Cordis de Mexico S.A. de C.V.: IW Best Plants Profile 2006

Cordis de Mexico S.A. de C.V.: IW Best Plants Profile 2006

Empowered To Drive Production: An involved workforce helps cut more than $12 million in waste for medical device maker Cordis de Mexico.

Cordis de Mexico S.A. de C.V., Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico

Employees: 1,751, union

Total square footage: 358,322

Primary product: Medical devices (catheters and stents)

Start-up: 1999

Achievements: Cost savings from specific improvement projects and programs resulted in $25.3 million in savings in 2005. First-pass yield of 98.6% for all finished products. Reduced power consumption for each unit produced by 60%. Reduced in-plant defect rate 69.6% in past three years.


Seemingly out of nowhere, Mozart's Symphony No. 40 blares through overhead speakers at the Cordis de Mexico cardio and endovascular device plant in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Within seconds, a group of production workers in lab coats race toward a work cell as if they're responding to a life-threatening emergency.

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In a sense, the workers are helping to save lives. The Cordis de Mexico plant makes catheters and stents used to treat various circulatory system problems for Cordis Corp., a Miami Lakes, Fla.-based subsidiary of health-care products giant Johnson & Johnson. The workers are part of the plant's rapid-response team, a troubleshooting group that's called into action whenever a production worker activates the music to signal a problem on a production line. Such work stoppages must be corrected promptly to meet customer demand, which on the catheter sheath introducer (CSI) line requires a takt time of just five seconds to produce an annual yield of 5.5 million units, according to Fernando Diaz, CSI and guiding catheter operations director. (A master planning system analyzes demand vs. production capacity on a weekly basis, taking into account the projected schedule for the next 18 months.)

The work team is part of an empowered workforce that is encouraged and expected to be key figures in the plant's continuous improvement efforts. Employee involvement is evident even before entering the production area. The plant recognizes employees on its Excellence Wall, located just beyond the reception area, with before-and-after pictures of different improvement projects they have implemented.

Many employee suggestions come from natural work teams, which comprise 54% of the plant's production workforce. Cordis de Mexico estimates that in 2005 it eliminated more than $12 million in waste from employee-driven improvement projects. Employee involvement is encouraged so much here that some employees visit hospitals to see how the company's products are used in surgical procedures.

Juan Rojas performs the fusing process on Cordis de Mexico's guiding catheter.

To that end, employee input is evident on almost every assembly line in the plant. For instance, at one time operators on the guiding catheter line were mixing up two different types of catheter tips that were stored side by side in a bin and applying them in the wrong sequence. "The tips look very much alike, so a mix-up was a big possibility," relates production worker Irma Leticia Munoz.

So Munoz suggested that a sliding plastic cover could prevent such mix-ups by shielding the side that's not supposed to be in use. Co-worker Yesenia Camacho says with the plastic cover she doesn't confuse the two tips anymore. Before, "The people on the next station would waste time trying to correct the problem."

That's good news for Cordis de Mexico because, according to Diaz, one wrong catheter tip could cost the company millions of dollars from a recall.

Today, Cordis de Mexico is the company's highest-performing plant, according to Jose Gonzalez, vice president of manufacturing. "Some of the highest-yielding products in the company are at this site," he says.

Excellent Improvements

Much like a football team reviewing pre-game film, a staff member of the Cordis de Mexico medical-device plant in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, carefully watches video recordings of plant operators performing various tasks. Here, in the Business Excellence training room, staff members are looking for ways to drive out inefficiencies. With the video, Process Champion Anabella Pereyra is measuring time between steps in the production process and recording the results. The plant performs this audit every three months and uses the information to make adjustments on the production lines. For instance, if it's determined there are more operators on one line than needed, a production worker might be moved to another line where the plant needs additional help.

In this room, the company also maintains a log of all continuous-improvement activities, including employee suggestions. That's the job of Myrna Delgadillo, who says as of August the company has implemented 800 employee suggestions.

Cordis de Mexico -- where Miami Lakes, Fla.-based Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Cordis Corp. makes cardio and endovascular catheters and stents -- staffs its Business Excellence department with 10 people who each receive more than 300 hours of training annually.

Some of the improvements made by the Business Excellence staff are as simple as reducing paperwork. In one such case, the staff combined multiple forms that are required to move equipment in the plant into one document. This resulted in a reduction in equipment-movement approval times of 20% to 60%, depending on the type of equipment being moved. Another improvement was made in the medical department where four people focused 97% of their time on primary- and preventive-care activity. This left too little time to focus on regulatory activities, so the staff installed self-service dispensers with instructions for use where plant workers could receive over-the-counter medicines.

Kaizen Week

Every month a group of workers from each department of the Cordis de Mexico medical-device manufacturing plant in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, gathers to implement a process improvement. Each day during this "kaizen workshop" week these natural work teams focus on a different step in the improvement process, much like the scientific method.

On the first day production workers at this plant operated by Miami Lakes, Fla.-based Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Cordis Corp. observe an actual process to identify waste. Once the work teams identify an inefficiency, they spend the next day defining the desired outcome. This frequently involves videotape analysis and precise time analysis. Using chart analyses and diagrams, the work teams identify the root causes and propose solutions. By the fourth day the work groups are ready to plan and test their proposed solutions, which can include fixtures, poka-yoke or pull-system devices and changes in flow, processing steps, and work instructions for processing. On the final day the top ideas are implemented with new work plans and procedures and training.

One event that stands out in Fernando Diaz's mind is a project that reduced the set-up time on the catheter sheath introducer (CSI) line. Changeover time in the CSI molding area was 26 minutes, which was too long, according to Diaz, CSI and guiding catheter operations director. A kaizen event resulted in the creation of a supermarket for different mold frame sizes. The payoff: a 12% jump in productivity and an 11-minute reduction in set-up time, Diaz says.

For each kaizen workshop, management awards and recognizes individuals who demonstrate exceptional efforts during kaizen workshop week. "We try to foster that type of involvement from employees . . . so we have more [suggestions]," Diaz says.

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