Stacy, Minn., –Lori Tapani, Co-President of Wyoming Machine in Stacy, Minn., accepted the national STEP award in Washington DC on April 20 for her contributions to the manufacturing industry. The STEP (Science, Technology, Engineering and Production) award is given annually to honor the achievements of women in manufacturing.
The Manufacturing Institute launched the STEP Ahead initiative in 2012 to celebrate women in the manufacturing industry that are making a difference through advocacy, mentorship, engagement, promotion, and leadership.
Lori promotes women in manufacturing and skills development on many fronts. She has been especially involved with Pine Technical College in Pine City, Minn., to assist the college with a state-of-the-art manufacturing technology curriculum. In particular, she has worked with the college to use technology to bring virtual classes to manufacturers to train their employees. She also serves on Pine Technical College’s board of trustees and in many other ways. In addition, she plays an active role in the Washington County chapter of the National Association of Workforce Boards to help communities train unskilled workers for careers in manufacturing.
Joe Mulford, President of Pine Technical College, said: “Lori leverages her experience, skills, and passion to be extremely effective in driving the long-term vision for Pine Technical and Community College (PTCC). She has demonstrated leadership within the college by committing time to help faculty develop new curriculum and guidance on equipment purchase, and is exceptional in communicating its value. Her extensive experience working with multiple boards gives her access to critical leaders and decision-makers that results in policy, which ultimately helps sustain a strong manufacturing sector in Minnesota.”
Lori explained her dedication to people and manufacturing in this way: “People are my passion! In manufacturing, we use processes and technology/innovation to transform raw materials into final products. That transformation is powered by people with diverse skill sets working collaboratively! Identifying and harnessing the unique gifts and talents that each person brings to the team is where the magic happens.”
It took nine miles of walking and too-many-to-count blisters for Lori and Traci Tapani to find just the right tree—when Washington DC’s cherry blossoms are at their peak—for the perfect picture. Turns out, though, when they found the ideal tree, it wasn’t a cherry tree at all. Rather, it was a tree fashioned from sheet metal, re-born as a metal sculpture at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. It was the perfect backdrop for the Co-Presidents of a precision metal fabrication company, Wyoming Machine, based in Stacy, Minn.
The Tapanis were in DC to accept a national award: The W.O. Lawton Business Leadership Award sponsored by the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) which assists 550 such boards in the US. The annual award honors one large and one small business or organization across America committing time, money and leadership to enhance their community’s workforce and economy. Lockheed Martin received the large-business award. According to NAWB president, Ronald Painter, “Each [Wyoming Machine and Lockheed Martin] is an example of how a company can reach beyond its own self-interest to advance an entire community’s economic vitality.”
The award also salutes the recipients’ partnership with their local Workforce Development Board. Wyoming Machine was nominated by Robert Crawford, Division Manager of the Washington County Workforce Center.
Stacy, Minn., 30 minutes north of St. Paul, has just 1,426 people. So it’s not surprising that the Tapanis knew recruiting and training were keys to their success many years before workforce development became a trend. The sisters have always embraced Teddy Roosevelt’s mantra: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” As Lori said, “Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t do big things.” Traci added: “Ours is a community of passionate, progressive thinkers.”
Their attitudes have developed a highly committed workforce of 55 employees. That’s morphed into their leadership at community, regional and state levels, as well as nationally in manufacturing and in workforce development.
But…back to the Tapanis’ Excellent Adventure. Coming from a business committed to making metal parts of all sizes an art form, it’s no surprise that Traci and Lori savored several of the Smithsonian art museums. And as an ardent painter and photographer, Lori would have it no other way.
The sisters marveled at the National Museum of Art. But they went gaga over an imposing painting in the American Art Museum called, “An Industrial Cottage,” an oil painting from a North Dakota artist depicting his state’s industries, from manufacturing and farming to energy—complete with drill bits and bacon.
Another “must-see” for the Tapanis was Belmont Hall Equality National Monument. This was the headquarters of America’s suffrage movement. No surprise that Traci and Lori stopped there. The Tapanis are nationally known for their commitment to advancing women. They have opened the eyes of young ladies from 6th grade on up to manufacturing careers and a “can-do” mentality.
Next up? Traci and Lori trekked to “The Tiny Jewel Box,” a quaint DC shop featuring antique jewelry where Madeline Albright found so many of her famed brooches.
Of course a key part of their Excellent Adventure was the NAWB Forum, “Defining Challenges and Shaping Opportunities.” This conference drew 1,800 attendees. The Tapanis marveled at both keynote speakers, Zoe Baird, CEO Markle, Foundation, and Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN, Inc. (Home Shopping Network). They spoke of the constant evolution of how people do things, and the challenges and opportunities this represents. At lunch, “Brain Breaks” further explored how to define challenges and identify opportunities.
A key takeaway for Traci was PEW research: 87 percent of US adults understand the vital role that life-long training and skill development play in our workforce. Traci said, “At Wyoming Machine we look for evidence of ongoing learning when we evaluate job candidates, and we have been doing that for some time.”
Lori found the concept of “framestorming” valuable. Framestorming helps frame a challenge. Whereas brainstorming generates solutions, framestorming generates questions to ensure your brainstorming is on target. Lori said, “Another takeaway for me was learning how, if we are going to continue living the ‘American Dream,’ we must have a robust ‘middle skill’ market in our workforce.”
A quintessential thrill for the sisters was the awards banquet. The ceremony provided a lifetime memory for both Traci and Lori. Three awards were given. Traci and Lori were saved for last. When it came time for them to receive their award, they were directed from off stage onto the ballroom floor, which the sisters thought curious.
But once there, a large screen appeared on stage and a video began. It was the only video of the awards ceremony. Suddenly, Minnesota Senator Al Franken appeared on the screen offering accolades to the Tapani sisters, their training and development leadership, and all those present who have worked to make workforce training and development a success. The Tapani sisters had no idea the Senator’s video was created.
When Lori and Traci approached the podium to accept their award, the ballroom roared with a standing ovation—the only one occurring during the ceremony. The entire Minnesota contingency shared shouts of joy –and laughter as Lori mentioned the jokes about “our” Minnesota accent in her acceptance speech. The ceremony was a poignant highlight of a weekend filled with wide-eyed experiences.
But for Traci and Lori, both doting mothers, the weekend’s most meaningful experience was that Traci’s two teenage daughters joined them for the Excellent Adventure…Talk about role models—even as her daughter Maija exclaimed, “I’m hungry; and I’m serious about that!”
John Hanenburg, Wyoming Machine’s cost estimator and manufacturing engineer, developed a proclivity for math at an early age—very early. As he explains it, “My mom told me that one day when I was three years old I was staring at a calendar. After a while I looked at her and asked, ‘is the next number [on the calendar] 32?’”…Yes: solving his first math problem at age three.
So it’s no surprise that John excelled in math throughout school, as well as when a mathematics and industrial engineering major at St. Cloud State University. Interestingly, throughout college (and high school) John took extra math classes to, as he says, “keep my grades up.” Math comes that naturally to him. He graduated from SCSU in 1978.
Although (unfortunately) many don’t associate math with creativity—John has always taken, as he calls it, “a clever” approach to math. One of his favorite school activities was to deduce related math ideas—beyond the teacher’s, or the text book’s, math idea. John did this regularly in math classes. In fact, on occasion professors would ask John, after presenting an idea to the class, “John, do you have any insights to add?” And John, of course, did.
Not surprisingly, this math guru has taken the same approach to estimating at WMI. Cost estimating is, indeed, all about math. It’s also all about finding the most effective and efficient approach to creating a part.
No doubt, purchasers and engineers want quotes fast and flawless. That’s why WMI customers highly value WMI’s quote turnaround time and accuracy—all made possible by John’s system and WMI’s teamwork approach. From his system, to engineers, shop floor technicians and many more at Wyoming Machine, all contribute to better parts at a lower cost for customers.
Imagine the endless array of options considered when manufacturing a part. John notes that, theoretically, there are an infinite number of variables. There are choices involving processes like shearing, lasering, punching, forming, rolling, hardware assembling, sawing, machining and welding. And thereafter, there are many choices for how a specific process will be performed. As John says, “You need to consider as many factors as possible to have the estimate as accurate as possible.” For example, here are the factors John uses to estimate just the forming process:
Material thickness, size of part, number of bends, number of bend radii, number of operators, bands 90-130, ends nonsquare to back stop, bends with gooseneck, bends with tip-up punch, bends with window punch, bends with risers, bends with special forming of offset dies, bends with Tuff Brake lining film, dimensions with tolerances of .029-.020, dimensions with tolerances of .019-.010, bends with lift 49”-72”. Bends with lift 72” to 96”, bends with lift 96” to 120”, bends with backup strip, number of hems or bends 130-180, number of open hems, number of back bends.
That’s 22 considerations for forming/bending, alone, and they’re all critical to the estimate. Mind-blowing? All in a day’s work for John.
It‘s easy to see why John wanted a faster, more accurate way to estimate projects, beyond what the old hard-copy template or a traditional spreadsheet offer. (Of course it didn’t hurt that it was another chance to apply his creativity.) Over the course of 20 years or so, John developed a proprietary template with a set of standards that made estimating at least three times faster, while reducing the margin for error many times over. John’s system simplifies even the most detailed custom orders, for which Wyoming Machine is so well-known.
Wyoming Machine Co-President Traci Tapani sees additional benefits: “John and his math ability have helped bring consistency to Wyoming Machine’s estimating process. Results are consistent from one estimator to another and new employees can be trained faster and easier than in the past.”
John’s math isn’t limited to his occupation. For him, it’s a passion. He has been a member of the Math Association of America—North Central Section. Although the association consists primarily of math professors, John has presented papers at their conferences, including his first while a student at SCSU. And it doesn’t stop there.
On Feb. 8 John gave a presentation at SCSU on how he uses math as an estimator. He addressed a group of 30-plus mathematicians and an engineer—mostly professors. The title is innocent enough, “Creative Mathematical Solutions in a Manufacturing Environment.” It’s the abstract that reveals his depth: “…Often, a least squared polynomial is not a good enough solution. I will present a couple methods that I use to generate Exponential or Power approximating equations. Also, how I generate Weighted Least Squared approximating equations and Perpendicular Least Squared approximating equations…”
Whatever formula John is using, it’s clear that he’s got a formula for success and is a highly valued employee. According to Lori Tapani, WMI Co-President, “John is a fascinating human! Most people look at a math problem and think, “what’s the formula for that?” John looks at a given formula, dissects it to determine what is working and what isn’t, and then develops a whole new formula that is better than the original. One Friday John came to work wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘Never underestimate an old man with a mathematics degree’ – 100% truth.”
John and his wife, Susan, live outside Stacy. They have two adult children, Michelle and Eric.
As programs ensue to showcase manufacturing careers to middle and high school students, the question remains, “How do you get kids who know nothing about manufacturing to be interested in simply checking it out?” There are a variety of ways, but if you’ve got one hour to inspire 10 eighth grade young women, bet on Amber Carlson, Wyoming Machine’s project analyst, to make it happen.
When Rich Wessels, Career Navigator for the Manufacturing Careers Pathway program at White Bear Lake, Minn., Public Schools, invited Wyoming Machine to speak to eighth grade women about manufacturing careers, he needed someone who could relate to these young students, and motivate them. The Pathway program at WBL is a manufacturer’s dream-come-true. In addition to a new curriculum that appeals to both hands-on types and math lovers, WBL School has equipment the envy of schools everywhere including CNC machines, a virtual welder and 3D printers—talk about real-world manufacturing experience. WBL’s 25-year veteran technology teacher, Delroy Nyren, is well-suited to lead the program. Thus, their need to inspire younger students to pursue these classes.
Amber, 29, has risen through the ranks of manufacturing in 13 short years. Since beginning as a “wire wrapper” summer high-school intern, Amber has worked in thin film production, logistics/shipping, production planning, customer service and now, a project analyst.
As Traci Tapani, co-president of Wyoming Machine with sister Lori Tapani, said, “Amber’s knowledge, years of experience, and ability to relate to a younger audience all played into why she was asked to speak with these young ladies. You often hear that people don’t become what they can’t see. Giving young women the chance to see another young woman who is successful and excited about manufacturing increases the chance that manufacturing or engineering might become part of their dreams for their future.”
Excited about manufacturing? To put it mildly. As Amber exclaimed, “I have always loved that in manufacturing you can take very simple materials or components and make them into something that could help protect our armed forces, for example…If you look around, everything is manufactured, from every aspect of the room you are sitting in, to the car you are driving, clothes you are wearing, and the tools you use. It is amazing to think about how much impact the manufacturing industry has on our daily lives, and I am proud to say I am part of that industry.”
Knowing that eighth graders knew little about manufacturing, Amber brought along small parts and products made at Wyoming Machine. She started with a miniature metal bike and frog, describing all the processes involved in their production, from the request for quote through packaging and shipping.
Central to engaging all the young women was convincing them of the many skills and talents that manufacturing needs—not just math geeks and hands-on people, and not just men, but women, too. Likewise, Amber sought to overcome internal objections girls lacking self confidence may have. She shared that just because they haven’t earned high grades, doesn’t mean they can’t work in manufacturing. As Amber explained, “I didn’t get the best grades in school—but once you get passionate about something, everything just clicks.”
It’s no secret that technical college customized training is a life-saver for manufacturers. What you may not know is that Lori Tapani and Traci Tapani, Co-Presidents of Wyoming Machine, helped make that happen in Central Minnesota. Now they and their employees—are reaping the benefits.
For 21 years, Lori and Traci have worked closely with Pine Technical and Community College in Central Minnesota. Because WMI hires many carefully selected low-skilled workers and promotes them, training is vital. Ten years ago, a consortium of five manufacturers including Wyoming Machine, began brainstorming how they could collaborate to train workers for technical and managerial jobs.
The consortium helped write a grant. According to Lori, “We shared what types of training we needed and how it could be accomplished via the ITV (Internet Television) system. We also made a commitment to match the grant funds ‘in kind’ by paying employees during work time to take the classes.”
Lori added that when Pine Tech received the grant, the companies offered input for training needs. Pine Tech chose courses most helpful for the majority of the companies. After the initial roll-out, individual companies could request specific classes and either pay for them, or share costs with other companies needing the same classes.
Customized training brings classes to worksites via ITV. WMI employees take Pine Tech classes at work and can gain college credits and/or a certificate. Employees enrolled love that there’s no commute to school. In fact, even text books and materials are sent to WMI. It’s a true turn-key program. Classes are offered all four quarters. Subjects range from print reading, auditing, quality, safety, maintenance and manufacturing processes, to managing and much more.
Best of all, courses apply directly to work. According to Dani Guy, a parts finisher at WMI who is taking a manufacturing process class, “You learn things you’d learn on the floor—but before you deal with it. I love the classes. I use the skills every day.”
In fact, approximately 25 employees at WMI have taken the classes. Adam Peterson, production manager, facilitates the program. He sees a real difference in those who enroll. “They’re more engaged and conscientious after taking classes. It’s nice to see the transformation. ”You can see that they take additional pride in their work after their additional learning.”
Traci sees the difference, too. “I think for low skilled employees, in addition to improving job knowledge and skills, it helps to build confidence. Many people are surprised to learn that they can be successful taking college courses. Additionally, the added training gives our newer employees some ‘street cred’ or respect from more seasoned sheet metal fabrication workers.”
Heidi Braun, Program Director at the college, sees two-way benefits. “Our success has led to participation in another statewide department of labor grant to continue the program. As we grow, we hope to add welding and other training programs that will benefit industry in this region. They [the Tapani sisters] are a real inspiration.”
According to WMI employee Jill Clark, “I’d love to take more classes. The professors are very good. Now I’m looking at print reading; I hope to advance at WMI.”
On October 26, we received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners. While we’re honored to have received this, we humbly share this award with you, our employees, customers and vendors. The award acknowledges our success in business and we attribute that success to all of you.
Businesses, of course, can’t exist without customers, and we believe that our customers are among the finest around. Their products serve an incredibly diverse range of markets, from electronic enclosures to heavy construction equipment, and these companies are industry leaders.
Their—and our—success is due to their willingness to partner with us to find the best and most expedient ways to produce parts that exactly and economically meet their needs. Our customers’ longevity is further testament to that success. We have customers who have been with us for since we opened our doors in 1974.
Next, are our 54 employees. Day in and day out they make things happen. It starts with our estimators and engineers who always ask, “Is there a better way to make this product to improve quality and reduce cost?” Then, to the shop floor, where laser cutters, formers, punchers, welders, machinists and finishers always ask, “How do we approach this part to best meet our customer’s needs?” Our staff in quality inspects each part with eagle eyes making sure we exactly meet our customers’ specifications. Our shipping department fastidiously packs and delivers to ensure parts arrive in stellar condition. Our maintenance staff ensures that our operations run smoothly and everything works. They create company-wide pride with a building that guests have said has a “floor you could eat off of.” Our front office staff smiles while tending to the minutest of details that continually impress customers, visitors and vendors while keeping our employees happy. They all share a commitment to meet everyone’s needs—and keep those many balls juggling.
Our vendors, in turn, work with us closely and cooperatively to provide exceptional materials and services that allow us to please our customers. They never hesitate to exceed our expectations so we can do the same.
It’s the care, concern and pride you all show that have created opportunities for us to share our ideas and success with trade organizations, universities, business associations, government and much more on local, state and national levels. Enjoy this award with us. You’ve earned it, and we thank you.
Kent Hering and his wife, Betsy, have come a long way since their first camping trip in 1976 where they discovered they couldn’t start a fire. Years later, Kent is owner and founder of Littlbug Enterprises, producer of light-weight, stainless steel camp stoves. They require no maintenance kit, spare parts, wind screens or heat exchangers. Best of all, the stove can be rolled up in a sleeping pad instead of taking up space in a pack. At just five ounces. Littlbug Jr. is a backpacker’s dream-come-true. Wyoming Machine teamed up with Kent to enhance the design and produce it.
The inspiration for Littlbug came during Kent’s first backpacking trip. He learned the hard way that his 60 lb. backpack weighed far, far too much. So he shopped for an ultra-light, wood and alcohol-burning stove—to no avail.
An electrical engineer, Kent likes to tinker. Thus began his pursuit to make the ideal backpacking stove. However, Kent had no tools and no sheet metal experience. But always the optimist, as Kent says with a smile, “I learned a lot of lessons.” Yet his concept remained the same: create a small stove of two interlocking pieces that join to cook, but separate and nest to pack. In 1999, Kent received a patent for his design.
Eventually, Kent discovered Wyoming Machine. “My company is based on respect for the earth and fellow human beings. We donate 10 percent of our profits to environmental and humanitarian causes. What I discovered about Wyoming Machine is that they’re a women-owned business also committed to helping people and communities. That was important to me.”
Also important, of course, is Wyoming Machine’s eagerness to team up with customers. When Kent met with John Hanenburg, estimator, Kent quickly discovered that John’s 16 years sheet metal experience meant exacting advice and a product that precisely met his needs.
According to John, “Working with those who lack sheet metal experience often means we have only sample parts, verbal descriptions, drawings or incomplete sketches. To proceed, we create drawings so everyone is working with the same design. Then, we recommend modifications to allow standard off-the-shelf material and/or processes that will minimize the cost or enhance the design.” John was especially impressed with how Kent made the stove so easy to erect and collapse. “It was very clever,” he said.
John isn’t alone in that assessment. Littlbug won an award from the Minnesota Inventors Congress. It’s also the top rated small, wood-burning camp stove and has received numerous endorsements by leading outdoor adventurers.
Kent is equally pleased with Wyoming Machine. “The folks at Wyoming Machine have always gone the extra mile for me, making the sure the job is done right and that I am fully satisfied with the results.”
And what’s the most valuable lesson Kent has learned as an entrepreneur? “I used to view a bump along the way as a problem. What I initially perceived as a problem usually turned out to be an opportunity. Now, instead of looking back to recognize opportunity, I anticipate the opportunity hidden in every bump. Perceiving events as opportunities instead of problems is a paradigm shift that enables me to embrace the vagaries of business, and has spilled over into my personal life as well.”
Wyoming Machine, based in Stacy, Minn., is a women-owned sheet metal fabricator established in 1974. Traci and Lori Tapani, owners and Co-Presidents, guide the 56-employee business in a 55,000 sq. ft. facility. They compete internationally, creating parts and products for companies ranging from medical device and computer manufacturers to heavy machinery. The longevity of their clients and employees is a testament to how well they serve both.