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May 20, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Manufacturing support group bonds leaders in East TN

The Tennessee Manufacturing Extension Partnership (TMEP) works to build a network of industry leaders in the state,

Manufacturers have a unique set of struggles, hiccups, and issues to resolve. The ebb and flow of the industry is so driven by demand that it can be difficult to allocate time, tasks, and resources to the right area.

The University of Tennessee Center for Industrial Services’ (CIS) Tennessee Manufacturing Extension Partnership (TMEP) hosts a group each quarter to bring leaders in local manufacturing to the same table. Ashleigh Walters, the former 20-year President of Onex in Pennsylvania, and current leadership consultant for CIS leads the group.

She said it’s a support group to help leaders in the industry understand common ground issues and find solutions as a team.

Walters moved to Knoxville a couple of years ago to be a resource, consultant, and connector for the manufacturing community. She immediately got involved with CIS, along with other entrepreneurial groups in the area – like the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC).

Mark Sebby
Mark Sebby

At the May meetup, there were several local companies represented, including Knox Wire Harness and Swiss Technologies. In addition to sharing their struggles, solutions, and advice, they also hear from an industry professional at each meetup.

This time, Mark Sebby took center stage to talk about “value stream mapping” and lean manufacturing. He has been a leader and consultant in the manufacturing space for decades, and specifically with CIS as a solutions consultant for a little more than five years.

Value stream mapping, as Sebby explained is all the activities a company does to add value to the customer. It follows the entire manufacturing process, from receiving the order to delivering it to the customer’s door.

Sebby encouraged local manufacturers to get as “lean” as possible in their processes, spending more time on key tasks that ‘add value,’ and less time on wasteful processes.

Value stream mapping helps companies identify wasteful processes and create solutions to avoid them.

“Say, for example, the manufacturing process consistently bottlenecks at the welding station. The goal we’re trying to ask ourselves is ‘How can we make the process more efficient? Can we move resources we already have, or do we need to invest in more resources?’” Sebby said.

His advice was to address the bottleneck, where most of the work is building up, taking the most time, and slowing down the process. Address that area first, and then work on things from there.

“I help facilitate the value stream mapping process and implement the solutions. I have seen cases where the company has multiplied its efficiency and output by four times the amount,” Sebby said.

One of the goals of the TMEP is to build a thriving network of manufacturing professionals in Tennessee.

The group is open for more local manufacturing leaders to join, learn, and grow their knowledge of the industry.

Additionally, TMEP in partnership with CESMII, will be hosting the Smart Manufacturing Roadshow in Knoxville on May 29 to help bring local manufacturers together. Register here.

For more information on how to get involved, email

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