I noticed that the weather was a little odd on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. I was at Home Depot that afternoon and the ominous sky made me wonder whether I should head for home in a hurry. Dark sky or not, I didn’t expect that forces of nature were about to turn my work life inside out for the next week.
Even in the tornado-prone area of Kansas and Missouri, November occurrences are a rarity. But on Sunday night of Thanksgiving weekend, an F-1 storm (winds 73 -112 mph) tore things up near Kansas City.
The storm damaged homes, trees, businesses and cars – but did not cause any injuries to people. But it did create damage at one of our customer’s factories.
The tornado toppled two walls and damaged several major conveyor systems. This shut down the plant and took my planning calendar for the coming week and tore it to shreds, too.
I went to work Monday morning as usual, but soon heard of the tornado and was enlisted into the IBT “rapid response team.” By 3:00 p.m., I was at the plant site with our local sales representative, and we were assessing the damage.
I would have been there sooner, but the place was unsafe until that time.
It was easy to figure out what was wrong. They had lost their major conveyors, had their finished goods inventory left unusable and had no shipping docks. The manufacturing end of the plant was close to recovery, but getting goods shipped was going to require conveyors. Before we could get them in place, we had to design them, get them onto the job site, and get them up and running.
With several colleagues (our local sales rep Chris Sharp and fellow engineering department staff members Wes Booth and Jeff Larsen), we were able to figure out a work around. We created a design for a replacement conveying system that could be quickly procured and installed. To make the new design work, we had to build in a 90 degrees turn. This enabled us to avoid the unsafe portions of the building and ship the finished goods out a side door. The items being conveyed were pallets containing goods that weigh in at more than 200 pounds, and flowing at the rate of 60 units per hour.
I went home from the plant site and got to work on the designs. After midnight, I had what I needed and I emailed it to Phil Hendrix and Jim Holland at Hytrol, our main conveyor supplier. I didn’t have an opportunity to send it through their usual channels so I sent it to people I knew, got some sleep and was on the telephone with them at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday. It had been a long day on Monday and Tuesday did not look like the pace would do anything but increase.
What I had designed and ordered was 200 feet of powered conveyor, eight drive units and twenty pneumatic, pop-up stops which were needed to control the flow of goods.
Hytrol’s nominal order turn-around time for the conveyors is 24 hours. Had they met this aggressive standard, they would have shipped Wednesday morning. But, they were much better than that.
Hytrol cut their turn around time in half and shipped the full order at 9:00 p.m. Tuesday night. Hytrol also far exceeded standard lead times for the pop-up controls.
The order was at the customer’s plant by 6:00 a.m. Wednesday. Then the fun really started. A platoon of millwrights got down to the business of getting the plant back to work.
My co-workers at IBT’s Fluid Power Group also provided extremely quick turn-around on two sets of pneumatic valve controls from Norgren, which they assembled from components held in inventory for quick deployment in cases where urgency is utmost.
Chris Sharp spent his time chasing parts, components and odds and ends from IBT’s Central Distribution Center in Merriam, Kansas – as well as from the company’s various local branches in Greater Kansas City. He even went to a number of other local vendors for miscellaneous items.
The plant was back up and running at noon on Thursday, about 84 hours after the storm hit.
I spent parts of the day Thursday and Friday – and Saturday morning – making sure that everything was working (It was) and getting ready to design a more permanent solution, once the reconstruction of the factory was completed.
We talk a lot about customer service at IBT and we believe that we give it, every day and in every exchange. The growth and success of the business give testimony to our walking the walk.
But, the week after Thanksgiving Day gave me an opportunity to really stretch the concept to see how our organization – and our vendors – responded to a major crisis.
We looked pretty good. And, once I caught up with my sleep and my regular work, we felt pretty good, too.
Best of all, our customer recognized and appreciated our efforts – and let us know.
Some days, work is just a job. Some days, it becomes an opportunity to stretch oneself to really deliver in the clutch.