Issue Jan Feb 16
A strong internal focus on lean manufacturing principles has allowed Escort Manufacturing to succeed where many of its peers in electronic device manufacturing have not.
“Everyone thinks this sort of manufacturing is done exclusively in China, and people have the misconception that electronic manufacturing cannot survive in North America,” says Steven Chan, director of manufacturing for the Mississauga, Ontario-based company. “We are one of the few North American players in this space that have managed to thrive to this day. It shocks a lot of people that we can do this kind of work here and remain profitable, but we do it every day.”
The radar detector manufacturer has resisted outsourcing its manufacturing operations throughout its more than 40-year history. Escort Manufacturing dates its origins back to the 1970s, when it manufactured its products in West Chester, Ohio. The company 10 years ago purchased Beltronics, a Mississauga-based competitor. The unified company kept the Escort name while still manufacturing radar detectors under the Escort and Beltronics brand names.
Manufacturing operations and half of the company’s engineering staff are based in Mississauga, with the West Chester, Ohio, facility housing the remaining engineering staff as well as distribution, finance, customer service and other office operations.
Escort three years ago was purchased by investment group Monomoy Capital that earlier this year purchased another major competitor, Cobra Electronics, adding its product lines to the Escort/Beltronics brands, Chan says.
Escort Manufacturing’s products are available at major retailers including Best Buy as well as online via Amazon and others. The company also works with a distributor/dealer network that serves most of the United States, portions of Canada and international markets.
In addition to manufacturing radar detectors, Escort Manufacturing offers contract manufacturing services that help it manage through the typical seasonal demand cycles for its products. The company’s contract work includes LED lighting and related products for the transportation and consumer markets.
Escort Manufacturing prides itself on its ability to achieve maximum performance from commercially available electronic parts. “Usually, if you want the very best electronics, classified as military grade, you pay a premium,” Chan says. “In terms of product design, our people make sure we get every bit of performance out of ordinary, commercially available components and making them into a superior product.”
To achieve maximum performance from the components it uses, the company utilizes a number of proprietary engineering, testing and manufacturing techniques. “The way we manufacture radar detectors is not like the way an iPhone is manufactured,” he adds.
The company’s engineers are tasked with keeping ahead of the latest developments in law enforcement radar/laser detection. “Every time someone has a new technology out there, we come up with a countermeasure, so people can avoid getting tickets,” Chan says. The ranges of Escort, Cobra and Beltronics brand radar detectors vary based on environmental conditions, but at optimum use, can detect a radar from five to eight miles away.
Examples of counter-technology in Escort Manufacturing’s products include programming devices with the GPS coordinates of red light cameras. “If there’s a new type of police radar out there that is not detectable by our current equipment, we will study it and develop a software and hardware solution to beat it,” he adds.
The company’s newest product under the Escort brand is the Escort MAX 360, which uses forward and backward facing antennas to detect the location of radar within a 360-degree radius. “Other detectors will beep, letting drivers know a radar is nearby, but they can’t tell exactly where the signal is coming from,” Chan says. “This now gives drivers the ability to tell where a signal is coming from, whether in front or in back of them.”
Achieving High Quality
Escort Manufacturing’s manufacturing demand is high volume, medium mix. The company manages a portfolio of 30 to 40 different types of products and can produce between 60 to 70 different subassemblies to make up those products.
The 65,000-square-foot environmentally controlled facility in Mississauga is organized around and guided by a number of lean manufacturing principles. “By applying lean principles, we can keep our costs down and maintain a level of quality that cannot be matched by even the most well-known offshore manufacturers,” Chan says.
The manufacturing facility is divided into six work cells with individual stations within each cell. Each cell functions as its own factory with its own labor, production schedule and inventory of raw materials. Each cell specializes in the production of a family of products. The majority of electronic components are managed through distribution in-plant stores.
Each work station within each cell is designed to eliminate unnecessary manufacturing activities and waste. The equipment and processes used in the cells adhere to the principle of poka-yoke, or mistake-proofing. “There is only one way,” Chan says.
The company develops its own hardware and software tools in-house. “We are very self-sufficient,” he adds.
Manufacturing personnel are cross-trained in every station within each cell and rotated daily. “Each worker on the line could, if necessary, build a product entirely by themselves – they know each product and how to put it together,” Chan says.
Staff members are also cross-trained on how to work in every cell in the plant. “The benefit there is that, in periods of high demand, we can leverage labor from a cell that is less busy to help out the cell in high demand,” he adds.
The company takes a statistically driven approach to problem solving. This includes analyzing the root cause of equipment failures and creating processes to prevent future recurrences.
“This approach is working very well for us,” Chan says. “Before we started, our rate of customer returns was higher than we expected. Today, we’ve reduced our reject rate by nearly three times; if a product failed, we now know why it failed, and we implement many measures in place to minimize failures and reoccurrence.
“Based on a continuous improvement culture, Escort has positioned itself securely to continue to provide world-class, high-quality manufactured products,” he adds.