Rockwell Strives For Lean Enterprise

Kaizen-like workshops used to improve processes at Milwaukee-based company.

Like Honeywell International Inc., which implemented Six Sigma Plus to become a highly efficient enterprise, Rockwell International Corp. last year launched its own program to achieve excellence in asset management, time to market, quality, business growth, and performance. Called the Rockwell Lean Enterprise, it will focus on customer value and strive to optimize effectiveness and efficiency throughout the company. Don Davis, chairman and CEO of the Milwaukee-based firm, announced last December that Rockwell would expand Lean Electronics, a program in place at its Rockwell Collins avionics business. Lean Electronics, launched in 1998, uses Radical Process Improvement (RPI) Workshops (a k a kaizen workshops). First implemented at Rockwell Collins' Decorah, Iowa, facility, the workshops have led to significant improvements. The Decorah plant, which makes communications and navigation equipment, transitioned from a process-focused production philosophy to a final-product-oriented flow, integrating all of the necessary processes in-line with the product flow. Numerous processes that previously had been performed off-site were brought into the plant to significantly reduce product travel and leadtime. "We have [reconfigured] the plant a number of times to get to a continuous-flow process," says Dan Chadwick, vice president of Lean Electronics for Rockwell International. Improvements at the Decorah plant include a 15% increase in productivity, 32% reduction in defects, 50% reduction in work in process, 21% reduction in floor space required, and leadtime reduction of 50%. "We chose the Decorah facility as a model, a spearhead, a showcase, and training facility," says Chadwick. "We have seen similar statistical improvements throughout Rockwell Collins." Chadwick says every employee at the plant participates in the improvement workshops. Supplier representatives also participate. "The spirit within that plant is high," he says. "They do seem to be excited about what they have accomplished. This is not something we are doing to them. This is something they are doing with us." Process improvements at the Decorah facility have freed up the time of more than 50 operators, allowing the company to move additional work into the plant. "Lean Electronics is a lever to build our business, not reduce our workforce," says Chadwick. Company-wide goals for the next four to six years include: 50% reduction in cycle time, 25% reduction in floor space, 50% reduction in inventory, 30% reduction in costs, and 30% reduction in defects. Already, approximately 400 RPI workshops are scheduled for 2000.

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