Like all thriving manufacturing firms, Winston Industries has evolved steadily throughout its 44 years.
But over the past six months, the Jeffersontown-based manufacturer of restaurant equipment made a giant leap forward by investing $4 million to add revolutionary technology and launch an electronics manufacturing services company dubbed Win2uit.
The new company, located next door to the main factory on Carton Drive, assembles electronic circuit boards, cable and wire harnesses and performs custom metal fabrication for outside customers.
Those same tasks were performed for decades at Winston Industries, until the company’s leadership examined the economic logic of making those parts internally.
“Dad has always wanted to make as many parts as possible here for our own quality control,” said Valerie Shelton, CEO of Winston Industries and daughter of founder Winston Shelton. Even at 92, Winston Shelton continues to engineer new equipment for the firm.
“But we realized that the resources we were using to make the controls for our restaurant equipment were underutilized,” said Valerie Shelton. “Because of that, we actually considered shutting all that down.”
Until they looked at the problem from another perspective.
“It dawned on us that we could use that existing infrastructure to make those same parts for other companies,” she said. “And frankly, we didn’t realize how much demand there is out there.”
Teri McDonald, a veteran EMS executive, was hired in 2012 as vice president of Win2uit, and took over the sales effort. Not only is the market ripe for Win2uit products, McDonald said the demand in the Jeffersontown Industrial Park alone is significant.
“There are a lot of companies in this area who need quick-turn service on low-volume, high-mix manufacturing of the kinds of parts we make,” she said. Such customers are the opposites of large manufactures, such as auto makers.
Smaller shops McDonald is targeting produce far fewer units, but those units still require many parts: “That smaller shop is a perfect fit for us.”
In becoming Win2uit, all Winston’s existing EMS manufacturing machinery and personnel were moved from the second floor at Winston Industries to the Win2uit space.
The company then invested about $500,000 in adding a second production line to prepare for more volume when it arrives.
“When you go out and seek new business like we are, you have to be ready to go when the orders come,” said McDonald, adding that the new firm created five new jobs.
Though she chose not to share sales targets, she said Win2uit is capable of generating several million dollars a year in revenue.
Capacity for both companies was increased this summer when Winston Industries spent $3.6 million to add a fully automatic machine that punches, laser-cuts and bends every piece of stainless steel required for all its equipment. Its finished pieces are so precise that they slide and hold together without the use of fasteners.
Manufactured by Verona, Italy-based Salvagnini, the massive computerized machine is one of only two of its kind in the U.S. and one of just 12 in the world.
The Salvagnini machine makes obsolete multiple machines used for decades at the factory and will triple production speed.
“It’s programmed to know what parts you want and what chemistry or type of stainless it needs to produce a specific part,” said Bob Leavitt, Winston Industries’ vice president of production.
Gesturing toward a multi-shelf tower of stainless steel sheets, Leavitt said the machine is able to pull its own sheets, count what’s left in the stack and place an order to the manufacturer for just in time delivery.
“The machine is intelligent enough to track inventory, know what it’s using and what its reorder point is,” he said.
Currently, about 30 percent of steel used by the company goes to scrap for recycling.
When optimized, the Salvagnini will reduce that waste to less than 10 percent and save $500,000 annually.
Stainless steel inventory held on site has already been reduced by half.
“The amount of room it’s already freed up is amazing,” Leavitt said, pointing to empty floor space in the plant.
It also has slashed production times, said Leavitt. Where its workers could form and weld just 14 drain pans for its high-tech CVap oven per day, the Salvagnini can produce one every 140 seconds.
“With just three part numbers—just in bending alone—we will save 239 labor hours and 239 machine hours over the course of a year,” he said. “We have almost 700 parts numbers in our inventory here, so you can imagine the savings it will bring.”
When fully optimized, the Salvagnini’s computer will be able to take a 3-D drawing, “unfold” it, write its own program and produce every steel part required automatically.
“We’re not there yet, but that is a software package we’ve purchased,” said Leavitt, adding that the new machine also will reduce the firm’s utility bills. “Mr. Shelton’s idea is to say to me, ‘I want to give you a drawing at 5:30 p.m. and when I come in the next morning, it’s done.’ That’s the goal.”
Despite its increased efficiencies, Leavitt said the company didn’t lay off any workers. After several months of adjusting for normal yearly attrition of about 10 percent, he said remaining employees worked overtime to adjust to new work weeks of three, 12-hour days.
Veteran engineer Winston Shelton said the Salvagnini is “a wonderful tool,” but after nearly six decades in manufacturing, including working at General Electric’s Appliance Park when it opened in Louisville in the early 1950s, he’s patiently watching its development.
“As an engineer, I love efficiency,” said Shelton. “That we can do so much more in less time and with better precision and cost management, that’s ideal. Is it not?”
Adding with a grin, he said, “But sometimes new machines are like new brides: sexy but temperamental. Everything takes time to understand and develop.”
Like the company’s flagship CVap ovens and holding cabinets, the Pod is a low-temperature precision cooking device using moist and dry heat, yet it’s about one-third the size of its larger siblings.
Smaller CVap units, Shelton said, will allow chefs to have multiple cooking devices in one kitchen that are dedicated to cooking specific proteins and vegetables.
“That modularity gives them incredible flexibility and allows them to put the device anywhere in the kitchen: on a shelf, on the wall or on the floor,” he said. Currently, about a dozen are in test in commercial kitchens. “I have big plans for the Pod in residential use, too. It will revolutionize the way food is cooked in home kitchens.”
He said he’s having fun imagining retail product names like “Garage Gourmet” and “Patio Gourmet” while figuring out the dimensions of the device for a home kitchen.
“What we’re getting at is this is an ideal ovening device for the restaurant or the home,” he said. “I want to make precision cooking available to everybody. All they need to understand are the benefits of preparing highly succulent food with vastly reduced shrinkage.
“Chefs get it, and I think home cooks will, too.”