President Thom Mandl is bringing a Lean approach to the longtime maker of geophysical probes, winches, software, and other tools for seeing underground.
The history of Mount Sopris Instrument Company reads like a good novel, with lots of twists and turns.
After CSU grad student Fred Fowler started the company to make scintillation counters for Colorado's uranium industry on the Western Slope, it merged with a manufacturer that made respirators in the 1960s before going into making geophysical equipment borehole drillers. The company was acquired, moved to California, then moved back to the Front Range. In recent years, software has become an increasingly important product, and is often developed and marketed in tandem with Advanced Logic Technology in Luxembourg.
Uranium is still a part of the business, says Mandl, and Mount Sopris also supplies systems to groundwater, mining, geotechnical, environmental, energy, and research entities -- in other words, anyone who needs an accurate reading on what's going on below ground. The company's probes detect everything from gamma radiation to gas and water flows to magnetism, and they can even can sample fluid and record 3D images for posterity.
Mining, traditionally a stalwart market for Mount Sopris, is a bit off in 2015, but groundwater is the biggest, and growing strong, Mandl says. "That's a big market for us” -- about 60 percent of sales.
The customer base is worldwide: Mount Sopris ships to 120 countries and exports account for about two-thirds of all sales. "The business comes from all over the world," says Mandl.
Productivity is a focal point of late, and Mandl, whose C.V. lists stints at Procter & Gamble and Ford, joined the company in early 2014 to help implement a new approach. Mandl took over for owner John Stowell with a directive to "make the business smarter and make the business healthier."
Mandl says the company hit a bit of a wall in recent years, but is "starting to get traction” for sustained growth. "We have two Lean projects going on," he says. As of last year, the projects have been funded by a grant from Manufacturer's Edge. "It's great to see people embracing Lean and other new business processes. . . . The impact of Lean is going to have a dramatic impact on delivery, quality, and cost. It's going to serve the company very well."
Mount Sopris makes a good number of its printed circuit boards in-house and has a "modest" machine shop with two CNC milling machines and a lathe. "We manufacturer all of our products here and we source about 95 percent locally," says Mandl. "We're revamping our supply chain and bringing it up to best in class."
Challenges: The cyclical nature of mineral resource exploration is one. Another is "decreasing time to market," says Mandl. "Our goal is to grow by getting better at delivery of our products."
Opportunities: "Market share growth through more targeted sales strategies, new product introductions, and potential M&A," says Mandl. "We've started to look at potential acquisitions."
There's a reason for that. "We are fortunate not to be cash-strapped," he adds. "That's not the case here."
Needs: Operational excellence. Our current rallying cry is this: Lean transformation and implementation of best-in-class supply chain management practices," says Mandl.
He also cites the need for a more effective sales network. Mount Sopris has an industry-high 60 reps, but only 20 percent are active and many are retiring. "We're setting the bar much higher in terms of what is required to be a sales rep."