A Washington, Iowa, maker of manure-injection equipment was able to double capacity and drastically reduce lead time after CIRAS arranged coaching for its key managers.
Bazooka Farmstar is a rapidly growing 110-person agricultural manufacturer that’s seen sales grow 140 percent since 2016. But as the company took off, its production processes and management seemed to lag. Lead times increased, labor costs rose, and it seemed more and more difficult to maintain an adequate supply of parts.
“The manufacturing team was doing a great job of meeting their production requirements but was spending considerable excess time and effort in doing so,” said Jim Poe, a retired CIRAS project manager. “They have great people. They had the education and the knowledge. They just needed some help with organization and focus.”
Poe, on behalf of CIRAS, began meeting regularly with Bazooka Farmstar managers to identify problems and find the best solutions. At his direction, the company created a master list of all nuts, bolts, washers, and valves used in various products and arranged for a vendor to supply them via the Internet. Engineers who had been working on fifty projects began to focus on four or five, getting one done, and then moving on to the next one.
“When you’re able to make small improvements and benefit from that work, the impact on productivity just snowballs,” Poe said.
Bazooka Farmstar paid for part of Poe’s work with help from a U.S. Department of Commerce program known as the Trade Assistance Act Grant for Firms. The program was created to counteract the adverse effects of foreign competition by paying one-half the costs of business improvements.
Eric Hahn, managing partner at Bazooka Farmstar, said declining oil prices and strong Chinese competition in 2014 damaged sales of fracking equipment sold to the oil industry. “We’ve been able to rebound largely because we made some improvements and invested in ag,” Hahn said.
Donna Porch, director of the Mid-America Trade Adjustment Assistance Center in Missouri, said her agency at the end of April was actively working with 40 companies in Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska—9 of them in Iowa. “Technical assistance and cost share grant funding enable a firm to make improvements to its competitive situation faster and more aggressively than it could on its own,” she said.
Meanwhile, Bazooka Farmstar welcomes Poe’s continued help.
“Jim has been really good at being a mentor to the heads of my departments and just kind of making sure that we’re starting with the lowest-hanging opportunities and moving forward,” Hahn said. “I think my team is seeing more clearly now, not just for today, but for tomorrow and the next month and the next year.”
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