In August, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) opened its Aircraft Commercial Center of Excellence facility in Clearfield, Utah. The 615,000-square-foot building, dedicated to high-rate composite manufacturing, serves as the headquarters for ATK's commercial aircraft programs. ATK President and CEO Mark DeYoung has described the center as a "key component" in the company's strategy to capitalize on growing demand for more-efficient commercial aircraft.
One month later, Otis Elevator announced that it would open a new manufacturing center of excellence in Florence, S.C., in a move that will consolidate much of its North American new equipment operations and become Otis' center of excellence for the United States and Canada. The new facility will bring together manufacturing, engineering, a contract logistics center and field-support operations that are currently in four different cities. Co-locating these functions will bring down lead times, improving speed to market and the customer experience, according to Otis Elevator.
As global competition continues to heat up, U.S. manufacturers continue to implement new operational initiatives aimed at increasing productivity, driving down costs and improving quality. In this concluding article in IndustryWeek's four-part series on the competitiveness challenge facing the United States and its manufacturing community, we examine the role "centers of excellence" are playing to improve competitiveness at home and around the globe.
What is a Center of Excellence?
There is not a commonly held definition of what constitutes a center of excellence among manufacturers -- or in many industries, for that matter. On the other hand, common elements typically include a formalized structure; people and/or assets with expertise and a focus around a specific process or product; a shared business goal; and a focus on developing and sharing best practices. And among manufacturers interviewed by IW, there is another common refrain: The centers deliver value.
|Alcoa's center of excellence for its global primary metals business helps 20 facilities, like Alcoa's Mount Holly facility, improve their competitiveness by providing a wealth of support, including subject-matter expertise.|
Aluminum producer Alcoa Inc. has some 12 centers of excellence, including its first at Alcoa's Davenport Works in Iowa that serves its Global Rolled Products business. Farther north, in Quebec, Canada, is the Pittsburgh-based manufacturer's center of excellence for its global primary metals business. Located at the Deschambault aluminum smelter, the 4-year-old center is the hub of expertise for 20 facilities around the globe. From here, the company tests and pilots new technologies. The center also serves as the central repository for sharing best practices and training, provides subject-matter expertise to support its facilities, develops measurements for each location and provides governance.
Governance, explains Roberto Andrade, president of technology innovation and center of excellence for the primary metals business unit, means allocating limited resources across the possible opportunities that exist in the business. "We help to prioritize which of the projects would add value and create a better financial impact," he says.
Developing and deploying new technologies and driving out costs are essential to Alcoa's manufacturing competitiveness, Andrade says. "We compete in a market that is highly competitive and in which the price of aluminum fluctuates according to the volatility of the economy. So it is important that Alcoa stays ahead of the game by developing ways to identify and remove waste relentlessly," Andrade says. "In addition, our operations must be flexible to proactively respond to swings [in demand]."