Within two years of purchasing Syzygy Tile Works in Silver City, Josh and Carolyn White knew they needed to expand the business to meet national and international demand for their high-end, handcrafted ceramic tiles.
Josh had worked for the company for 16 years before the previous owner retired, and he quickly made improvements to shorten production times. But with employees needing as much as three years to fully learn their craft, customers were waiting four to five months for product delivery.
The Whites knew this was an unsustainable interval. In 2020, they contacted the state Economic Development Department to ask what resources were available to small manufacturers. They were referred to New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership (New Mexico MEP), a nonprofit dedicated to helping small manufacturers streamline production and become more competitive.
New Mexico MEP specialists began working with the Whites to create a value stream map. This lean manufacturing tool determines all the elements required to produce a commodity so wasteful steps and bottlenecks can be eliminated; the goal was to help the Whites reach their goal of tripling capacity and reducing delivery times to a maximum of two months.
New Mexico MEP brought a computer-controlled robot, or cobot, to the facility in Silver City, calibrated it for their operations, and for three days tested its ability to speed up production at Syzygy.
“Some glazes could be sprayed (onto the tile), and the results were as good as hand application,” Josh said. “But it still takes a person to arrange the tiles and program the bot to move the sprayer back and forth.”
The couple purchased a cobot but don’t expect it to be fully operational for up to a year. Based on results from the three-day test, Josh said, “It became clear that this was the solution to the (production time) problem. The projection is that our cobot could increase output by 80 percent.”
New Mexico MEP innovation director Jeff Abrams worked with the couple to determine if productivity could be doubled without moving to a larger facility; he quickly concluded the operation was as efficient as it could be in its current location. After deciding how big the new facility would need to be, the Whites purchased a lot on which to build. No date has been set on breaking ground, Josh said.
The MEP-Syzygy team also worked with employees on a cost analysis to make sure they were properly pricing their tiles. They evaluated the entire production process, did time studies and analyzed operations data to come up with actual costs per square foot of their different tile types.
“Now we have good data for pricing,” Josh said. “We saw an immediate improvement: a 20 percent output gain while watching loss ratios go down significantly. We cut waste by 30 percent.”
Having New Mexico MEP’s support was critical to Syzygy’s growth plan. “It helped us feel confident to take risks,” Josh said. “The big cost of consultants is taken care of.”
The investment of attention and care by New Mexico MEP made the Whites feel “like they love your business more than any other,” Josh said. “(I) felt relief that it was not just on my wife’s shoulders and mine to help solve problems while also trying to run the business. The results were beyond our expectations.”
One of the most valuable outcomes of the New Mexico MEP collaboration was the transformation Josh saw among employees. “People look at their jobs differently when you evaluate production. They have ideas and contributions. It unlocks growth and a different mindset.”
With improved efficiencies and reduced waste, he said, “we’ll end up seeing one employee being able to produce as much as four people — a 50 to 80 percent increase in output.”
To learn more about Syzygy Tile Works’ artisan tile, visit syzygytile.com.