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Mike Moran, Cascade Gasket’s general manager, was responsible for earning the company’s critical AS9100 certification.

Cascade Gasket: Lean manufacturing by Danielle Rhéaume


he call to “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country” has motivated many Americans, both male and female, to move to Washington state. Some of them moved spontaneously to “get out of Dodge,” while others scrimped and saved for years so they could afford their journey. Modest dreams of a humble life inspired some, while grandiose visions of success fueled others. With all of their variations, they had one thing in common: hope for a better life with new opportunities. Franklin Terry, the founder of Cascade Gasket, was no different. His dream of being a business owner in the aerospace industry inspired him to quit his day job in the chemistry lab at Detroit Gasket Co., collect his wife and children and move to Washington. There, in an abandoned brick kiln near Boeing Field, he would open Cascade Gasket’s predecessor, North West Co., in January 1946. Boeing’s need for custom-molded gaskets then launched what would become a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship between the aerospace giant and North West Co., later renamed Cascade Gasket. By the mid-1950s Cascade Gasket had already earned a reputation for quick, reliable turnaround of quotes and parts and business was going strong. They soon expanded into a larger facility where they could better meet the needs of their customers.


Cascade Gasket managed to succeed through their relationship with Boeing and other aerospace businesses until around 2003, when Boeing deselected them as a vendor because of their small size and because they didn’t have AS9100 certification—a quality-management system widely adopted by the aerospace industry. This system provides increased consistency in the expectations of the industry, reduces the need for verification and audits, and improves quality and safety while also decreasing costs and waste. Cascade Gasket was devastated, but instead of buckling, the company’s president, Lee Terry, made a swift and wise decision to hire plastics manufacturing industry veteran Mike Moran as their new general manager. Moran had already made a name for himself at another local plant — Renton’s Aero-Plastics — where he had recently helped the company earn its AS9100 certification.

Lean manufacturing — not for ‘brickheads’ As general manager, Moran not only wanted Cascade Gasket to earn its certification, but he also wanted to secure the company a sustainable future in the manufacturing world. As Moran saw it, the only way to do that was by proving themselves to be “the best and most efficient company possible.” Cascade Gasket needed to earn its AS9100 certifi-

cation and recognition as a leader in lean manufacturing. “Lean manufacturing is common-sense manufacturing,” said Moran, who has taught and consulted at colleges and private companies on the principles of lean manufacturing. “It’s not manufacturing based on ‘Einstein’s Theory of Insanity.’” That is, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Instead, lean manufacturing bucks the traditional mass production system of “batch-and-queue” manufacturing, and replaces it with a “one-piece flow.”

Just-in-time delivery

They also developed an outstanding reputation within the manufacturing industry for delivering 99.87 percent of their orders on time. “Boeing is now using us as an example for other vendors, so they can see how they want things done.” Moran said. Moran attributes Cascade Gasket’s recent successes largely to the company’s aggressive implementation goals and their new 12,000square-foot state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. This facility operates solely on lean and JIT principles, while offering Cascade Gasket twice as much space to make industrial gaskets, seals, sponge and foam products as well as Boeing 787 clamp block assemblies and 737 cargo doors, as well as other items. Employees within this facility work within PhotoS by Kim A. Fowler/AWB

“One-piece flow means just what it says. One part is put through Process A and is immediately handed off to Process B. Process B is completed on the part and it is given to Process C, which is then completed and so on,” according to the Lean Manufacturing Handbook online. Lean manufacturers only produce and deliver goods in the amount required when the customer needs it. This is what manufacturers refer to as “just-in-time” or JIT manufacturing. Traditional batch-and-queue manufacturers group similar processes together (like painting, welding etc.). In those process groups — sometimes referred to as “silos” — a large batch of parts is processed and then held in line as it awaits the next process. Because of this, a part that might take only a few minutes to complete takes hours or days because it spends most of its time between processes. This makes the production process take a lot longer, and if a defect occurs in one process, but goes unnoticed until a later process, then the entire defective batch must be scrapped or reworked. This creates waste and, in turn, costs the manufacturer (and their customers) more money.

employee — especially the ones working directly in production. “I asked them to tell me what they liked and what they hated, what was working and what wasn’t, where they could see problems in the process and if they had any safety concerns.” Moran said. He then used their input toward immediate development of an innovative and ambitious implementation plan. This plan, which took six months to develop, paid off quickly. In early 2005, Cascade Gasket earned its AS9100/9001 certification, with a score of 100 percent on the first audit. Later, they would earn Boeing’s “Vendor of the Year” nomination, a “Best Practices” award from the Kent Chamber of Commerce and a “Small Manufacturer of the Year” award from AWB.

Lean manufacturing is efficient Even though lean manufacturing is more efficient and creates less waste, manufacturing engineers like Mike Moran face a lot of resistance when they take the first critical step toward implementation. “Employees don’t like it at first,” Moran said. “Some managers—I call them ‘brickheads’ — are resistant to change, no matter what. And so, sometimes you have to ‘rearrange the bus.’” he said—meaning that naysayers simply cannot be in charge. Employees need positive and forward-thinking leadership. “You can’t change manufacturing without first changing minds,” Moran said. Forming an implementation plan for Cascade Gasket also required input from every

Vasily Nikiforets (top) and Vladimir Il splice together two molded silicone seals.


Anwar Ahmed runs fabric into a mill that applies silicone to the material. Many of Cascade Gasket’s employees are from eastern Europe.


one of five small production cells. Each cell is clean, well lighted and organized to the nth degree. “Everything has its place in lean production,” Moran said. Shadow boards show where tools belong, pictures illustrate the proper organization of cells and many items are color-coded.

New climate-controlled facility The new facility also has advanced climate controls, excellent ventilation, a high-tech chilling system to set molds and equipment that facilitates easy configuration changes. This includes plug-in wiring, quick disconnects, fabrication tables on rollers and an overhead track system that lifts and moves individual equipment without disturbing the production floor. Cascade Gasket also designs and builds nearly all of their own equipment to meet their specific needs, including small molds that fit together to make larger molds. “The 92-year-old owner [Franklin Terry] designed most of this equipment, and now we just duplicate and modify it as needed,” Moran explained. “Making our own equipment is critical to our success.” By using equipment that can’t be bought or easily duplicated, few potential competitors can imitate them. This gives Cascade Gasket an upper hand and sense of security in the manufacturing world. “Still, we know China is looking, so we intend to stay on the cutting edge of manufacturing,” Moran said. It seems Cascade Gasket has found the antidote to Einstein’s definition of insanity: innovation. This agrees with something else that the late great physicist observed, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Through collaborative implementation of lean manufacturing principles, Cascade Gasket recovered “just-in-time” and has a bright, productive future to look forward to — one sane order at a time.

Some of Cascade Gasket’s many products for the aerospace industry are on display near one of the production cells.


Cascade Gasket  

Written for Washington Business magazine.

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