IW Best Plants Profile - 1990

The numbers tell the story at Dana Corporation's Minneapolis valve plant, and what a story it is. Between 1987 and 1990, the plant reduced manufacturing throughout time by 92 percent and increased productivity 32 percent. The 1990 Best Plants award-winning facility also trimmed customer lead time from six months to six weeks. The bottom line: a 470 percent improvement in return on investment and a return on sales of 320 percent.

Oddly enough, those improvements were accomplished with relatively little investment in new technologies. "A lot of what we have done has been low-tech," says Hank Rogers, former total quality manager for the plant.

An assortment of tactics contributed to the impressive gains, but two strategies were paramount: a streamlined just-in-time system built around manufacturing cells and a heavy reliance on a team structure. It took about a year for the team training to have a real bottom-line impact, recalls Rogers. "Things start to roll after you get about 50 to 60 percent of your people trained."

But the training did pay at least one early dividend. The first group that took a look at the engineers' proposed design for its work cell came up with a counterproposal that reduced the allocated space by 40 percent. After that, each group was allowed to design its own cell.

The combination of quick changeover methods and manufacturing cells produced the reduction in manufacturing cycle time and radically shorter customer lead times. "If you put in cells, cut your work in process, and cut setup times, the reduction in throughput time is pretty automatic," Rogers says.

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