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General Cable Corp.: IW Best Plants Profile 2005

Sept. 12, 2005
Prairie Home Champion: Lean, Six Sigma and a remarkable work ethic make the real difference.

General Cable Corp. Moose Jaw Plant, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada

Employees: 39, non-union

Total square footage: 56,000

Primary product: Insulated underground electrical cable

Start-up: 1986

Achievements: Increased revenue by 21.5% in 2004. Decreased costs last year by US$360,000. Has first-pass yield of 99.6%, more than four percentage points above industry average. In-plant defect rate reduction of 72% during the past three years. Production employees and total workforce are 100% self-directed. The plant has operated for more than 17 years and 1.3 million man-hours without a lost-time injury.

Some residents claim not much changes in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, a city of just under 35,000 people on the Canadian prairie, a place where a trip across town takes only about 10 minutes -- even during the punishing winters.

But residents are wrong about the absence of change. In Moose Jaw, at General Cable Corp.'s plant, change is continuous, generally positive and often dramatic. In 2004, operating costs were cut by US$360,000, and revenue rose 21.5% at the facility, which annually turns out about 20 million feet of black-jacketed underground electrical cable, enough to channel from Los Angeles to New York and half way back across the U.S. again. The cable goes to utility-company customers in North America.

IW's 2005 Best Plants

See the other winners of IW's 2005 Best Plants award and find out how they made the top ten.Lean manufacturing techniques and extensive implementation of Six Sigma quality-process improvements are two drivers of change at General Cable's plant. However, credit for change must also be given to the work ethic that pervades the plant and springs from the grain, cattle, dairy and hog farms that stretch for miles and miles around Moose Jaw. "There's always work to be done on the farm," observes Ray Funke, an 18-year employee and one-time production worker who has been the plant's manager for the past six years. Similarly, at the end of a day at the plant, "people leave here thinking there's something we can improve on," he relates. Indeed, a veteran employee recently told Funke, "I was making cable in my sleep again. I got an idea."

All of the plant's 31 production employees participate in self-directed work teams. Most with post-secondary school diplomas or certificates, these employees operate equipment, do preventive maintenance, pursue quality assurance, conduct safety and housekeeping audits, hold kaizen events and take part in the hiring of associates at the 56,000 square-foot plant. Sixteen of the production workers are completely cross-trained and multiskilled, and the other 15 are at various levels in their cross-training programs. At Moose Jaw, a person can go from being a leader to a support technician, equipment operator to maintenance technician, or quality inspector to improvement planner all within a single shift. "We have a basic belief that people want to participate in improvement, [that] they don't want to be pigeon-holed into a job where they have limited boundaries," Funke stresses.

The plant's three production teams, one for each of its three shifts, are supported by technical coordinators for production, quality, maintenance, finance and process improvement. With the exception of the finance person and two office coordinators, these coordinators are all former production workers. All coordinators are cross-trained and multiskilled.

General Cable Corp.'s Moose Jaw plant makes 20 million feet of underground electrical cable annually.
Training in team techniques began in 1986, when the Moose Jaw plant was part of Phillips Cables Ltd. In millennium year 2000, General Cable, the plant's parent since 1999, launched lean-manufacturing training. Additional training -- in using Six Sigma tools and working as a virtual manufacturing cell (the whole plant functions as a cell) -- has built on the original team concept to create what Funke describes as an environment of operator-led process control. "This continual training has allowed the Moose Jaw plant to meet and exceed many productivity, scrap, defect, inventory and safety goals," Funke says.

In 2004, performance-improvement projects employing lean techniques cut costs by $61,492; those using lean Six Sigma methods saved $45,767; kaizen blitzes produced $41,955 in savings; and Six Sigma black belt and green belt projects reduced costs by a combined $43,080. Projects based on the use of statistical quality control by machine operators saved $67,151. By setting stretch goals, employing cross-functional teams and following a Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control process, Funke says, the plant has been able to deliver impressive improvements, such as reducing scrap by 57% to a level of 1.6% of the cost of goods sold, the best among the six energy-cable plants within General Cable.

Jacket-line technician Jeff Wilson monitors cable-spooling quality.For instance, in 2002, there was a problem with the solid aluminum alloy wire that is the conductor in the center of medium-voltage cables. Grooves or flat spots on that conductor were the third-most-common defect on the plant's continuous cure vulcanization line. Because they could cause cable failure, the defective conductors had to be scrapped, at a considerable cost. Standardizing the dies used to draw alloy aluminum rod from raw stock to finished conductor and putting up a display board that at a glance shows the location and condition of the various drawing dies has dramatically reduced conductor scrap. For the first six months of this year, the cost of such scrap was 97.8% less than three years ago.

Funke talks repeatedly about the wisdom of sharing metrics with workers and challenging them to find ways to reduce waste and, thus, costs. Sometimes the answer is as simple as reducing rpms and seeing what happens. On Moose Jaw's triple extrusion line that simple step cut scrap in half. "Giving people who are running the machines the information is just paramount," Funke says. "You can set up your cellular structure, you can cross-train your people, you can use lean tools, but if you don't give people information to drive improvement, there's no enthusiasm."

2006 Nominations

IndustryWeek is now accepting nominations for the 2006 IW Best Plants Program.
At the plant, not surprisingly, production data and financial performance measures are shared with all employees. Weekly reports on such key metrics as scrap, defects and expenses are e-mailed to each of the 16 workstations around the plant and posted on the plant metrics board located at the entrance to the plant floor. Every month, 25% of the employees attend a plant operations review session, and the minutes of that meeting are distributed to all. There's also an update on the plant's gain-sharing "Pay for Performance" program. Every three months, all employees attend an "awareness" meeting during which Funke goes over the plant's metrics, and a video summarizing corporate performance is shown. Gain-sharing payouts, shared equally among the workers, were US$2,663 per person in 2004. The average production worker's wage, not including overtime, is above both the region's average hourly wage for production workers and the industry's average. "Overall, our associates have a very good understanding of the link between operational and financial performance," judges Funke.

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