Manufacturer and Distributor Innovation Conference offers insights on continuous improvement

This article was published in the April 2020 edition of NTEA News.

Commercial truck manufacturers, upfitters, distributors and body builders learned how to boost manufacturing efficiency and business results during Manufacturer and Distributor Innovation Conference. Held March 3 in conjunction with Work Truck Week 2020, the conference covered applying and leveraging lean techniques; adding operational value with an ERP system; training work-ready welders; communicating and implementing organizational change; and staying competitive in today’s commercial vehicle market.

Keynote address
This year’s event featured a keynote address, Lean is Simple, by Paul Akers, founder and president of FastCap LLC.

Akers explained when implementing lean principles, it’s important to create an atmosphere of continual process improvements with input from the entire company. His lean manufacturing philosophies were developed from Toyota Production System.

“The best ideas come from the shop floor. If you want your team to take more ownership over their work, then give them more power. Put the responsibility for solving problems with the person closest to it, regardless of title,” Akers said.

He shared a production line example. A line worker knew something wasn’t running correctly and had the authority to stop production and troubleshoot the problem. A bolt had come loose and fallen on the floor, and the situation was quickly resolved. Akers said, “Lean is not a superhero program. It’s a total participation system.”

He could not stress enough that lean is about eliminating waste and achieving continuous improvement while intentionally simplifying any process. Never being satisfied and always making it better through the accumulation of small bits of participation from everyone is a top priority for a lean company.

Akers defined three pillars of a lean culture.

  1. See waste
  2. Make improvements
  3. Document and share before-and-after scenarios.

By implementing these steps, you can make a significant impact in a short amount of time, he said.

Akers encouraged attendees to, “Use your wits and not your wallets,” and engage every person, every thing, every day. “Lean is doing.”

Paul Akers, founder and president of FastCap LLC, gave the keynote address at the 2020 Manufacturer and Distributor Innovation Conference.

General sessions
Four general sessions followed the keynote address. During Selecting an ERP System to Add Value to Your Work Truck Operation, NTEA member companies shared their experiences in selecting and using an ERP system, including identifying needs and adding value to their organizations. In addition, software industry experts provided strategies for approaching the selection process and choosing the right software. Presenters included Dave Colton, senior customer service representative for Spokane Computer; Calvin Geddings, general manager of Lee Transport Equipment Inc.; Jeff Messer, president/owner of Messer Truck Equipment; and Kenny Nau, director of sales for Pluss Corporation.

David Ehrlich, NTEA’s director of education; Rob Myers, plant manager at Switch-N-Go; and Jason Schmidt, manager of technical training at Lincoln Electric, offered details on a new welder development and certification program specifically designed for the work truck industry. During Building and Validating Work-Ready Welders for Your Shop, speakers who participated on a national level shared how the new program will offer tools needed to train and qualify a work-ready welder.

2020 Manufacturer and Distributor Innovation Conference.

Attendees of Managing Organizational Change learned how to effectively communicate and implement changes in their organization through real-world examples and best practices from industry representatives. Travis Eby, president of M.H. EBY Inc.; Paul Kokalis, president of Fontaine Modification; and Ben Winter, director of business development at Transfer Flow, addressed topics such as developing a new state-of-the-art facility, relocating operations while considering staff, managing through a community disaster, transitioning business leadership, recruiting, and building an effective management development program.

During Standing Out in a Competitive Commercial Vehicle Market, NTEA members revealed how they define and leverage their unique value for customers and industry partners to stay ahead of the competition. Speakers included Adam Keane, executive vice president of Allied Body Works Inc.; Kyle Stipe, engineering supervisor at Auto Truck Group; and Dave Zelis, head of sales & marketing for Buyers Products.

See a full recap of Work Truck Week 2020, including photos, at