Baldor Electric Co./Weaverville Plant: IW Best Plants Profile 2008

Baldor Electric Co./Weaverville Plant: IW Best Plants Profile 2008

Spreading Its Winning Ways: Baldor's Weaverville, N.C., plant is pushing lean/Six Sigma to its suppliers.

Baldor Electric Co. -- Weaverville Plant , Weaverville, N.C.

Employees: 130, non-union

Total Square Footage: 160,000

Primary Product/market: mechanical power transmission components

Start-up: 1979

Achievements: ISO 9001:2000 certification; predictive maintenance program increased machine uptime to 97.8% while reducing maintenance repair cost by 35% over six years; recipient of the Baldor President's Award for outstanding safety achievement in 2007 and 2008; fifth consecutive annual award in 2007 for Outstanding Work In Accident Prevention from the North Carolina Department of Labor


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The journey to lean/Six Sigma excellence at Baldor's Weaverville, N.C., facility is spreading beyond its walls. The plant, which manufactures power transmission components, is targeting key suppliers to help them implement lean/Six Sigma, says plant manager Chris Hoyle. "These actions will yield reduced investments in inventory and shorten lead times for both parties," he notes. "We continue to stay focused on reducing cost, including set-up reduction and improving flow inside our four walls."

The plant, in its resort-like setting in the hills of North Carolina, became part of Baldor when the Dodge-Reliance brands were sold by Rockwell Automation to Baldor in 2007.

The facility was originally built in 1979 as a high-volume batch process. Since then, customer satisfaction has fueled two expansions, raising the number of employees from 30 to 130, says Hoyle.

The employees are non-union with a culture that promotes ongoing improvement through employee involvement, says Brian Lockwood, continuous improvement manager.

At start-up the plant produced only high-volume sheaves. In 1984 bushings were added to the product mix and in 1990 synchronous products were introduced. During that time, a make-to-order strategy has evolved. That addition modifies and augments the original production strategy that was geared toward process efficiency rather than customer demand and inventory management, explains Hoyle. "Now with a culture of continuous improvement focused on customer satisfaction, we are meeting market demands for a more diversified product line," he says.

The facility makes power transmission components that are used to transfer power from a motor or drive unit to an output device in industrial applications. That is accomplished using V-belts or synchronous belts on pulley products made at the facility. Hoyle says the coupling products are used to connect input and output shafts for in-line applications.

Machine operator Mike Carver loads a steel forging onto a CNC lathe.
Products made at the plant are produced from cast iron, ductile iron, steel, or sintered steel. The facility consists of 160,000 square feet and 35 distinct work cells, producing 10,000 finished products. The two primary manufacturing processes are cast iron turning/drilling and powdered metal press/sintering.

Hoyle says the facility depends on employee-generated ideas to drive continuous improvements. One example resulted in completing the assembly and packaging steps at the machining cells. "By completing the connection from raw material to the packaging of the finished product, we have eliminated all of the non-value-added time associated with material handling between operations and work-in-process."

While connecting processes, the plant has also incorporated load/unload automation in the manufacturing cells. A typical machining cell at the facility includes two CNC turning centers and a vertical machining center. The load/unload automation helps to counter operator fatigue. Hoyle explains that the automation eliminates excessive operator travel during each cycle and provides time for machine operators to perform secondary operations. That work combination varies from gear hobbing, broaching and sawing to packaging product.

The set-up time involved in these robotic cells has also been a major focus during the past three years, adds Lockwood. The time required for the robot setup has been reduced from 45 minutes to an average of five minutes in three cells. Hoyle says the faster changeover has also helped to reduce lot sizes by 51%.

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A Winning Manufacturing Strategy

With 6,000 SKUs, a Baldor plant wins by balancing manufacturing leadtime against inventory.

"Our corporate strategy regarding customer service can be briefly stated as having the products available on the shelf when the customer needs them while committing the least amount of assets to inventory," says Brian Lockwood, continuous improvement manager at Baldor Electric's Weaverville, N.C., plant. "With nearly 6,000 SKUs that task is an ongoing challenge."

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He continues, "The manufacturing challenge to support these goals has been to reduce the manufacturing lead time in order to keep a minimum amount of pieces in stock and react quickly to replenish inventory."

How was it done? "First, we reduced changeover time to allow us to run smaller lot sizes and then optimized work combinations to internalize secondary operations. Changeover times were reduced by implementing a three-part approach -- quick-change tooling, standard work methods and extensive 5s activities. The 5s activities include such things as organizing, labeling, cleaning and having all items required for production located at the point of use."

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IndustryWeek is pleased to announce that representatives of the 2008 winners will be presenting their stories at the annual IW Best Plants conference, scheduled for April 27-29, 2009, in Nashville. Look for continuing informational updates on the IW Best Plants conference Web site.
He says work combination methods typically incorporate a secondary operation such as flanging, hobbing, broaching, sawing or packing into the machining operation to eliminate the WIP between processes and thus reduce the time required to complete an order.

"In some cases," adds Lockwood, "automation is incorporated to reduce operator workload in order to enable the secondary operations to be internalized. If material is available the manufacturing lead time in these work cells is essentially one day so if a SKU goes out of stock today, we can typically have it replenished tomorrow."

Don't Miss Make-To-Order

Serving customer needs means evaluating whether high volume/batch operations also need support from a make-to-order strategy.

The commitment to high volume, batch operations seemed to be the only way -- until customer feedback told a North Carolina Baldor plant otherwise.

"In 1998 customer feedback indicated there was unfulfilled demand in the market for low quantity [typically one piece] made-to-order V-groove and synchronous sheaves," says Brian Lockwood, continuous improvement manager. "These were typically sheaves that were similar to stock offerings, but required some unique physical characteristics that made them different from any stock offerings. The barrier to success was lead time for these products."

The challenge evolved into a four-part strategy:

  • Providing a price quote to the customer
  • Developing an engineering drawing of the part
  • Obtaining the material
  • Manufacturing the part

"To overcome the obstacles, the plant worked with marketing and design engineering teams at headquarters to enter the key variables and produce an accurate price quote and provide engineering drawings for the custom parts," according to Lockwood.

On the manufacturing side the plant decided to dedicate a work cell to the made-to-order product. In addition the decision was made to stock iron in various diameters that could be cut and machined as soon as an order was received.

Plant manager Chris Hoyle says the program now quotes a lead time of 10 days with an average lead time of 6.37 days and has accomplished a one day lead time on some expedited orders.

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