Foot to the floor Innovations help brake-pad maker zoom ahead.
ITT Industries Galfer S.r.l., Barge, Italy
At a glance
- 98.9% current first-pass yield.
- Manufacturing cycle time of one hour against an industry average of 10 days.
- Leadtime reduced by 99% in last five years.
To the west of the village of Barge, mountains rise suddenly and dramatically, cutting off the sleepy town from the sea. To the east, the land is remarkably flat nearly all the way to Turin, the plain interrupted only by the Rocca di Cavour, an unexpected hill that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Just as unexpected as that hill is the existence of ITT Industries Galfer S.r.l. among the other companies that make up parent company ITT Industries Inc. Where once the latter was dominated by auto suppliers, its Barge-based Italian subsidiary is just about the lone component of the group still making parts for the automotive sector. And like that hill, ITT Industries Galfer is not likely to be going anywhere soon. The Italian manufacturer of brake pads and backing plates is a key component of ITT's specialty products group, which makes up 16% of the parent's US$4.6 billion in annual sales. Significantly, the division of which Galfer is a part offers the highest margins in the ITT family. The company supplies disc brake pads for European automakers and the lucrative aftermarket, with customers ranging from the Turin-based mass-market manufacturer Fiat SpA to specialty producer Porsche AG of Stuttgart, Germany. The backing plates for the brakes come from a Galfer subsidiary in southern Italy. "Every day," says ITT Galfer president Riccardo Trossi with no small measure of pride, "65,000 cars install our pads." That translates to 55.6 million pads manufactured at the Barge plant each year. Trossi prowls the shop floor with a restless intensity, rarely pausing as he leads an exhausting tour of the 184,000-sq-ft facility. Even though he doesn't seem to be in any great rush, Trossi moves swiftly amid the clanging, hissing, and smoking machinery, the remarkably focused workers, the raw materials coming in, and the completed disc brake pads going out. "I spend most of my time in the plant," says Trossi, "because that's where you produce money. Not in my office, in the plant." And this company has been producing plenty of money. Its plant-level profitability has soared by nearly 80% over the last five years. In the same period, sales have increased by more than 70%. "I think in our field we are the best company in the world," Trossi crows. "Our competitors look at us as the benchmark." The main factor behind the success has been an understanding that technology is the future for brake pads. Gone are the days when manufacturing pads merely meant attaching a hunk of asbestos -- the ideal material because it provided both friction and insulation at a low price -- to a backing plate. Now, in the post-asbestos era, space-age compounds are formulated, going through extensive testing to ensure that they offer sufficient friction to slow and stop a vehicle and enough heat insulation to prevent failure of other brake components, all without producing too much noise. ITT's workforce in Barge, a small village 45 minutes southwest of Turin in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, includes 72 people whose sole function is research and development, out of a total of 479 employees. R&D spending has gone from roughly $400,000 per year in 1985 to just short of $6 million this year. As Trossi explains it, the process of manufacturing the pads 10 years ago was 80% formulation and 20% technology; those figures are inverted now. In one part of the research area, a technician peers through a scanning electron microscope to assess the molecular makeup of a new friction compound as Trossi explains an innovation that is neatly symbolic of the way technology has made the ITT plant a powerhouse. The R&D department came up with a new resin for attaching the friction material to the backing plate, meaning that the 12-hour curing time was slashed to four minutes and 30 seconds. But even that doesn't satisfy Trossi. "I'm aiming for 2:30," he says, and the confident jut of his chin makes you believe that he means it. All the same, eliminating the bottleneck that was the 12-hour curing process meant that the factory no longer needed to make products in batches large enough to fill the huge ovens where the curing took place. Getting rid of the ovens also made room for a second automated production line in 1999, with a third coming online by the end of this year. The company's organizational chart shows that it has been designed to produce the maximum possible synergies. The production and sales departments work side by side. The R&D effort is undertaken in close proximity to the shop floor. The people are set up on six lines, one five-person team per line. While the innovation in curing was taking place, the company's management also was transforming the assembly-lines structure from a batch system to a continuous-flow configuration. Currently the brake pads are being fitted onto vehicles all over Europe, from Audis and Alfa Romeos to Rolls Royces and Porsches. ITT also supplies pads for Fiat's Brazilian operations, and there is now a U.S.-based salesperson charged with the responsibility of getting the pads into the North American market. In one corner of the Barge complex, engineers are developing and testing prototypes that will allow ITT to branch out into pads for trains and heavy trucks. ITT executives expect a big boom in the truck segment because trucks are switching from drum to disc brake systems. Trossi says a major shift in the 50-year-old company's operations since its acquisition by ITT in 1977 has been greater involvement of the personnel. "When we came here," he says, "it was very hard to convince people to cooperate." Every three months Trossi addresses each shift for an hour in the staff canteen to let everyone know how the company is doing and where it is heading. Additionally, an incentive system has been developed to bring the workers more fully into the operations of the company. A prime example of that incentive system's effectiveness, says Trossi, came with the effort to reduce the scrap rate from 5% starting in 1995. "I told the people, 'OK, we must improve this,'" Trossi recalls. The plant's management set a monthly target for reducing the number of backing plates that were scrapped during the manufacturing process. The first Target -- reducing the number of plates lost from five to four per 100 -- brought financial bonuses to the workers, who were kept apprised of their progress through monthly reports. That rate is now down to 0.8%, so "doing even better is not so easy anymore, but we still try," says Trossi. What's more, all workers are given the chance to take courses in computers, languages, and other subjects at a nearby campus, says Trossi. "In the end, it's a good investment, I think. Invest in the people," he says. The future, Trossi believes, will involve "going where the market wants us to go." Just as the automotive industry has boosted customer satisfaction by introducing low-maintenance items such as long-life spark plugs, the disc-brake sector is moving toward a similar approach, and ITT is working with the University of Turin to develop synthetic friction materials that could make brake pads last as long as a car. All the talk about technology is enough to make the average head spin too fast for even the highest-tech brake pad to stop it, but one decidedly low-tech practice remains. Before the brake pads are packed into boxes for shipment, workers whack them against metal plates to make sure they're good. How can they tell? "They have to sound right," says Trossi. "We tried other things, but this is still the best." He laughs. "Hey, we do what works."
Web Exclusive Best Practices ITT Industries Galfer S.r.l., maker of automotive brake pads. By
Benchmarking contact: Riccardo Trossi, president,
, +39 0175 347 228.
A revolutionary new curing technique developed by ITT Industries Galfer S.r.l. and the University of Turin helped eliminate the major bottleneck in the manufacturing process by cutting curing time down from 12 hours to four minutes and 30 seconds. Getting rid of that bottleneck allowed the company to change from a batch process to in-line process, with tremendous benefits accruing from the transformation: a 20% cut in direct manpower costs, a savings in energy costs, and a reduction of leadtime from 10 days to just a few hours. The innovation earned ITT Galfer a best-practice citation from the parent company, ITT Industries Inc.
ITT Galfer was one of the first brake-pad manufacturers to eliminate the use of asbestos in its products, moving instead to a compound of 15 to 20 raw materials, including metallic powders, fillers, organic materials, fibers, and resins. The company aims to remain a leader in the use of green materials in its pads without waiting for regulations that would outlaw specific materials like lead or antimony. Keeping an eye on where its main customers -- automakers and auto parts suppliers -- are headed, the ITT Galfer's R&D department is working to develop brake pads that will last as long as a car.
Another bottleneck in the production process was the capacity of the dies that stamp the pads. Trossi says ITT Galfer asked its stamping-equipment supplier to come up with a plan to increase that capacity, with the result that each stamping machine now can produce two pads in the time it used to take to make one.