Zero Defects And Beyond Mistake-proofing wins Collins & Aikman's Americus Operation DaimlerChrysler gold.
Glenn Hasek Collins & Aikman, Americus Operation, Americus, Ga.
At a Glance
- Plant size: 534,000 square feet
- Start-up date: 1976
- Special Achievements
- DaimlerChrysler Gold Award Winner in 2000 and 2001
- No. 1 Exterior Part Supplier for DaimlerChrysler in 2000 and 2001
In a tunnel-like area bathed by bright fluorescent lights, molded bumpers pass by on a moving track, and team members at Collins & Aikman's Americus Operation inspect them as closely as detectives gathering evidence at a crime scene. With mirrors in hand, they inspect the entire surface of each part, looking for blemishes as small as one-tenth of a millimeter in size. It is no wonder that the plant's external defect rate this summer reached 0 ppm for three consecutive months; its management and hourly workers are perfectionists. Collins & Aikman's Americus, Ga., plant manufactures products found exclusively on vehicle exteriors. These include front and rear bumpers, wheel opening flairs, bumper end caps, air dams, and golf cart bodies and cowls. The parts are molded, molded-in-color or painted. DaimlerChrysler AG is the plant's primary customer, with 85% of its business, followed by E-Z-GO Golf Carts Co. with 14%. For the 540 production employees working three shifts, perfectionism is imperative because the plant's customers demand zero defects. Molding has the potential for creating unacceptable visual appearance, and end users don't want vehicles that look like plastic. An 80,000-pound mold working in a 3,000-ton press must produce a part that rivals the surface and cut edges of metal. Even the tiniest surface speck can dissatisfy a customer. Thanks to an emphasis on quality, safety, continuous improvement through lean manufacturing and teamwork, Collins & Aikman's Americus plant has reached world-class performance levels. DaimlerChrysler awarded the facility its Gold Award in 2000 and 2001 and recognized it as No. 1 Exterior Part Supplier the same years. Mistake-proofing has been key to the plant's quality improvements. From a product's design phase to its end-user stage, Americus Operation employees scrutinize each process step to minimize error potential. Perhaps there is no better evidence for that than the plant's surface-contamination lab. There, in what Al Hatcher, manager, quality/product engineering, calls the "dirt library," errors are analyzed and catalogued. Discovering the source of a contaminant there can reduce scrap costs inside the plant. Teams at the Americus Operation have become experts in lean manufacturing. In 2001, they achieved "lean role model serious practitioner" status. The goal for 2002 is to achieve "lean serious practitioner II" status. Plant team members practice 5S, Total Productive Maintenance, visual factory, kanban/heijunka, value-stream mapping and quick mold changes to ensure efficient operations. A Plant Lean Implementation Plan meeting is held each week. "Lean manufacturing has helped us to reduce waste, scrap and changeover time," says Bob Carney, vice president of operations. "All of those have been extremely valuable." Providing a safe work environment is the highest priority for Carney. As of late July, the plant's employees had worked 1.3 million hours without a lost-time incident. The lost-time incident rate in 2001 was 0.59, significantly below the industry average of 6.4. All employees are trained to implement DuPont & Co. STOP (Safety Training Observation Program). As part of the DuPont STOP and "Actions Employees Can Take" programs, employees monitor one another's safety practices and even issue observation tickets to one another if safety is forgotten. "We want everyone to know that everyone is looking out for everyone else," says Sam Holden, Environmental, Health and Safety Coordinator. Carney, whose goal is to have zero accidents, says all accidents are preventable. To help him reach his goal, area doctors are invited in to learn about repetitive motion risks, and a nurse practitioner is employed on staff to provide health-care services and ergonomics advice. The Americus Operation strives for improvements in environmental, health and safety. It received ISO 14000 certification for its environmental management system in 2001. To prepare for certification, Holden says his staff asked every employee how their jobs impact the environment. He explained the link between their minimization of errors and waste. The plant has made significant strides in reducing the amount of paint and solvent that it uses. New solvent-capture equipment has increased the amount of flush solvent captured and recycled during cleaning operations. Joe Franklin Jr., a first-shift maintenance leader, stands proudly and points to a bulletin board that includes charts showing team-driven process improvements. He explains that thanks to the efforts of a mold-change team, a mold that once took two hours to change over now takes 55 minutes. Rapid mold change must be continuously improved to enable faster response to changing customer demand. Team-based initiatives are responsible for many of the plant's quality and process improvements. Eighty-seven percent of the facility's production workforce participates in empowered or self-directed work teams. Teams are responsible for safety reviews and compliance, environmental compliance, quality assurance, daily job assignments and training. The Americus Operation includes 39 individual area operating teams. All salaried employees participate as mentors for the teams. The average seniority for employees at the plant is 18 years. Fifty percent of the workforce is female. The absentee rate through the first half of 2002 was just 0.1%. "Our success is totally dependent on our hourly workforce," Carney says. That workforce is key to the Customer Delight program the Americus Operation implemented to keep its customers happy. The program does more than just meet their needs; it anticipates them. Liaisons are based at most customer plants. Each liaison is contacted daily to provide direct feedback regarding customer delivery and quality. The liaisons ask the customer operators, supervisors and management specifically about their perception of Americus Operations as a supplier as well as for suggestions on ways to improve. Plant employees visit customer locations to learn how the product is handled and bring back suggestions to improve customer delight. Customers participate with Americus Operations employees on cross-functional Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) teams. APQP is a system that begins with program and product planning and finishes with the launch and continuous improvement of the new product. Outside the Americus Operations plant, which is located just 10 miles from former President Jimmy Carter's hometown of Plains in southwest Georgia, a sign touts its quality and safety accomplishments. It is undeniable proof that lean manufacturing in a safety-conscious environment works. It is also evidence that the Collins & Aikman employees are more than ready to produce the parts needed for future models of the Dodge Caravan, Durango, Dakota and Neon, Jeep Wrangler and Plymouth Voyager. That is good news for a part of the United States once known for bumper crops of peanuts and peaches. As long as DaimlerChrysler keeps making vehicles, Americus will be known more for its bumpers than crops.
Web-Exclusive Best Practices
Benchmarking contact: Bob Carney, vice president of operations,
Abundant Good Deeds
Employees from Collins & Aikman's Americus Operation are very active in the local community. An annual Good Friday Golf Tournament raises thousands of dollars. In 2001, $10,000 was raised for the American Cancer Society. Employees also participate in the Relay for Life cancer walk. During the Christmas season, employees donate to underprivileged children and each area of workers in the plant adopts a family and provides gifts to them. Three years ago a Bikes for Tikes program was launched. Employees purchase bicycles, which are then donated to needy families with children. Plant employees also participate in fund-raising activities for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the National Heart Association and the American Red Cross. A quarterly blood drive is held at the plant. Employees also participate on the board of directors of the Girl Scouts of America. Americus Operation members support local schools by attending job fairs and conducting tours of the facility for area students. "We have a long list of community initiatives that we are proud of," says Bob Carney, vice president of operations.
Easing Back To Work
When employees at Collins & Aikman's Americus Operation return to the plant after an illness or injury, they are not required to return to their previous jobs until they are ready. A "Work Hardening" program at the plant helps ease them back to full strength by offering less strenuous but equally important duties. The transitional work provides a value-added function, freeing up another employee for training/personnel development, or projects that improve the efficiency of the operation. The plant provides an "Injury and Illness Form" that enables an employee's physician to define the person's work restrictions. The employee returns the completed paperwork to the nurse practitioner after every doctor visit. The nurse practitioner helps determine value-added work for the employee. "We try to keep employees on the job," says Sam Holden, EHS coordinator. "The longer an employee stays out of a job, the longer it takes for them regain their skills and strength."