Lonely At The Top: IW Best Plants Profile - 2004

Feb. 14, 2005
Maytag Jackson learns from misstep how better to keep the repairman at bay.

Maytag Jackson Dishwashing Products, Jackson, Tenn.

At a Glance

  • Total square feet: 557,065
  • Start-up: 1992
  • Achievements: Maytag Jackson reports that scrap and rework costs have decreased by 33% in the last three years. Fully 100% of purchased materials and components no longer require incoming inspection. Employee suggestions saved the factory $11 million in 2003.
  • Benchmarking Contact: Terry Spalding, director of manufacturing, 731/927-9787, [email protected]

He's the picture of dejection. The famous Maytag repairman, lonely and idle as the company's appliances purr with efficiency and leave him with little to do but heave expansive sighs through advertising campaigns.

And Maytag Jackson Dishwashing Products, which is the sole manufacturer of dishwashers for Maytag Corp., is out to keep him with little to do but twiddle his thumbs. "We strive to keep 'The Lonely Repairman' lonely," states the Jackson, Tenn., facility in its Best Plants application.

In large part the plant has been successful in its aim to idle the repairman. In the last 12 years Maytag Jackson has produced more than 9 million dishwashers under a variety of brand names, including Jenn-Air and Amana. Its first-pass yield approaches 95% and has improved by some 44% in the last three years. It twice has received the Tennessee Quality Award.

But Maytag Jackson made a serious misstep in 2002, one that sent its quality south -- temporarily. That it was only temporary, says Director of Manufacturing Terry Spalding, is thanks in large part to the comprehensive tools of continuous improvement that are woven into the fabric of the Tennessee plant. And the lessons learned from that 2002 experience have only lessened the likelihood that Maytag Jackson again will rouse the doleful repair man.

What are those tools? Maytag Jackson was built by Maytag Corp. as a model of just-in-time manufacturing "with two overriding goals: Build the industry's best quality dishwashers at the lowest possible cost." The primary manufacturing processes in the facility are sheet metal stamping, plastic injection molding and assembly. Among the tools it touts to keep quality up and costs down are high performance work teams that give production workers lots of responsibility and autonomy; LeanSigma, Maytag's own marriage of lean manufacturing principles and Six Sigma tools to build a better, more competitive product; and kaizen events to promote continuous improvement.

In recent years the facility has turned its single assembly line into eight one-piece flow assembly cells, a move it says provides enough flexibility to produce any model dishwasher at any hour compared with its previous ability to produce any model on any given day.

All of its improvement tools were called into play in 2002 when Maytag Jackson launched its plastic "tall tub" platform, the first new dishwasher platform launched from this facility in its short history. Maytag developed the new dishwasher platform to meet customer demands for increased capacity and improved appearance.

The completely redesigned platform experienced design, component and assembly-related issues early in production. And then came late-in-life failures that weren't discovered via existing test programs.

"It was really the first feeling of defeat that Jackson had had," Spalding says.

What happened? The dismal launch exposed several weaknesses in Maytag Jackson's new product development process. For example, the testing protocol employed for the new design, which was developed for the previous dishwasher platform, proved to be inappropriate for the new design. "An assumption was made that the old protocol would work," says Randall Cooper, director of R&D at Maytag Jackson. The assumption proved wrong.

Additionally, more resources were deployed on the design side of the development process than on the reliability side. As a result, "the quality assurance component wasn't as robust as it should have been," Cooper says. "The field became more of the test lab than the test lab," he notes. And design changes were being made right up to production.

In short, "the process failed," Spalding says.

While the new product development process showed it had holes, the continuous improvement processes that had driven years of manufacturing success at Maytag Jackson proved to be a lifesaver. Maytag Jackson quickly mounted a world-class improvement effort to fix the plastic tall-tub platform. It included multiple kaizen events and the deployment of rapid response teams.

"It was a difficult time at first," says Barbara Neely, LeanSigma technician. However, "it was the first mass opportunity they [team members] had for making suggestions that they could see implemented very quickly, in the heat of the moment." She paints a picture of associates armed with walkie-talkies to communicate fixes that much quicker.

And as kaizen events based on employee suggestions proved successful, "teams' morale improved because we listened to them," Spalding says.

"Without [our continuous improvement tools] we probably wouldn't have gotten out of that horrible launch that quickly," notes Spalding. "Having a set methodology and looking for the root cause allowed us to put into place corrective actions that were readily accepted. It allowed us not to take a shotgun approach, which can happen, and instead allowed us to prioritize and pick [the problems] off."

He adds, "Through these kaizen events, they're seeing tools, when properly applied, can help us make a better dishwasher, quicker." Meanwhile, Maytag Jackson also has implemented a new new-product-development process, one introduced across the entire corporation. Before, Maytag had employed multiple new product development processes across the enterprise. "If everyone has a process, there is no process," states Cooper.

The new product development process now has five gates compared with the previous three-gated effort, and it is far more detailed in its requirements. If all the components that comprise any individual gate are not completed, "we don't move forward to the next gate," Cooper says.

Layered in is the integration of Design for LeanSigma into the entire design process and a new failure tracking system. Cooper has high expectation for the future success of Maytag Jackson's new-product-development process. "It's going to get us perfection," he says, adding, "You don't get perfection by shooting for perfection. You get perfection by continually improving every day."

Spalding says the lessons learned from the launch of the plastic tall tub platform bore fruit in the launch of the stainless steel version of the tall tub platform. "We were able to take some of the LeanSigma concepts to the design phase of" the stainless steel launch, which occurred about a year and a half after the plastic introduction. "We didn't see nearly the problems with stainless steel that we saw with plastic," he reports. This despite the increased complexity of the stainless steel tub, Spalding adds.

Like any manufacturing facility determined to excel, Maytag Jackson continually engages in efforts to reduce costs, increase quality and improve its speed to market with new product introductions. Its vision is a simple one: "Maytag Jackson Dishwashing associates use our LeanSigma culture of continuous improvement to consistently attain customer satisfaction."

Yet another reason for the Maytag repairman to sigh.

About the Author

Jill Jusko

Bio: Jill Jusko is executive editor for IndustryWeek. She has been writing about manufacturing operations leadership for more than 20 years. Her coverage spotlights companies that are in pursuit of world-class results in quality, productivity, cost and other benchmarks by implementing the latest continuous improvement and lean/Six-Sigma strategies. Jill also coordinates IndustryWeek’s Best Plants Awards Program, which annually salutes the leading manufacturing facilities in North America.

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