Philips Respironics: IW Best Plants Profile 2009

Dec. 10, 2009
Working Hard So Others Can Breathe Easy: Philips Respironics' meticulous attention to production results in healthcare products patients can rely on.

Philips Respironics, Murrysville, Pa.

Employees: 695, non-union

Total Square Footage: 125,000

Primary Product/market: Medical devices and accessories

Start-up: 1990

Achievements: Reduced total product cycle times from 10 days to three hours on most electromechanical products; reduced assembly errors by nearly 50% in 2008; reduced landfill content by 57%; named Pittsburgh's Advanced Manufacturer of 2008 by Pittsburgh TEQ; received 2007 Zenith Award from American Association for Respiratory Care

Continuous improvement is an easy phrase to use but the reality behind it is constant self-awareness and acceptance of change. At Philips Respironics' Murrysville, Pa., facility, that effort is fueled by a self-directed workforce that embraces the potentially life-saving nature of its products.

The Murrysville plant produces six product lines, including CPAP and BiPAP devices for people with sleep apnea, a problem affecting some 12 million adults in the United States. These devices deliver air under pressure to prevent airways from constricting. Other products include heated humidifiers, sleep lab systems, infant apnea monitors and positioning aids. With customers ranging from premature infants to the elderly, notes Bill Flynn, a manufacturing manager, "what we do here is so important and so rewarding."

To manage these diverse products, facility managers implemented the QCDSM system, which focuses on measuring and improving five key metrics: quality, cost, delivery, safety and morale. QCDSM employs visual metrics and targets, employee involvement, structured reviews of progress and an emphasis on solving problems quickly at the lowest level possible.

QCDSM utilizes structured team reviews of progress ranging from Level 1 area reviews led by manufacturing associates to Level 4 weekly plant Gemba walks by the leadership team. In the first fully implemented production area, QCDSM resulted in a 33% reduction in assembly errors, a 30% increase in labor efficiency and an 81% decrease in daily average product backorders.

Philips Respironics uses the Quick and Easy Kaizen (QEK) program to encourage employees to come up with ideas that will improve their job activities or environment, or any company process. In 2008, the program generated 1,457 ideas. The plant expected some 1,800 idea implementations in 2009. The participation rate is approximately 50%.

Along with these efforts, the plant formed an Exchange Team in 2006 that works on improving the employee working environment and culture. Project work is done by sub-teams of four associates and one advisor. Each sub-team is expected to complete at least three projects. The projects undertaken have been varied and popular. A wellness committee was formed that developed and installed a well-equipped on-site fitness center, and communicates regularly on healthy food and exercise. One sub-team instituted a recycling program that resulted in revenue from a recycler for plant materials and more than 50% reduction in plant waste going to a landfill.

While plant officials have no doubt that their continuous-improvement efforts are paying off financially, they focus on driving employee participation, not financial return. "Oftentimes, programs force the participants to spend more time trying to predict cost savings and less time actually solving the problems," says Eric Kulikowski, director of North American operations.

The Murrysville plant has been recognized by Philips for its manufacturing expertise. Operations from four other plants have been transferred to Murrysville. And on top of incorporating this additional work, many of Murrysville's employees have been involved in the design and start-up of a new plant.

Team Effort Benefits Philips Respironics Plant Start-up

Operators take an active role in designing new plant's work stations and processes.

Employee involvement is a key factor in the continuous improvement culture of Philips Respironics' Murrysville plant, but for nearly two years that involvement took on an added dimension as they contributed to the start-up of a new plant in Upper Burrell, Pa. While manufacturing manager Jim Lander was dedicated full-time to the design and development of the new facility, he had plenty of help.

"When we started designing the processes for our new plant, we formed an employee involvement team," explains Lander. "It started small with about 12 engineers and other leaders."

But as time passed, more and more associates became involved with the design of the new plant. Meetings occurred at various times to accommodate employees on different shifts, and employees were never shy to offer their opinions on equipment choices, process layouts and other aspects of the new facility. Before the planning work was through, as many as 100 people had a hand in designing the plant's processes.

"There was creative tension where we had all different types of people viewing the same problems from all these different perspectives," recalls David Carter, a shift operations manager, of the planning meetings. "In these meetings, ideas would be challenged. 'What about this? Did you think of that?' It started the creative juices flowing. No one sat back and said, 'This is Jim's project.' You could never show up unprepared because you were coming into a room where the operators you work with on a daily basis were coming up with great ideas."

Lander said the design work on the Respironics Sleep Therapy plant showed the power of team involvement. "Different people give you different perspectives," said Lander. "One person or small group of people can't possibly think of everything."

Lander added that the plant start-up also demonstrated the amount of work needed to make supposedly "plug and play" technology function smoothly. For example, a literature collator was supposed to be able to be installed and work immediately with the plant's ERP system. Instead, it took four months to get running.

At times, the Murrysville plant served as a test lab for processes at the new plant. For example, under FDA rules, the plant must attach a device history record to most of its products. That meant the plant was generating 15,000 sheets of paper a day. Moreover, those records had to be kept for seven years after a device goes out of manufacture. And, since it was a manual process, errors occurred. The Murrysville plant set up a line to test electronic device history records using its SAP system, and the success there allowed the new plant to be paperless. The new system also provides checks in the process so that, for example, an incorrect component cannot be installed because the system will not allow the device to proceed to the next station.

About the Author

Steve Minter | Steve Minter, Executive Editor

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An award-winning editor, Executive Editor Steve Minter covers leadership, global economic and trade issues and energy, tackling subject matter ranging from CEO profiles and leadership theories to economic trends and energy policy. As well, he supervises content development for editorial products including the magazine,, research and information products, and conferences.

Before joining the IW staff, Steve was publisher and editorial director of Penton Media’s EHS Today, where he was instrumental in the development of the Champions of Safety and America’s Safest Companies recognition programs.

Steve received his B.A. in English from Oberlin College. He is married and has two adult children.

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