Snap-on Power Tools, Murphy, N.C.
Employees: 223, nonunion
Total Square Footage: 168,000
Primary Product/Market: Professional and industrial power tools
Start-Up Date: 2002
Achievements: Reduced order-to-delivery lead time by 55% over past three years; 96% first-pass yield for all finished products; OSHA SHARP site; winner of silver-level North Carolina Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence in 2007
Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains, the small town of Murphy, N.C., seems right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. But with the exodus of textile mills and other manufacturing plants in recent decades, Murphy's economy hasn't been a picture of small-town utopia.
|A material handler enters newly built parts into a database, which will create a bar-coded inventory ticket for the parts.|
That's why Snap-on Power Tools, which occupies a former Levi Strauss plant that shut down in the late 1990s, has a clear vision for its Murphy operations: to "create an enduring manufacturing footprint" in the sleepy town of 1,600 people.
"This area has seen a lot of jobs come and go," explains Todd Rowe, RCI manager for the plant. "So we wanted this facility to be here many years into the future."
With that goal in mind, Snap-on's vision statement describes the plant as a "world-class manufacturing facility specializing in producing a broad range of power tools in relatively low individual volumes."
"We want to be really good at what Asia doesn't want to do," Rowe explains.
The Murphy facility subscribes to lean principles with an almost religious zeal. Since 2003, lean -- or "rapid continuous improvement" (RCI) in Snap-on's corporate lexicon -- has been the plant's core operational strategy. The plant formed an RCI department in 2004; its nine employees facilitate the plant's lean activities.
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Walking the factory floor is a study in lean concepts in action. For example, a redesign of the plant layout vastly improved the flow in the machining area, where dedicated cells organized by component families have replaced a convoluted configuration of process departments. A supermarket with kanban replenishment tags, located between the machining and assembly areas, has replaced the MRP approach to scheduling the production of machined parts.
Visual cues abound at the plant. To ensure that the factory stays clean, older equipment in the machining area is painted white to make dirt conspicuous, while machine guards are painted yellow. Fluids for the machines are stored in color-coded containers.
The plant's andon systems provide cell-by-cell updates of stock-outs, equipment problems and other issues, ensuring that workers don't have to leave their cells to get supplies or flag down maintenance personnel.
The facility's overall lean strategy has three components: benchmarking and training (the plant credits the help of Shingijutsu USA for some of its biggest breakthroughs); linking processes (through material presentation, kanban signals and other lean principles); and optimizing processes (through one-piece flow, setup reduction, total productive maintenance, standardized work and other continuous-improvement concepts).
A good indicator that the plant is on track with its goal of long-term viability: In 2009, the Snap-on Power Tools division shuttered a 68,000-square foot plant in Natick, Mass., and moved its five assembly lines and 38 machine tools to Murphy. Even with these operations, plant manager Brian Spikes estimates that the Murphy plant has freed up 12,000 square feet of space for future assignments -- and the plant makes it plain as day by leaving that space open.
"When people from corporate visit, their first question to us is: 'What goes here?'" Spikes says. "We tell them, 'Whatever you want to put here.' We keep reducing our footprint to prove we're a good plant and a profitable plant for them."