In 1986 Henry Metcalf was charged with creating a new operation, the Intelligent Automation (I/A) series of process control systems, for The Foxboro Company. The I/A series was a complete departure from the company's electromechanical industrial-automation-control products. The new line was taking Foxboro into the world of electronics.
"We started with four walls, a floor, and a ceiling," recalls Metcalf, now plant manager of the I/A facility.
"For three years we worked around the clock to put this together. We traveled all over the country looking at the ways other companies did business."
The first realization was that the plant would be operating on a high-mix, low-volume production schedule. Control of production at the I/A plant now comes down to one item: a customer order. Without that, says Metcalf, nothing gets made. "That can be very difficult for people who were used to making for stock in the past. But there is no warehouse as such. The entire plant is run on JIT."
There is no paper, either. Everything operates across an electronic networked information system at this 1992 Best Plants award winner.
All Foxboro employees participate in continuous-improvement programs. But autonomy does not rule. "The management style is goal-oriented, hands-on, and anticipatory in its approach. Self-directed work teams are a figment of people's imaginations," Metcalf says. "Everyone should be involved."
There are teams, however, which come together to focus on continuous-improvement tasks or other aspects of the plant's life. One example: a proposal, since adopted, that the company ship its products in environmentally sensitive unbleached cartons.