Company Reports - Bremen Castings Inc.
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Bremen Castings Inc.
Bremen Castings: "Status Quo Sucks"
A. Selway Ryan
J. B. Brown believes in something. “It doesn’t discriminate,” he says, with the fire of his convictions. “It isn’t racist, it isn’t sexist. And you can use it in every part of your life.” He’s talking about SQS – a slogan, a mantra, and a management strategy. It stands for Status Quo Sucks. After 72 years in business as a venerable Midwestern machine shop & foundry, that’s the kind of vitality that keeps Bremen Castings one step ahead of the competition.
It’s a spirit that’s been passed through the four generations of Browns who have run the company since its inception in 1939. J. B., the current president, started working in the shop at 15, and cycled through every department and every shift – including many long nights – in order to learn operations from the ground up and earn the respect of the team.
“You can’t run this company unless you’ve done pretty much everything and been through it all,” he says simply. “I didn’t get an office till 2002.” But he maintains that that’s as it should be: “Everything we do is out on the shop floor. It’s not in an office.”
From night shifts for the President’s son to SQS, Bremen Castings upholds a tradition of strong-minded, community-focused ethics. “We believe in our family values, and you have to live those family values,” he says. “It’s not always easy, but we try to use that as the true north reading.”
Brown found his philosophy reinvigorated through a transformative family friendship with rock icon Ted Nugent. The family shares an interest in hunting, and they grew close. Nugent, of course, isn’t exactly a shrinking violet. From him, his grand father and dad, J. B. learned to speak his mind and stand his ground, which is what led to the creation of SQS as a guiding principle of the business.
The family has accomplished a lot, and there has been ample reward for it – but deeper than that is the commitment to be an individual. “I’ve been raised to blaze my own path,” says Brown. The past is a constant source of pride, but “you need to stand on your own two feet.”
THE ONLY WAY
It boils down to affecting change as a way of life. “If we all sit on our hands – whether it’s politics, or business, or whatever – if people aren’t questioning me, and I’m not questioning them, we’re going to remain status quo,” he says. And that would suck.
“If we want to be in business for another seventy years, it’s the only way we’re going to do it,” as Brown puts it.
SQS has been a fun and effective way of integrating continuous improvement strategies into the company workflow – and it’s paying off. Their new paperless effort has met with immediate success in identifying redundancies. Management met with resistance, but employees soon discovered fifteen things that didn’t need to be printed.
iPads have been issued to personnel on the manufacturing floor, contributing to their paperless effort and allowing them more precision and control than ever over the design process. With cutting-edge industrial technology and advanced design software, Bremen’s team is able to integrate every element of the process in real time.
Precision in operations is at an all-time high, and customers can now be processed through a central database that makes automatic records of client requests. It’s streamlined, it’s effective, and it’s all done with the same quality that built the company over the course of the last three quarters of a century.
SAFETY FOR A TOUGH INDUSTRY
Their many accomplishments aside, Bremen’s management is proud to put safety above all other considerations, up to and including the integration of robotic cells to assist in the most grueling aspects of labor. That doesn’t make them more efficient, but it does mean “not having to be so worn down after eight or 10 hours of work.”
Aside from being the right thing to do, overwork is neither sustainable nor safe, and the business ends up hurting from the neglect in the long run. That’s why Bremen Castings puts safety front and center, with a safety manager on staff and heavy communication to prevent accidents.
“This is a tough industry that we’re in,” says Brown. “We deal with molten iron. If one person screws up, a lot of people die.” The safety team has the freedom and resources to make sure that never happens.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
An aggressive and growing portfolio – with investments in iron casing alone running into the millions – keeps them reinvesting and competitive. As for what lies ahead…let’s just say it won’t suck to be at Bremen Castings.