Greatbatch: IW Best Plants Profile 2008

Dec. 12, 2008
Leading with Lean: At Greatbatch, continuous improvement never takes a back seat.

Greatbatch, Alden, N.Y.

Employees: 287, non-union

Total Square Footage: 122,739

Primary Product/market: batteries and capacitors for implantable medical devices

Start-up: 2005

Achievements: 99.3% on-time delivery; 73% reduction in incidence rates for OSHA-recordable injury and illness cases with days away from work, job transfer or restriction in the past three years; 60% reduction in average leadtime on class A (high cost) purchased materials over the past three years

Unassuming on the outside; a testament to the rewards brought about by lean manufacturing on the inside. That's one way to describe the Alden, N.Y., operations of Greatbatch, located about 15 miles east of Buffalo. Indeed, there's little on the exterior of the building to hint at the goings-on inside this nearly 123,000-square-foot facility, although the 9.4 miles-per-hour speed limit sign in the employee parking lot may provide a clue that the inner workings are other than typical.

IW's 2008 Best Plants

See the other winners of IW's 2008 Best Plants award and find out how they made the top ten.

On the inside, however, performance metrics tell the tale of a dramatic and continuing lean journey. The Alden plant, which makes batteries and capacitors for implantable medical devices such as pacemakers and cardiac defibrillators, has reduced its average changeover time by 60% in the past three years. Scrap and rework costs have dropped by double digits in that same time frame. And nearly every other performance measure has shown robust improvement.

"The hallmark of our production processes has been and continues to be our passion for continuous improvement in everything we do," Greatbatch stated in its IndustryWeek Best Plants application. "You never sit back here," added senior commodities manager Mary Beth Harper during a recent IW visit to the plant.

Greatbatch's Alden plant, which opened in 2005, is a consolidation of two nearby facilities that date to 1970 and 1997. The primary manufacturing processes in Alden are assembly and chemical syntheses of specialty materials. With relatively short runs, the facility is a low-volume, low-mix producer.

The Alden operation is rife with examples that illustrate its dedication to creating a visual factory. For example, critical-equipment preventive-maintenance activities are tracked on a simple whiteboard, prominently displayed and color-coded to indicate the status of scheduled maintenance. Upcoming shipments are quickly gauged on another whiteboard. Visual boards located on the production floor adjacent to work cells track key metrics by value stream, and highlight immediate issues. Colored lights, shadow boxes and clear labeling identify a need for assistance, note the location of tools and speed changeover times.

A manufacturing team member manufactures a lithium anode assembly.

At the core of Greatbatch Alden's lean manufacturing effort are kaizen events; it has completed more than 100 in the past three years. A purpose-built kaizen room gives kaizen team members a dedicated space to perform preparation work and keep supplies. Projects include "just do its," or short-term improvement efforts, as well as longer-term projects that require greater time and resource investments. Recent kaizen events helped open up floor space for additional business, as well as improve flow within an assembly cell. Additional lean tools employed by Greatbatch include SMED, 5S, point-of-use storage and line balancing.

On the safety front, a comprehensive approach has driven down workplace injuries. In fact, over the past three years, the Alden plant has reduced its incidence rate for OSHA-recordable injury and illness cases by 58%. "We are very proactive [about safety]," says Kathleen O'Shei, manager, environmental, health & safety. "We analyze risk to prevent issues from occurring in the first place."

Components of the Alden program include flex breaks to allow employees to stretch their muscles; job rotation every four hours to combat repetitive motions (this also promotes cross-training); and an online system for reporting, tracking and responding to medical incidents, including near misses. Four volunteer teams, such as the first aid team, support safety efforts.

And about the 9.4 miles-per-hour speed limit sign? The atypical speed simply acts as an eye-catcher to remind everyone to drive safely.

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Continuous Improvement Opportunities Abound

Greatbatch teams tackle a wide range of projects.

It is difficult -- and it may be impossible -- to walk through the Greatbatch plant in Alden, N.Y., without finding a department or a process or an asset that has not had a continuous improvement effort applied to it. From sustainability initiatives that include the introduction of a Green Team to implementation of a supplier management process, Greatbatch constantly looks for and finds ways to improve. Its efforts include:

5S Audits -- Greatbatch conducts monthly 5S audits. Each cell has a 5S board that shows its daily, weekly and monthly 5S tasks, as well as the owners of those tasks. A "cleaning cart parking lot" stores each cell's standardized cleaning cart. Not only is the cell with the highest score recognized during a lunch, but its members also become the proud recipients of the "Duster Cup," which is displayed in their area. The Duster Cup, which looks like a large trophy, is easily recognized by the feather (or some facsimile) duster that dangles prominently from it.

Flex Cells -- It happens. An employee is sick or absent for some other unexpected reason. Knowing that such occurrences are inevitable, Greatbatch has created means for running its cells with fewer operators. The manufacturer has developed "flex" worker balance charts that define how to run the cell with fewer operators.

Fire Safety -- As a facility that utilizes lithium, a highly flammable metal, in making batteries, the Alden facility takes fire safety very seriously. In addition to having a well-trained in-house fire/hazmat team, the facility is stocked with both 14 self-contained breathing apparatus and four external defibrillators located throughout the plant. All employees receive fire extinguisher training. In early 2008, the Alden plant invited local fire departments and other responders into the building to familiarize them with the layout of the plant as well as Greatbatch's emergency continuity plan. In June the plant hosted a fire and chemical spill drill for area responders.

At Greatbatch, Employees Know Their Worth

This 2008 IW Best Plants winner works hard to reward its employees in myriad ways.

Recognition for a job well done "is the most powerful tool in any culture change," writes Greatbatch, a 2008 IndustryWeek Best Plants winner located in Alden, N.Y. "People respond to recognition because it makes them feel valued for their contribution," explains Marianne Rogers, human resources director. "Recognition validates how hard they have been working and that their efforts are not going unnoticed by management. By highlighting their special behavior, we hope to encourage a more productive associate."

During the first two years of its lean implementation, Greatbatch, which makes batteries and capacitors for implantable medical devices, instituted a formal reward and recognition program for manufacturing cells to celebrate achievements of scrap and productivity goals. Today the facility has a multifaceted program that includes among its components:

  • FISH recognition program -- The FISH philosophy, according to Rogers, is from the famous Pike Place fish market in Seattle, "where they believe in having fun at work," she notes. Greatbatch's FISH recipients are recognized at quarterly communications meetings for contributions in the area of continuous improvement or other exceptional actions, such as a willingness to work extra hours to assure that a customer deadline is met. These individuals are recognized with a special luncheon held in their honor, in a decorated conference with tropical music as accompaniment. As of mid-December, 65 Fish recipients had been recognized.
  • Happy Hearts -- Introduced in spring 2008, the Happy Hearts program began as a means to encourage associates to recognize their fellow team mates. Rogers explains that this recognition was added after the Greatbatch recognition team observed that associates waited to hear recognition from their supervisors, but didn't recognize that recognition could start with the associates. With the Happy Hearts program, any associate can acknowledge another team member who provides assistance, "no matter how small the gesture," Rogers said. Associates can pass along a small gift, such as a key chain, pedicure set, photo albums and the like.
  • Associate Appreciation Week -- Associate Appreciation Week is held the last week of August and concludes with Associate Appreciation Day. A highlight of the Appreciation Day, which includes Greatbatch employees from across western New York, not solely the Alden plant, is a visit by a speaker who has an implantable device. That guest shares how his or her life was improved by an implantable device. "Our associates are reminded why the quality of our product and the efforts of their labor are so important," Rogers says.

Spot awards also make up part of the Alden location's recognition program. "We also offer different types of gift cards to local stores and restaurants," Rogers says. "By having a variety of recognition options, hopefully we can please the varied types of contributors we have on our staff. Recognition is an individual experience. What makes one feel valued, doesn't work for another. We are often challenged with how to keep our recognition programs individually satisfying and fresh. As with every new year, I am certain we will be looking at how to improve recognition in 2009."

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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