Winning With Empowerment Employee involvement contributes to rapid productivity gains at surgical-tool maker.
Stryker Instruments, Kalamazoo, Mich.
At a glance
- Certifications include quality standards ISO 9001 and ISO 13485 (the medical device directive).
- Average of 100 annual hours of formal training per employee.
- 99.7% machine availability rate as a percentage of scheduled uptime.
- 99.88% first-pass yield for all finished products.
- In-plant defect rate cut 62.5% over the last five years.
On a typical workday at Stryker Instruments the plant floor hums with worker interaction. In the center of the 250,000-sq-ft facility about 10 workers gather for an informal team meeting to address issues for their particular cell. Others make sure that inventory bins remain stocked for their co-workers who are assembling surgical saws and drills. And Lonny Carpenter, vice president of operations, walks around the production floor, offering a personalized hello to nearly everyone. It's that type of respect and recognition that contributes to a friendly work environment and helps Stryker employees focus on the goal: customer satisfaction. Located in the southwest corner of Michigan, the Kalamazoo-based manufacturer of powered surgical instruments and related accessories for orthopedic and neuro- and spinal-surgery procedures is proud of its philosophies on employee empowerment, customer focus, and quality initiatives. Indeed, employee badges and business cards are embossed with the Stryker Quality Policy Statement, which reads: "Customers must win . . . we must win. Otherwise, no deal!" The parent company, originally Orthopedic Frame Co. (the name was changed to Stryker Corp. in 1964), was started 54 years ago by Homer Stryker, a physician who was unhappy with the quality of the medical tools he was using on his patients. Formed in 1988, Stryker Instruments is one of the largest and most profitable of the corporation's nine divisions, and has played a major role in the company's 22 consecutive years of 20% or greater profit growth. The division's success has sent many of its employees to the hospital -- not as patients, but as observers who watch physicians use instruments such as Sagittal saws, which "quickly and precisely cut even the hardest bone," according to Stryker product literature. In fact, Stryker encourages all 600 of its employees to witness first-hand the products that they help manufacture. "To see the [instruments] that you have built in action on a human being is eventful," says Nina Hickok, senior technician/team supervisor and an 11-year veteran at Stryker. Last year Hickok flew from Kalamazoo to Arizona to meet a Stryker marketing rep who accompanied her to a local hospital to observe a foot surgery that used a Sagittal saw. For Stryker's salespeople, the operating room is their office. "About 70% of the reps' workweek is spent in the O.R., because that's where it happens," notes Curt Hartman, vice president and general manager of Stryker Instruments. "The surgeon, the orthopedic tech, the spine tech, and the neuro tech are using the products and giving us feedback: 'This works well. This doesn't work well. If I could do this it would make this procedure faster.'" "With close customer contact, you're not trying to develop a product, you're trying to develop a solution for the customer," says Carpenter. As a result, Stryker Instruments' products continuously become more user friendly. For example, the bone-cement mixing system underwent a transformation when surgeons complained that the previous system was messy, created air bubbles, was difficult to mix and distribute, and had an unpleasant odor. The new system has a mixing bowl with a lock-down lid and charcoal filter that eliminates almost all of the fumes. The bowl sits on top of a cartridge that serves as the cement dispenser once the mixture is ready (the user just pushes on the top and the cement drops into the cartridge). Once the cement is in the cartridge, the proper nozzle is attached with one twist and put onto a surgeon's "caulking gun" to finish the job. "That added-value to the customer took away the fumes and made a better mix, which gives better clinical outcomes," notes Mickey Noonan, director, product development and engineering. "It also made it very convenient for them to deliver [the cement] where it needs to be delivered." Customer focus helps Stryker compete against other manufacturers within its industry. But the plant also faces another kind of competition: It must vie for workers in an area where the unemployment rate hovers around 3.5%. It succeeds in maintaining its workforce by promoting employee empowerment. "We have empowered our employees and made them closer to the decisions," explains Carpenter. "We have taken out the bureaucracy and paperwork and have enabled them to react and respond to customer requests." Empowerment not only makes for happier employees -- 56% of the production workforce had perfect attendance in 1999 -- it also has boosted productivity. Indeed, in the last five years productivity has increased significantly. "We doubled the number of shipments per employee [between 1995 and 1999]," explains Carpenter. "It is no secret at Western Michigan [University] that Stryker is the best place to work in Kalamazoo," explains Philip Brian Marsh, a WMU graduate who has been with Stryker for two years. "It is a solid employer, it's established so it provides [job] security, and it is a growing company so there are no ceilings. I started in distribution packing boxes; now I am a supervisor."At Stryker empowerment comes in several forms. Production units, which consist of about 40 employees each, have responsibility for their operating budgets, cost reduction targets, customer-service levels, inventory management, training, production planning and forecasting, purchasing, human-resource management, safety, and problem solving. The unit members also work closely with marketing, sales, and R&D during new-product introductions and continuous-improvement projects. The plant takes great pride in guiding employees. "Stryker lets me do what I do best and rewards me for that privilege," says Gloria Lowe, team supervisor and a 10-year Stryker veteran. "I think they know what direction I should take better than I do." Lowe considers Stryker to be the best company she has ever worked for. Not only does it guide her in her career, it also supports her in her personal goals. When she lost 100 lb on the Weight Watchers program, Stryker Instruments was there to cheer her on and even helped implement a Weight Watchers program at the plant. "People around here joke that if they cut me, I'd bleed Stryker blue," says Lowe.
Web Exclusive Best Practices Stryker Instruments, maker of powered surgical instruments. By
Benchmarking contact: Lonny Carpenter, vice president of operations,
, 616/323-7700, ext. 3215.
Failure Mode, Effects, and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) is a what-if approach to evaluating design weaknesses, which starts at the component level and proceeds through the complete system. Stryker Instruments applies this planning/prioritization and risk-analysis tool to product design, process design, and service-process design. Each potential failure is analyzed to determine the results or effects on the system and to classify each potential failure according to its severity. "This is a 'living document' and the analysis is performed at many stages during the product/process design life cycle to confirm progress and mitigation of potential failure frequency and effects," explains Paul R. Freestone, quality assurance manager. The plant also implements a Fault Tree, similar to FMECA except that the analysis is performed from the top down, beginning with a system-level failure, and tracing it back to its possible causes.
Focus on People
To support Stryker Instruments' philosophy that its people are its most valuable asset, the plant follows a four-tier plan to find and nurture employees:
- Focus on talent: Believe in it, recruit it, develop it, and coach it. Individuals have unique talents. Put people in positions that fit their talents and then enable them to use those talents on a frequent basis.
- Set the right expectations: Make sure people understand their role in the organization and how they contribute each and every day to the success of the team. Communication and continuous feedback help keep the focus. Make sure people have the right tools and training to perform their job functions.
- Build relationships: Be a great coach. Open the lines of communication, vertically as well as horizontally. The plant's experience has led it to what it considers an ideal 10:1 employee to supervisor ratio that encourages one-to-one relationships.
- Reward/recognize accomplishments: Send the message that someone notices and cares about individual employee accomplishments. In order for the reward/recognition to be a success, it must be consistent, valued, and timely.
The plant received a satisfaction rating of "excellent" by its customer base on a recent Gallup Organization survey. Not only does the plant implement customer suggestions in order to make a better product, it also will deliver its products anytime, anywhere. The surgical instruments industry has to be especially adept in responding to its customers' ordering patterns. Hospitals perform most of their surgeries in the early morning, which means that inventory isn't analyzed until mid- to late afternoon. If a facility needs a product for the next morning's surgery, Stryker will do everything in its power to deliver. Loren Phillips, a former order-control coordinator and currently a help-desk analyst, flew to Puerto Rico with a cement-mixing bowl that was needed in surgery the next morning. He was met at the airport by the local Stryker sales rep, handed off the bowl, and boarded the plane to return to Kalamazoo.
In 1990, when Stryker Instruments' unscheduled machine downtime was approximately 20%, the division began a preventive-maintenance program for production machinery, building systems, and the physical structure. The program's success is a result of its simplicity. All machines and systems are sorted into three categories based on their cost and impact on quality. These categories dictate the level of preventive maintenance received. Employees are responsible for the maintenance status of their equipment. Each piece of equipment has a preventive-maintenance plan that is conducted by operators, maintenance technicians, and outside contractors. Most machines have daily, weekly, monthly, semiannual, and annual requirements. In 1999 the division's unscheduled downtime was less than 0.3%.
Co-located Work Teams
Stryker manufacturing and design engineers sit next to each other and work and talk to each other daily. "That's worth more than a lot of the formal meetings we have on a project," says Rich DeVault, manager, advanced manufacturing engineering. "If you walk out on the floor and ask someone about a product that we introduced eight years ago versus the new-generation system we introduced two years ago, and you ask them which one they would rather manufacture, [we want] them to say the new one because it's more efficient and they don't have as many problems to deal with," explains DeVault. "They get to concentrate on building and making things better [rather than] trying to fix problems. It's an effort of the whole development team making that happen, not just one person. Not only is it a better product for our customer, it's more efficient to manufacture."
In 1990 the plant installed Remstar fully automated bar-code retrieval systems for material handling and components. A handheld device reads a bar code from an order sheet, which provides information about the order, such as what part and how many units are needed. The information is then sent to the machine and the appropriate component bin rotates forward. The machine tells the user which row and position the correct bin is in. If a mistake is made, the hand-held device lets the user know by preventing him or her from retrieving any more inventory."