At Ford Electronics & Refrigeration Corporation's North Penn Electronics Facility (NPEF), a 1993 Best Plants award winner, almost every advancement from automated troubleshooting and repair on the floor to a cutting-edge video-conferencing system tied to other division plants worldwide shaves more and more time off the production process.
"We're trying to instill a mind-set on time," says Diane Darrow, supervisor of the agile manufacturing group. In June 1993, NPEF inaugurated the use of the Flexibility Enabling Manufacturing System, a state-of-the-art computer-integrated system that allows operators, using real-time data, to detect and correct quality and throughput problems.
NPEF, which consumes six million parts each day, also demands the best from its 132 suppliers. Its Total Supplier Improvement Group, initiated in 1992, scrutinizes the operation of the supply base. Within a year, the group's effort paid off with a 66 percent reduction in supplier in-house defects, and quality rejects of delivered parts were cut by 25 percent.
Customer service is another top priority. A "liaison engineer" is assigned to each major customer, resolving problems and generally acting as that customer's champion. Plant manager Dudley Wass explains: "Liaison engineers provide the customer with fresh eyes to observe their processes and our product applications, as well as make recommendations on material-handling practices, scrap reduction, installation procedures, and throughput improvement."
In the area of waste, NPEF's returnable-packaging programs have already eliminated one million pounds of cardboard, pallets, and plastics per year. And it now uses a "no-clean" (inert gas) process that eliminates the need for all Freon cleaning agents.