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Containing a Valuable Partnership: Washington County

UW professor Jeremi Siri helped Nelson Container Corporation adapt quick-response manufacturing.

Tom Nelson

When Tom Nelson walked into a Milwaukee seminar featuring UW–Madison Professor Rajan Suri in 2004, he never envisioned that it would lead to a remaking of his corrugated-packaging company.

That’s where Nelson, president of the Germantown, Wisconsin-based Nelson Container Corporation, encountered a concept pioneered by Suri called Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM).

Today, the concept is the management bedrock of his custom corrugated- packaging firm that employs 40 people. Over the years, Nelson Container has relied on the UW-Madison’s Center for Quick Response Manufacturing to train staff and help implement the philosophy.

Our work with UW–Madison has been very valuable for us … It’s made us much more nimble and reactive to our markets.

“Our work with UW–Madison has been very valuable for us, because it outlines the skeletal structure of the process and the theories behind it. It’s up to us to figure out how to successfully apply them,” says Nelson, whose family business was started by his parents in 1962. “It’s made us much more nimble and reactive to our markets.”

QRM is a companywide strategy to cut lead times in all phases of manufacturing. It can bring products to the market more quickly and help firms compete in a rapidly changing manufacturing arena. Importantly, it increases profitability by reducing cost, enhancing delivery performance, and improving quality.

For Nelson Container, UW-Madison’s QRM concept results in sub-24-hour delivery — compared to the five- to six-day lead times that the company offered before it was implemented. For Nelson’s customers, that means that their packaging products arrive on time, even for orders that arrive on short notice.

“At first, our lead time was even faster than our customers were looking for. You have to get people used to the concept,” he says. “Now, the expectation is that they don’t want to wait five days. And that gives us a market advantage.”

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