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Philips Professional Luminaires: IW Best Plants Profile 2009

Dec. 10, 2009
Spreading the Light: Though the lighting market continues to change, so does Philips' Sparta, Tenn., facility, adopting flexibility and new competencies.

Philips Professional Luminaires, Sparta, Tenn. (plant has closed)

Employees: 235, union

Total Square Footage: 300,000

Primary Product/market: Lighting fixtures

Start-up: 1963

Achievements: 60% improvement on cost of quality as percentage of standard value production from 2004 to 2008; 95% decrease in defective parts per million from 2004 to 2008; 60% decrease in distribution costs from 2004 to 2008; IndustryWeek Best Plants finalist 2007 and 2008

IW's 2009 Best Plants

See the other winners of IW's 2009 Best Plants award and find out how they made the top ten.

It doesn't take more than a few minutes inside Philips Professional Luminaires' plant in Sparta, Tenn., before the deep, distant rumble of its massive stamping presses resonate in one's ears and bones. The facility features two presses, each partially embedded 20 feet below the surface, which push with 600 tons of downward force. As Dave Uhrik, Philips Sparta's plant manager, jokes, that rumbling is the sweet sound of money being printed.

It's also an audible reminder that Philips Sparta is processing 14,000 lighting units per day, even in the face of a global recession which has seen the lighting industry's demand drop by nearly 30%.

Surviving in such a challenging period in manufacturing has meant rethinking how products are made, learning new skills and producing specialized products for a smaller, more varied customer.

"We are the last major fluorescent manufacturer in the U.S.," says Uhrik. "We have a constant fight against imports. But we've gotten to the point now, through continuous improvement, where we're actually less expensive than China, even before you factor in freight."

To achieve those cost reductions, it has meant bringing in managers and workers and asking them to find new ways to produce their products.

"Last year, we were tasked with taking $4 million out of our processes," says Brad Tarr, Philips Sparta's engineering and quality manager. "We set out fixtures on a table and started looking for ways to improve the efficiencies of assembly and reduce the components costs. We worked with suppliers and compared costs for similar components."

Often, these meetings result in startling innovations. During one team meeting three years ago, for example, a worker marveled at the efficient way in which Subway restaurants make their sandwiches, with workers lining up all their key ingredients in an easy-to-reach, highly adaptable format. Why couldn't that same flexible principle, he reasoned, be applied to producing lighting fixtures, with work stations on rollers?

Philips operators Angel McCurry and Jeff Lusk assemble a fluorescent high bay product.

The idea took off. Inside of one year, the plant's changeover time was reduced by 90%.

"More and more we've had to find ways to change over quickly because you can't have 10 changeovers, each taking between 10 to 20 minutes," says Tarr.

In recent years, Philips Sparta has seen the volume of its production change dramatically from orders of 5,000 to 10,000 units to smaller, more specialized deliveries. This year, Philips began manufacturing LAM Lighting, a new line of high-end, highly customized units. Instead of popping out thousands of a single product, Philips Sparta is producing individual lamps in dozens of variations in length, diameter and shape.

"Instead of high volume, we're producing one- and two-piece orders worth huge amounts of money with tons of components that take forever to build," says Uhrik. "It used to be that we'll paint any color as long as it's white. Well, now we'll paint any color. That's a metaphor for us because rather than being a single competency facility, we had to learn a whole new set of skill sets and competencies -- and this has made us a richer facility."

Philips Plant Looks at Equations from a Different Angle

Resourceful approach to tackling challenges results in assembly line production skyrocketing at Sparta, Tenn., facility.

Producing mass quantities of halogen strip lights has become an art form for Philips Professional Luminaires' Sparta, Tenn., plant. The plant pumps out 14,000 lighting fixtures a day, turning 18,000 pounds of coiled steel into one light manufactured per minute. By the end of the day, half of the lights produced are already being shipped on trucks to their eventual destination.

But one particular model proved unusually difficult. Philips' Strip product is manufactured using a specialty assembly line of 18 operators, each performing various intensive tasks. At the Sparta plant, they were producing between 500 and 600 lighting fixtures a day. At other Philips facilities, that output was nearly doubled.

This shouldn't have been the case, according to Dave Uhrik, plant manager for Philips Sparta. Unlike other facilities, the Sparta plant had cultivated a process which virtually eliminated material handling, tying presses which produce necessary parts directly to the assembly areas, then to an automated packaging unit.

"We had virtually no material handling, but we still weren't getting as many units out per table," says Uhrik. "People were working the same pace, so it wasn't a question of work ethic. They couldn't work any harder."

Philips Sparta's managers studied the situation, comparing their facility's process to another Philips plant in New Jersey. The only difference they found was the northern plant didn't have the automated system for delivering parts. Instead, workers were manually taking pieces out of a bin and assembling their work two at a time -- and ultimately processing 30% faster as the Sparta facility.

"We modified it so it delivered two at a time and productivity popped right up," says Uhrik.

That wasn't the only modification. With the help of two industrial engineers, the strip line used more sophisticated equipment at each cell. For instance, electric magnets were used to deliver equipment on a robotic linear actuating arm. For each operator, they ensured there were two housings.

"We didn't make it any harder on our operators," says Nicole Solomon, manufacturing engineer at Philips Sparta. "There was no extra toll. And our production of that line went up from about 500 a day to between 800 and 900."

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