Carrier Collierville: IW Best Plants Profile 2011

Jan. 10, 2012
Meeting the Efficiency Challenge: A workforce dedicated to quality, productivity and continuous improvement fuels Carrier Collierville's success.

Carrier Collierville
Collierville, Tenn.
Employees: 1,381, union
Total Square Footage: 900,000
Primary Product/Market: Residential air conditioners and heat pumps
Start-Up Date: 1967
Achievements: First-pass quality yield improved by 60% past four years. In May 2011, Carrier Collierville became the largest ACE Gold site in the world.

The workforce at Carrier Collierville knows all about the importance of efficiency. It is a critical component of the very products they manufacture: residential split-system air conditioners and heat pumps. These units must meet federally regulated minimum energy-efficiency standards in addition to appealing to homeowners.

See the other winners of IW's 2011 Best Plants award and find out how they made the top ten.

Efficiency also is critical to the continuing success of this sprawling facility located just east of Memphis. Like many manufacturing plants whose fortunes are tied closely to the U.S. housing market, this 900,000-square-foot facility has had to weather -- indeed continues to weather -- tough economic conditions that show few hints of an impending turnaround.

Driving Carrier Collierville to meet the efficiency challenge is the diligent application of ACE, or Achieving Competitive Excellence. ACE is the operating system of United Technologies Corp., of which Carrier is a subsidiary. United Technologies describes ACE as a comprehensive approach to achieving customer satisfaction and business results through continuous improvement. Its success relies on three elements: culture, tools and competency.

For Collierville, ACE translates to this philosophy: "The plant's greatest asset is the culture: people who apply the right tools with competency to understand customer value, the processes that create the value and [to] solve problems wherever value is lost."

ACE is 'How We Do Business'

"ACE is how we do business," says general manager Phil Grady.

ACE in action is evident throughout the clean, brightly lit manufacturing operations, where workers represented by the United Steelworkers build the outside components of residential split systems (a split system has components in two locations, typically one inside and one outside) in multiple sizes, nine different efficiency offerings, four electrical options and across seven different brands. In addition to assembly and test operations, production processes include the manufacture of sheet metal components, paint operations and brazing. During peak season, some 1,500 workers can be turning out product across nine assembly lines.

Process Improvement: A Short List

In an operation so vast, the opportunities to lose value are profound. Carrier Collierville has implemented multiple measures to reduce such opportunities, including:

  • A quality improvement team, which included hourly workers, attacked a leak issue at braze joints on a heat pump component. Changes made to the work area, including improved lighting and modifications to the fixture that held the piece during the brazing operation, resulted in a nearly 50% reduction in leaks and the associated repair costs.
  • Long changeovers eat up valuable time, particularly in high-volume areas. Carrier employees modified equipment in the coil shop operations and reduced an eight-minute changeover to a 10-second changeover. That's a reduction of more than 90%.
  • The Collierville team implemented a visual solution (flashing lights) at an assembly line work station that warns operators who accidentally introduce the wrong components along a high-velocity, mixed-model assembly line. The solution also prevents the product from continuing down the line until the error is corrected.

Such process improvements and problem-solving techniques have reaped rewards for Carrier Collierville. Achievements include a 50% reduction in the customer reject rate in the past four years, as well as a 79% reduction in scrap costs over the same time frame.

Carrier Collierville's achievements were recognized by its parent company in 2011. UTC awarded the facility "ACE Gold" certification, the highest-possible designation presented to sites employing ACE to improve their operations.

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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