DST Output East LLC: IW Best Plants Profile 2008

Dec. 12, 2008
All About Discipline: Technology drives DST Output East, while standardized processes keep it humming.

DST Output East LLC, South Windsor, Conn

Employees: 748, non-union

Total Square Footage: 302,672

Primary Product/market: first-class mail products, such as invoices and statements

Start-up: 1999

Achievements: first-pass yield of 99.9%; has maintained U.S. Postal Service Mail Processing Total Quality Management certification for three consecutive years; 2007 IW Best Plants finalist; work-in-process inventory is down 50% in the past three years

To hear the management team talk about it, DST Output East was a bit of a challenge in 2002. There wasn't simply plenty of low-hanging fruit in terms of improvement opportunities, but "the tree was lying on the ground," they say. The merging of multiple businesses contributed to the tumult, as did a certain sense of entitlement. That entitlement was a mindset of "we're different; normal processes don't apply."

What a difference six years makes at this 300,000-square-foot operation, which annually prints, inserts, mails and electronically delivers more than 500 million billing statements and other customer communications. Not only that, while some of the mailings may contain the same marketing pieces, printed data on the statements vary for each individual mail piece. That's a lot of customization and a lot of opportunity for error.

DST Output East, located in South Windsor, Conn., meets that challenge with a finished-product first-pass yield of 99.9%. On-time delivery, absolutely critical given the content of the mailings, also comes in at 99.9%.

It would be easy to say that technology is the critical enabler to DST Output East's success, given the wealth of automation driving the final product. And indeed, technology is of paramount importance. In its initial IndustryWeek Best Plants application, the team cites "deployment of leading edge technologies" as one of the key enablers of this facility's continued competitiveness.

But it's been the unrelenting emphasis on introducing and maintaining standardized, repeatable processes that has helped drive DST Output East to a new level of business excellence. It is an emphasis that begins (but doesn't end) at the top with Roger Tapke, senior vice president of operations. He has infused a manufacturing mentality into what once operated as more of an entrepreneurial print mail shop.

That discipline is reinforced in multiple ways, such as with the U.S. Postal Service Mail Processing Total Quality Management certification. It's similar to ISO 9000, says the DST Output team. It made sense to pursue the certification given how closely the facility works with the U.S. Postal Service. Importantly, however, the certification process has made the team more introspective and disciplined in the operation of the business. "It makes the process more predictable," says Julie L. Lapp, director of support operations.

An emphasis on standard, repeatable processes does not imply unchanging processes, however. Driving for continued performance improvements necessitates change. Indeed, the leadership says the mentality at the facility is one of "change is coming and we're going to deal with it." The change may be the introduction of new production equipment or it may be a new method of material handling that assures production-floor personnel will never be waiting on necessary supplies. But even change has discipline built around it, Lapp notes.

Six Sigma concepts, kaizen events and other lean tools drive performance improvement throughout the facility. Vital, too, are the highly skilled production employees, many of them cross-trained, who operate the complex, sensitive equipment. It's business excellence DST Output aims for, not simply operational excellence. "Our commitment here as a team is to grow the business," Tapke says.

DST Output East is long past reaching for the low-hanging fruit. "Now we're going after the fruit at the top of the tree," says Adam S. Cohen, quality assurance manager.

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A Little Understanding Please

Job shadowing by management proves enlightening.

Who hasn't at times felt their management leaders don't really appreciate the hard work they do on a daily basis? Feedback from an associate survey indicated to DST Output East management that such a feeling was harbored by some of the employees at this South Windsor, Conn.-based plant -- and so management took action to better understand their associates' jobs.

In August and September of 2008 management embarked on job shadowing of production associates. Adam S. Cohen, quality assurance manager, shadowed an insert operator. It was the first time he had watched what an operator does for an extended period of time. Her equipment was presenting her with many problems that day, he noted. "She kept persevering," probably past the point at which he would have walked away from the equipment, Cohen says.

"They have a lot of little adjustments they have to make," Cohen notes. "We ask an awful lot of the associates we put in front of an inserting system."

In another example, Jose Pagan, director of materials management-East, shadowed a senior machine operator. "She didn't just handle [the equipment], she managed it," he says. In addition, he noted, "She wasn't just concerned with what she was doing," but in fact was keeping a close eye on surrounding operations as well.

The job shadowing effort has reaped benefits. "I attended two kaizen events prior to the job shadow program and one since, and it just seems to me -- and this has been expressed by others -- that there seems to be a more open, more energetic attitude and perhaps a higher degree of trust among the hourly associates," Cohen says. "It seems as though many folks, both hourly and salaried, have come to the realization that things are really going to get done -- the right things and that everyone's voice is going to, not just be heard, but listened to."

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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