Industry: Industrial & Contract
Products: Linear and rotary guide systems
Majority owner and president Pamela Wisecarver Kan reimagines manufacturing with an emphasis on services, data, and technology.
Kan joined the family-owned company in 1991 after a successful stint with Carter Hawley Hale. "You could say I joined the company by osmosis," says Kan. "At that time, my dad wanted me to help set up the company's injury and illness prevention plan. I didn't know anything about manufacturing, but I came in to help and saw a ditto-machine copier and handwritten inventory on kardex files."
At the time, Bishop-Wisecarver was co-owned and run by her father, founder Bud Wisecarver, an engineer who had a view of the business from that perspective, and didn't necessarily see a need to embrace technology.
"After several projects, it was my goal to get all these things on a computer and online to be able to work on them in real time," she says. "Back then, manufacturing as an industry was resistant to technology."
That meant "the company was slower than some of its competition." Kan brought the company up to speed by emphasising technological innovation.
The new direction paid off. Nine years later, Kan was named president of the company and gained a controlling interest of the company in 2009. The company's since expanded by adding two business units, Black Diamond Manufacturing to develop specialty parts and complex sub-assemblies, and WRW Engineering to provide electrical and software engineering capabilities.
The three companies today enable Bishop-Wisecarver to create fully customizable manufacturing solutions that incorporate data, automation, and engineering -- vertical integration that's cut manufacturing time to market by 50 percent and lowered maintenance and installation costs. The Bishop-Wisecarver focus remains on linear motion systems for manufacturers, sold under such trade names as DualVee, LoPro, and UtiliTrak.
"The business model changed over time," says Kan. "We originally thought Bishop-Wisecarver would be creating automated solutions while Black Diamond would be manufacturing high-end, short-run complex parts, and WRW would provide the engineering/design component. What we see now is that we tend to do more of a value-add type of service. In the beginning, customers may have simply wanted a sub-assembly from us, but instead of just having us manufacture it and buying the parts, they now want us to create the whole side or the complete end product of their machinery."
The evolution has enabled the company to diversify its customer base, to include companies that don't have in-house engineering expertise to produce parts, to smaller startups that need a solution to create larger quantities of products quickly and efficiently. "Some companies simply want one piece of manufacturing equipment, but don't want to take up internal resources," says Kan. "Our process allows us to offer more custom solutions, which gives us the ability to produce and react with speed, for each individual customer."
Data is also key. Kan stresses the need for manufacturing to becomes more data-savvy, to better collect, manage, and analyze data to improve outcomes. "This approach will change the whole way we think about manufacturing a product," says Kan. "Utilizing the data and technology will shorten lead times and companies can quickly learn where their inefficiencies are."
Along with providing unique solutions for customers and speeding up the manufacturing process, Kan also saw it necessary to become a WBENC-certified woman-owned business. "We essentially did this in response to our customer's requests," said Kan. "Some federal work must be fulfilled by diverse companies, and some large companies request doing business with women and minority owned business. So it just made good business sense to be certified to gain more customers and to stand out in the industry."
Challenges: As Kan sees it, manufacturing has to change its negative perception. "In the Bay Area, and California in general, we really have a need for mechanical engineers. Most college graduates are wanting to go into software engineering to hopefully work for companies like Google. The perception is that they would work in a dingy area with metal shards on the floor, but manufacturing pays more. There's a $20K differential to most service jobs."
Opportunities: Greater speed from design to delivery using technology and data: "The number-one thing for someone to stay in business is to produce and react to function and speed according to their customer's needs," says Kan. "We're lucky we have a culture of customizing a solution, a huge benefit for us versus our competition."
Needs: As more technology and automation is integrated into the manufacturing process, Kan expects there will be demand for a different type of talent in the workforce. "The need for production workers with technical skills are going to increase," said Kan. "While automation may reduce the number of production line jobs, someone still has to build, maintain, and set up the workflow of what the robots are doing. I don't believe there's ever going to be a human-free environment, but the skills to manufacture products will require more of a technology skill set."