General Cable Franklin Plant: IW Best Plants Profile 2010

Dec. 14, 2010
Creating a Quality Culture: With materials representing 77% of costs, General Cable Franklin takes a creative approach to understanding the key drivers that cause defects.

General Cable Franklin Plant, Franklin, Mass.

Employees: 153, nonunion

Total Square Footage: 158,000

Primary Product/Market: electronic/data communications/fiber optic cables

Start-Up Date: 1990

Achievements: Product quality, as measured using defects per million units, has improved to 6,959 from15,700 since 2005; no lost time due to injuries since 2008; work order delivery has improved to 97% from 66% since 2006.

Imagine a gyroscope the size of a midsize sedan spinning and whirling, winding together dozens of wires into a single cable, rolling it off the line into a cable running into infinity.

Some of these cables are for data communication, others for control panels and industrial equipment, or for high-end military applications.

Each year, more than a half-billion feet of wire and cable is manufactured at General Cable's Franklin, Mass., facility, in more than 2,000 different varieties. Despite that volume and product range, less than 1% of the wire and cable produced turns out to be defective.

"One of the things that's helped drive the improvement has been understanding what's critical to quality and what's critical to the process and how those two elements interrelate," says Rob Johnson, who serves as quality manager in Franklin.

Since 2005, Franklin General Cable's work-order delivery has improved to 97% from 66%, while product quality, as measured using defects per million units, has improved to 6,959 from 15,700. Through the end of November, for instance, Franklin General Cable's DPMU for 2010 was 286, which equates to 99.95%, a significant achievement in control and quality. Out of an estimated 50 million feet of cable produced in August, only 150 feet was scrapped.

Three years ago, in an effort to better understand the key factors that undermine quality and cause defects, Franklin General Cable began using Pareto analysis tools, which provide a more creative approach to studying complex problems.

The Pareto reports were then distilled into more concentrated control charts and placed in highly visible areas at each workstation. The charts give operators step-by-step instructions for key issues that may arise. A sign in the datacom cell, for instance, details the critical quality issues related to diameter, what to watch for in using a micrometer for all measurements, and three common issues associated with the cell, along with appropriate reaction steps.

"They're like CliffsNotes," says Jim Clark, plant manager at Franklin General Cable. "They allow our operators to better understand the issues we're seeing and what they can do when these issues crop up."

Quality issues are a focal point for every manufacturer. But at Franklin General Cable, dips in quality have acute financial ramifications, as materials represent 77% of the plant's costs.

"Material is like gold for us," says Clark.

For all the specialized military cables produced in Franklin, nearly a third of its total production goes toward data communication. More than a dozen manufacturers in North America also make data communication cables, along with looming competitors out of the Far East.

"Essentially, cable is a commodity," says Johnson. "In order to compete with them, performance quality and cost is the key. Our whole process is lean and built for quality and getting all the variances out of the process."

The plant's efforts in continuous improvement operate under the theme, "Create Your Own Destiny." Plant leaders have transitioned toward a flexible work force, one that can shift between several operations and is increasingly self-directed and empowered to stimulate ideas.

Taking a Family Approach to Safety

By systematically attacking high-risk areas, General Cable Franklin plant watches incident rates plummet.

The very nature of manufacturing cable and wire means operators spend a great deal of time cutting, slicing, and splitting their product, which also means a great deal of time working with sharp objects. All that has added up to quite a few sliced and lacerated fingers over the years.

But in an effort to cut back on injuries, General Cable's Franklin plant held a safety council focused on eliminating the largest cause of trips to the infirmary in the workplace. Hand safety became a focal point.

At Franklin General Cable, razor blades and knives weren't just essential tools for operation, they were attached on belts and work vests like articles of jewelry.

"So much of our job was cutting back the jacket and getting to the chord to look at the wires and check the centers," says Jim Clark, plant manager at General Cable Franklin. "So we had to come up with alternative tools."

General Cable's health initiatives begin with its health council, which is made up of both supervisors and operators from throughout the facility, which explores common issues and discusses input on how best to proceed.

Franklin's health efforts have paid impressive dividends. The facility has had zero lost time accidents since 2006, working over 1.5 million hours during that time without incident. Further, Franklin has had only one recordable accident since 2008.

In the case of hand safety, they conducted a kaizan event, measuring where knives and blades could be replaced with other tools and in which operations they were essential. One operator suggested using a handheld cutting tool that has no exposed blades, allowing for the easy cutting of most wires and cables, without putting fingers or skin in any danger. Further, the council suggested setting up a central station as the only place where razor blades are allowed.

Since the measure was instituted in early 2009, Franklin General Cable's incident and severity rates have plummeted. Worker's compensation costs, for instance, were $4,000 in 2010, according to Clark. In other General Cable facilities, he says, that figure can be as high as $800,000.

These efforts toward safety are part of General Cable's "Zero and Beyond" program, which has systematically focused on addressing every common form of injury in the Franklin facility and reducing risk. Recently, for instance, they targeted how operators moved reels of wire or cable. In the past, many would simply pick them up and roll them, which often led to back sprains or cuts on hands. Instead, they developed an aluminum tool shaped like a t-bar, which allows operators to maneuver and move the reels easily, without laborious effort.

"One thing we really emphasize here is sharing responsibility on safety," says Clark. "Safety isn't just knowing where the fire extinguisher and ladder is. It's watching out for your brother. And for us, it's really worked."

When In-Sourcing Makes Dollars and Sense

General Cable Franklins plant brings several operations in-house, gaining control over cost and quality.

Outsourcing, for many companies, has allowed for costly, specialized processes to be shipped elsewhere and for higher-end manufactured materials to arrive at the receiving docks ready to go.

But that convenience often comes at a prohibitive cost. In recent years, General Cables plant in Franklin, Mass., has taken the reverse approach, by gradually insourcing many of its most intensive processes and materials to gain control over quality and reduce expenses.

One such item is tape filler, which serves to separate one pair of wiring from another on the interior of a cable, ensuring that electrical performance isnt compromised. Until 2007, tape filler was outsourced, which cost the Franklin plant on average $29 per 1,000 feet. Those costs were multiplied over millions and millions of feet of cable, representing one of the key reasons General Cables cost position was higher than several of its competitors.

We sat down and tried figuring out if we could do it in-house, utilizing what we already have in this plant, says Brian Skocypec, an engineer at Franklin who oversaw the project. We did some number crunching and figured out what it would be just for the materials and realized it was phenomenally cheap.

Using idle equipment, the Franklin team ran off several trial runs and found they could produce their own tape filler at a fraction of the cost they had been paying. Within a month, the plant was producing its own supply, while also supplying sister plants in the area.

General Cable reduced its tape filler costs from $29 down to $12 within a year.

It accounted for a big chunk of the 30% cost reduction we had in all our category cables, says Skocypec. Almost overnight we went from being almost overpriced in the market to being just under everyone else.

The Franklin plant made a similar transition with its interlock line of aluminum-armored cables in 2006. For years, the aluminum processing had been outsourced to a supplier in Canada, but as demand for interlock peaked, so did lead-times.

We were offering it and obviously everyone else was going down the same road and the next thing you knew our suppliers lead times were extending because they couldnt meet them, says Skocypec. There were also quality issues along the way. So we started doing the math and I dont think anybody else realized it, but at the time we were spending over $100,000 just on shipping costs to and back from Canada and our lead times were out to eight weeks.

Instead, General Cable Franklin purchased cable armoring machinery and found a source for the raw aluminum strip. But that might have been the easy part.

Its a challenge because its armoring, says Skocypec. The guys on the floor went from not knowing anything about this to becoming armor experts in less than a month.

Originally, General Cable wanted to give itself six months of experimenting with the equipment before supplying its own product. Instead it took 30 days. Lead times were essentially erased and Franklin saw a cost reduction of 20%.

We found that by supplying our own product, we could control the costs and the quality, says Skocypec. Its made a tremendous difference.

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