IW Best Plants Profile - 1992

Product-wise, GE Fanuc Automation North America Inc., the joint venture of General Electric Company and Japan's Fanuc Limited, is much more focused than either parent. The 1992 Best Plants award winner mainly produces programmable logic controllers and computerized numerical controllers for the factory automation marketplace.

Performance-wise, the operation was strengthened by a campaign for empowerment that GE's CEO Jack Welch initiated in the late 1980s. The program put managers in roles as enablers counseling teams, eliminating barriers, and encouraging employees to pursue improvement efforts.

At GE Fanuc, the process began early in 1989 with a management technique called work-out, which is designed to draw workers into the decision process via team problem-solving. Five basic questions form the work-out test: Will this task contribute to our mission? Will this serve our customers? Is this the fastest way? Is this the simplest way? Do we have the self-confidence to do this?

By 1992, the continuous-improvement journey had yielded impressive results, including a 52 percent reduction in organizational layers and a 25 percent reduction in approval bureaucracy. Other benefits include reduction in scrap and rework and in the time needed to develop new products down from two years to as little as nine months in some cases.

Although GE Fanuc spurns automation for automation's sake, plenty is evident in its revised factory of the future even computer-integrated manufacturing. The effort to rationalize the production technology started in 1986 with a complete re-layout of the factory into a U-shaped continuous-flow configuration. That change reduced cycle time 25 percent and pared work-in-process inventory.

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