IW Best Plants Profile - 1999

Not Beginner's Luck How Six Sigma made Foxboro a two-time Best-Plants winner. By Michael A. Verespej No wasted space. No wasted motion. Inventories at the production line that seem to blend into the workspace. Streamlined processes that are linked through an extensive in-plant computer network that's user friendly and accessible to all. A quiet determination on the part of employees to make what looks simple today even simpler tomorrow. That's what you see when you walk through the Systems Manufacturing plant in Foxboro, Mass., a facility that tests all the components and then assembles -- per each customer's custom order -- each Foxboro Co. Intelligent Automation process-control system for shipment. Also apparent is that everything runs smoothly because of the diligence of the 175 people at Foxboro's Systems Manufacturing plant in applying Six Sigma principles to nearly every aspect of the business. That's why the 13-year-old plant has the distinction of being the first repeat winner in the IndustryWeek Best Plants competition (its first award was in 1992). "Simplicity is the guideline for everything we do," says general manager Dan Carrie. "We use Six Sigma, kaizen, and lean manufacturing to drive the company to that focus. If it is not needed, if it is not customer-driven, we don't do it." Indeed, since Foxboro first achieved IW Best Plants status, orders per month have more than doubled, the number of shippable products has more than quadrupled, and there are twice as many purchased parts. Yet Foxboro -- which builds only to order -- assembles that increased volume of high-mix, low-volume products with 33% fewer workers and in 20% less square feet than it had in 1992. Overhead now represents just 16% of Foxboro's costs compared with 27% in 1992. Labor costs are 2% -- down from 3% in 1992, and materials represent 82% of costs, up from 70% in 1992. What has reduced overhead costs? First, 95% of the parts Foxboro needs are shipped-to-stock, much of it on consignment from suppliers and often delivered in one day to the point-of-use within the plant. Second, a new order-entry system fully implemented in February integrates orders into the factory and has reduced order leadtime from three months to 24 hours. Third, with the completion in March of a three-year upgrading of the in-plant computer network, anyone can easily access the information needed to build to order. "Every PC can log into the schedules and see the day-to-day demand for each day of the week," says Raj Patel, who does programming and material planning. The data can be sorted by customer, a specific order, part numbers, and other criteria and will reveal, at a glance, the leadtime needed for each step of the process to get an order shipped on time. Foxboro can electronically transmit data to its suppliers and readily view suppliers' on-time performance. Suppliers can do their own expediting and enter their own orders. In addition, suppliers receive 26-week rolling forecasts that are updated weekly and sometimes daily, if necessary. Those computer improvements and supplier partnerships have increased efficiency and reduced costs. There also have been numerous improvements at Foxboro -- now part of the Invensys Intelligent Automation Div. of Invensys PLC (a British company created by the merger this spring of Siebe and BTR) -- because of Six Sigma projects.

  • In-circuit-test false failures have declined by 95%, providing an annual savings in excess of $800,000.
  • Rolled throughput yield on its control processor module is up from 26% to 95%.
  • The current first-pass yield on its processor modules is 95.4% compared with 60% five years ago. For printed wiring assemblies, it is 96% compared with 80% five years ago.
  • A recent redesign of field-bus-module connectors will save a projected $110,000 a year.
"Before, our quality-improvement program was a seven-step structured program where you needed formal approval to go from step one to step two," says Carrie. "Now employees have the right to move ahead by themselves." "We knew we needed to go to the next evolution of quality," adds Gary Marves, Foxboro's Six Sigma program manager. "Our focus now is to get things right the first time so we don't play the fix-it game." Six Sigma is used to identify, measure, analyze, and improve each aspect of a process. "When you focus on improving the root causes [of a problem], the outputs will take care of themselves," says Marves. "It is a business initiative designed to improve all aspects of business," including customer service, hardware and software design, project engineering, and transactional processes. "You can't reach Six Sigma by just focusing on manufacturing." Indeed, the Systems Manufacturing plant has more than 140 teams that work to improve processes. More than 70 of its 175 employees have been trained as "green belts" -- people who spent 20% of their time on project improvements -- and that number is expected to reach 100 by the end of the fiscal year. Another seven employees are "black belts" who spent 100% of their time on project improvements, with two of them being "master black belts" who work on special projects. (Each black belt receives five weeks' training in Six Sigma methodologies compared with 40 hours of classroom training for green belts.) How do team members make improvements through Six Sigma projects? One example: Because the component-placement time for a newly designed field-bus module was three times longer than the existing work cell's capability, a team led by supplier-quality engineer and black belt Linda Greene studied how that dilemma could be resolved. When her team mapped out the process, it discovered that 20% of the production hours on that work cell were lost simply because of time spent waiting for a stencil printer to perform its test. By experimenting with faster printer times, the team was able to run the line 57% faster without compromising quality. Similarly, management asked electronics assembler Joanne Caballero and mechanical engineer Robert Deslauriers if they could improve the soldering consistency on a part in their area. The two designed -- and had built -- an automated soldering machine that eliminated the use of hand soldering. "The defects went from through-the-roof to almost none," says Caballero. "We went from 3.2 Sigma to 5.9 Sigma in less than a year," because the change eliminated hand soldering -- which had caused all the variables in the process. "When you see the end result, it gives you a great feeling," she says. In another area, wave soldering has replaced hand soldering, and a three-ton toggle press now joins three pieces in less than one minute. Previously, those three pieces were bonded, which required a 24-hour waiting period before the next step could be taken. "Workers now tell us when they have an easier way to accomplish a task and how we can reduce cycle time without compromising quality," says production operations manager David Katz. "The fewer times you touch a component, the quicker you can do things." Foxboro's Systems Manufacturing employees also have developed ways to error-proof processes "so that it is almost impossible to make a mistake when they are performing a repetitive task," says Katz. For example, they added a sensor on the front of a printed wiring assembly that won't let a machine dispense a screw for tightening the frame around it unless the proper piece is in place for that assembly. "Every new process brought into manufacturing is now error-proofed at the start," he says. What's more, if the same problem occurs twice, "any employee can shut down any process to determine the cause," says Carrie. "Statistical process control is too slow for us." Foxboro's most notable Six Sigma project may be the 50/50/6 project in 1999. The team's assignment: develop a new input/output configuration for customers that will take up 50% less space, be 50% less expensive to manufacture, and hit Six Sigma quality. Within six months, the team met its goals through a variety of changes. The housing for the module is snapped into place (no more screws), connectors are put into fixtures and vacuumed into place (not hand-pressed), and one small double-board replaces two much larger single boards. Two other benefits: a one-day manufacturing cycle and the ability to manufacture modules in a single-piece flow for a single sales order. Yet the team's work is far from done, asserts next-generation production manager and master black-belt Irene Lizotte. With the line now in full production, the team held a kaizen event in August -- one of 11 at the company in the first eight months of this year -- to reassess the flow of goods in its process. "We constantly look at how to do things in less space," says Lizotte. "We look at cycle times. We look at how people are doing things. And we look at how we are scheduling work." Two other examples of continuous improvement:
  • Foxboro has undertaken a $360,000 project, says Carrie, to make it unnecessary to use the in-line, closed-loop, semiaqueous cleaning system for printed circuit boards that was added five and a half years ago to reduce water discharges to zero and eliminate the use of freon.
  • Foxboro also is working to improve its new factory-management system so that there will be automatic information upgrades when bar codes of parts and products are fed into the system.
Continuous improvement is a recurring theme at Foxboro's Systems Manufacturing plant. It's why there is point-of-use inventory at all workstations and many production lines have no setup time. Operators download the parameters of a customer's order from a PC, and the machine runs it automatically because it "knows" what should be placed where and when. "Anything we do today in 10 minutes, we look to do in five minutes tomorrow," asserts Carrie. That type of attitude has boosted annual sales per employee by 50% in the last five years to $978,000. "Six Sigma is central to what we do and how we do it," adds Harris D. Kagan, director of development for Invensys. "It permeates our life and how we operate." Link: Foxboro Co. At A Glance
  • First-place winner of the Invensys lean-manufacturing award this year
  • Factory is paperless
  • Customer-service level greater than 99% the last six years
  • A 40% reduction in plant space in the last five years, while doubling plant output
  • A 75% reduction in the last five years in the amount of scrap/rework -- as a percentage of sales -- to 0.24%
  • Reduction in rejection rate the last five years -- 76%
  • Reduction in the in-plant defect rate the last five years -- 61%
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