General Cable Franklin Plant Franklin, Mass.

Employees: 153, nonunion

Total Square Footage: 158,000

Primary Product/Market: electronic/data communications/fiber optic cables

Start-Up Date: 1990

Achievements: Product quality, as measured using defects per million units, has improved to 6,959 from15,700 since 2005; no lost time due to injuries since 2008; work order delivery has improved to 97% from 66% since 2006.

Imagine a gyroscope the size of a midsize sedan spinning and whirling, winding together dozens of wires into a single cable, rolling it off the line into a cable running into infinity.

Fiber products are cabled, served and jacketed in one operation on this line at General Cable's Franklin, Mass., facility.

Some of these cables are for data communication, others for control panels and industrial equipment, or for high-end military applications.

Each year, more than a half-billion feet of wire and cable is manufactured at General Cable's Franklin, Mass., facility, in more than 2,000 different varieties. Despite that volume and product range, less than 1% of the wire and cable produced turns out to be defective.

"One of the things that's helped drive the improvement has been understanding what's critical to quality and what's critical to the process and how those two elements interrelate," says Rob Johnson, who serves as quality manager in Franklin.

Since 2005, Franklin General Cable's work-order delivery has improved to 97% from 66%, while product quality, as measured using defects per million units, has improved to 6,959 from 15,700. Through the end of November, for instance, Franklin General Cable's DPMU for 2010 was 286, which equates to 99.95%, a significant achievement in control and quality. Out of an estimated 50 million feet of cable produced in August, only 150 feet was scrapped.

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Three years ago, in an effort to better understand the key factors that undermine quality and cause defects, Franklin General Cable began using Pareto analysis tools, which provide a more creative approach to studying complex problems.

The Pareto reports were then distilled into more concentrated control charts and placed in highly visible areas at each workstation. The charts give operators step-by-step instructions for key issues that may arise. A sign in the datacom cell, for instance, details the critical quality issues related to diameter, what to watch for in using a micrometer for all measurements, and three common issues associated with the cell, along with appropriate reaction steps.

"They're like CliffsNotes," says Jim Clark, plant manager at Franklin General Cable. "They allow our operators to better understand the issues we're seeing and what they can do when these issues crop up."

Quality issues are a focal point for every manufacturer. But at Franklin General Cable, dips in quality have acute financial ramifications, as materials represent 77% of the plant's costs.

"Material is like gold for us," says Clark.

For all the specialized military cables produced in Franklin, nearly a third of its total production goes toward data communication. More than a dozen manufacturers in North America also make data communication cables, along with looming competitors out of the Far East.

"Essentially, cable is a commodity," says Johnson. "In order to compete with them, performance quality and cost is the key. Our whole process is lean and built for quality and getting all the variances out of the process."

The plant's efforts in continuous improvement operate under the theme, "Create Your Own Destiny." Plant leaders have transitioned toward a flexible work force, one that can shift between several operations and is increasingly self-directed and empowered to stimulate ideas.