Joel Wright, CEO at FOL-DA-TANK discusses how the company is utilizing lean manufacturing to innovate solutions for customers
Firefighting is a profession which is both physically and mentally demanding. It is also a highly dangerous task and so teams are looking for equipment that is efficient and durable in order to handle every any high-pressure task. Going above and beyond the basics, innovators in the mobile water supply industry are ensuring that their newest developments are making the intensive day-to-day work of firefighters that little bit easier.
Joel Wright, CEO at portable water tank manufacture Fol-Da-Tank says its team relies on one of the basic principles of its lean manufacturing training to successfully incorporate innovation into its culture. “The lean principle is value is in the eye of the customer,” he explains. “That’s why we listen to our customers in order to create products that make their jobs and lives easier.”
Fol-Da-Tank is built on a 66-year legacy of innovation in the firefighting industry. The founder’s first innovation, the folding frame drop tank, was revolutionary: “He saw his firefighter friends lashing four ladders together and throwing a tarp in the middle,” tells Wright. “This was an effective temporary auxiliary water tank, and it took valuable time to set up and clean up. His infant daughter was home in her Playpen which was easy to set up and looked a lot like the tank formed by the ladders and tarp. The first drop tank was built modeling the Playpen and it revolutionized rural water supply.”
Since purchasing the company from the founding family, the team has defined its innovation challenge as one of our three core strategies. Simply stated: “We drive demand for innovation.” Wright says that in every interaction with its customers, the company has trained itself to listen for unmet needs and wants. “This active approach yields insights that are especially helpful to industry newcomers. While we search for another revolutionary idea, we know our success depends on a steady stream of evolutionary innovation,” he tells.
One of its first innovations was born from a large number of unpleasant conversations about freight damage: “Our drop tanks are long and light. They don’t ship well. When they arrive damaged, it starts a frustrating process for the customer, distributor, carrier, and us. Da-Tank-Stand was our innovative answer and it dramatically reduced freight damage in our domestic shipments.”
Every innovation has a good story. An example Wright gives is when a firefighter visited Fol-Da-Tank’s shop and commented on the colorfulness all the vinyl rolls in the racks. “He said he’d been on a cloudy midnight call and the lighting at the scene was poor,” tells Wright. “He asked if we could make the drain sleeves a different color than the liner so he could see them easier at the end of the call. This was a simple change to incorporate, and we call it the Hi-Viz drain sleeve.”
One innovation came about from a wildland firefighter came to the company with stories of sudden wind shifts which triggered the immediate need to move people and equipment: “He told us our standard drain sleeves took too long to drain the tank which consumed valuable time. From this firefighter’s vivid story, we developed the Jumbo Drain which empties our tanks 6 times faster than a regular drain sleeve,” explains Wright.
Another example was borne when the Fol-Da-Tank team attended a rural water supply class by the team at Got Big Water, when they were struck by the improvised techniques to hold drain sleeves to the frame. “Our design included a rope hold which we RF welded to the outside of the tank wall, a pull through strap, and a carabiner clipped through grommets at the end of the drain sleeve,” he says.
“By design, the carabiner clipped to the rope hold was a perfect way to hold all the water in the tank. When it was time to release the water, all one had to do was unclip the carabiner and pull on the strap. This simple motion pulled the drain sleeve through the tank wall. At the class, we observed how difficult it was to unclip the carabiner while wearing gloves. This is the genesis for our Rapid Release mechanism which is a new standard on tanks and comes in a retrofit kit for existing tanks.”
Repair and replace
Firefighting is an intensely physical, demanding profession and so occasionally equipment is damaged, and Wright says they have received more than one email late at night from a fire chief who returned to the station after an event where equipment was damaged.
Wright explains: “When a truck accidentally backs into a tank, they need a replacement or repair fast. We used our shop software to identify the most popular items. Building finished goods or subassemblies for these items is low risk. As a result, we commit to our customers 1 to 2-day lead times for the items on our Quick Ship list.”
He adds: “As a lean organization, we understand that value is in the eye of the customer. When we had to choose where to spend our time, we found bringing innovation to life was easy to justify.”
This article was originally published in the June edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.