Batesville Casket Co.-Vicksburg Operations: IW Best Plants Profile 2010

Batesville Casket Co.-Vicksburg Operations: IW Best Plants Profile 2010

Quality In, Waste Out: Process control and advanced technology help Batesville Caskets Vicksburg operations deliver consistent quality and improved yields.

Batesville Casket Co.-Vicksburg Operations, Vicksburg, Miss.

Employees: 177, union

Total Square Footage: 197,816

Primary Product/Market: wood component parts for caskets

Start-Up Date: 1975

Achievements: 55% reduction in cost of quality since 2006; 76% reduction in OSHA-recordable injury and illness cases in past three years; 2007 IndustryWeek Best Plants winner.



Working with lumber is a challenging business. By its very nature, every board is unique and thus it immediately tests any manufacturer's efforts to reduce variability. Additionally, a characteristic of the unfinished wood is that it always is trying to adjust to its environment.

Batesville Casket associate Joe Harris feeds the optimization scanner, which determines the optimal yield for every board it processes.

"It's completely adaptive, and that's a bad thing," says Danny Hudson, quality assurance manager at Batesville Casket Co.-Vicksburg (Miss.) Operations. In short, slight environmental influences, such as fluctuations in humidity, can change the material even after processing, often in transit, complicating efforts to maintain quality.

Nevertheless, Batesville's Vicksburg facility does it -- maintain quality, that is. Its success at doing so is imperative, for this plant annually processes more than 18 million board feet of lumber to deliver wood component parts to assembly operations at sister plants in Mexico and the United States.

The facility's attention to quality begins outside, in the lumber yard, where qualified vendors deliver "green" lumber, which is product that has not yet been dried. There, Vicksburg lumber inspectors evaluate each board to assure it meets standards set by the National Hardwood Lumber Association. Lumber that passes inspection moves into Vicksburg's state-of-the-art drying facility.

Alesia Mathes, drying systems group leader, describes the processes that occur before the milling operations as the "front line defense" for the plant. Additional defenses against quality defects include layered process audits, which were introduced early in 2010.

IW's 2010 Best Plants

See the other winners of IW's 2010 Best Plants award and find out how they made the top ten.

Batesville conducts layered process audits along the plant's entire production process, from the lumber yard through to the shipping dock. The audits perform two functions: to assure that process parameters are being maintained as well as to answer the question, "How do we make this process better?" Approximately 195 audits are conducted per month.

"If you control the elements of the process, you control the output," Hudson says.

Batesville's Vicksburg plant remains as engaged in improving its operations as it was in 2007, when the facility first won an IndustryWeek Best Plants award. And greater use of data is helping it to better prioritize projects, says plant manager Russell Johnson.

Vicksburg has worked to "optimize" the yield of each board passing through its plant. (Optimizing the yield refers to achieving the maximum usable product from each board.) In 2007 the plant added scanning technology in several locations as well as new optimizing saws that use information from scanners to make cuts that provide the best yield from each board. It takes the technology just seven seconds to determine how to achieve the best yield for a board.

The introduction of new equipment was simply the beginning of the optimization effort. "We're still on the vertical part of [the learning curve]" with the new technology, says engineering manager Keith Pittman.

In addition, the plant is comprehensively challenging the strategy used to process lumber for best yields. For example, the plant recently launched a project to reduce its re-rip inventory (a byproduct of wood cutting), which both freed up floor space and reduced material handling.

Let's Get Visual

Batesville Casket drives alignment and communication within the lumber facility via the use of 'glass walls.'

Visual displays are a key means by which Batesville Casket's Vicksburg Operations keeps its entire workforce aware of and focused on aligning improvement programs with the organization's goals and objectives. Batesville's describes its "Glass Walls" approach as one that allows everybody to "see" into the business.

"It is used to guide the dialogue and analysis reinforcing Plan-Do-Check-Act leadership," explains the manufacturing facility in its IW Best Plants application.

The Glass Wall methodology used by Batesville incorporates three "walls," -- none of which is actually made of glass. The first is the manufacturing site glass wall, which is very large and therefore very visible to everyone. It is located on the plant floor and contains information on the current state; the future state; the lean transformation plan; goals in the areas of safety, quality, delivery, cost and inventory; and other data. The site wall is used by the plant leadership during monthly and year-to-date reviews.

The second of the three walls are the natural work group glass walls. (They are more like four-sided kiosks.) These kiosks are located near the work cells, and each side addresses one of four topics: productivity, safety, quality and continuous improvement. Batesville describes these kiosks as "report cards" for each area, showing how they are performing to goal and also providing a framework for continuous improvement efforts.

The third glass wall provides a home for larger, systemic improvement projects and their associated details, including measures, countermeasures and progress updates.

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