted a fundamental flaw in the process. She explained, “The office team spent a lot of time developing work instructions and SOPs that the team really didn’t follow because they weren’t really interactive and they didn’t really understand them. They would read the words on a page but it wouldn’t mean a whole lot for how they would do their job.”
Following the implementation of VKS work instructions, Gerber saw a strong increase in confidence by the operators on the shop floor.
“VKS introduced a more modern method of record-keeping, as well as of working and interacting with our employees. They can visibly see that we’re putting the effort into the work instructions and that helps them feel like there’s an investment in them.”
“VKS is a tool that gives us the capability to make changes to work processes quickly, efficiently, as well as effectively to the users. It is a tool that allows us to understand our work employees’ skillset and capabilities and compare them unbiased to other employees. It also helped minimize the need for skilled operators to do hands-on training with new employees,” explained Jeanine.
More than anything, she added, “The increase in accountability is the biggest win we have seen.”
Each VKS user on the shop floor is now accountable for their own manufacturing process. “When something goes wrong, they point it out. They want re-training done immediately. We use the VKS system to help us identify where to train more,” she explained.
Here at VKS, we love hearing feedback such as this one! We’re very proud of the daily impact the VKS software has on the Gerber manufacturing process and can’t wait to hear more about their future successes.