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Nordson Corp.: IW Best Plants Profile 2009

Dec. 10, 2009
The Right Attitude: At Nordson Corp. in Dawsonville, Ga., meeting customers' needs is job one.

Nordson Corp., Dawsonville, Ga.

Employees: 64, non-union

Total Square Footage: 60,000

Primary Product/market: Adhesive dispensing equipment

Start-up: 1993

Achievements: Finished product first-pass yield of 99.7%; 2008 IndustryWeek Best Plants finalist; 93% reduction in customer reject rate in the past three years

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.

The right attitude doesn't guarantee that a manufacturing facility will be named an IndustryWeek Best Plant, but it certainly helps. And Nordson Corp.'s Dawsonville, Ga., plant has plenty of it. For example, "The philosophy here is a 'git 'er done' attitude," says Diane Cheek, manager of inventory, shipping and assembly.

"There are no boundaries. At the end of the day, our job is to get a quality job done," adds factory manager Jeff Skimel. That means both for external customers and other Nordson facilities. "We hold the same philosophy supporting the other [Nordson] plants... we jump through hoops."

Of course, a key to Nordson's success is its ability to create and maintain processes that minimize its need to jump through hoops. It does this from a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing space located within a larger Nordson-owned facility (part of which is leased to another business) about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta. The Nordson plant produces adhesive dispensing equipment, such as that used to apply hot melt adhesives in the manufacture of baby diapers and other items.

In many respects the Dawsonville plant is a job shop. About 80% of its work is machining, while the other 20% is assembly. About half of its machining is short runs of about five pieces or fewer. Longer runs are more frequent in Dawsonville's nozzle machining cell, which can produce infinite nozzle configurations within eight primary nozzle families. A goal for the cell, explains nozzle cell team leader Eric Story, is to be able to machine every style of nozzle on any of the four machines that comprise the cell, with minimal changeovers, to expand the versatility and flexibility of the cell. Automated programming, quick-change fixturing and lean process flow are helping the cell achieve that goal.

The Dawsonville plant relentlessly examines opportunities to reduce lead times, simplify processes, and improve productivity and quality. To those ends, the factory has instituted point-of-use tooling for frequently used tools; instituted point-of-use inventory in certain areas; and moved some inspection processes out of quality control and into the machining cells. The assembly area will soon be reconfigured to streamline processes and improve material flow.

Andy S. Ngo removes the sharp edges for a machined applicator body. Machining operations comprise about 80% of the work in this facility.

The Dawsonville facility also practices operator-led total productive maintenance and in 2005 introduced 6S, a variation of the 5S program to create a more visual workplace that includes "safety" as an additional component. The emphasis on safety shows: Nordson's Dawsonville plant received the Georgia Department of Labor's Award of Excellence for safety in 2007 and 2008, and as of mid-November the facility had achieved 1,518 days without a lost-time incident. Additional performance improvements by Dawsonville include a 93% reduction in customer reject rate in the past three years.

In the end, performance depends on having the right people. Skimel says the Dawsonville plant is populated by a workforce that is willing and able to step in wherever needs require. For example, engineers can and have stepped into assembly roles. With machinist backgrounds, Story and senior planner/scheduler Brent Edge can step in and run a machine, although Edge admits he might need a refresher course.

"We're pretty much low-key," Skimel says, "but we get the job done."

Job Shop Lean

Yes, it can be done. Dawsonville's Nordson plant proves just that.

There has been and continues to be ongoing discussion about whether lean manufacturing applies to job shops, whose business frequently is marked by low volumes and a high mix of products. The tools of lean, naysayers would argue, make sense only for long runs or plants that produce a small variation of products.

Nordson Corp.'s plant in Dawsonville, Ga., operates largely like a job shop, says factory manager Jeff Skimel. Still, it incorporates many of the principles of lean, including eliminating waste, improving flow and relying on an engaged workforce to develop and execute improvement ideas.

"When we were introduced to lean, it was the flavor of the month," Skimel says. And there were skeptics. The key, he says, is to adjust lean to the needs of the business. A few examples from Nordson include:

  • Senior planner and scheduler Brent Edge schedules a certain part to run once every three to four weeks. Why not simply run 10 and be done with the part for awhile, he has been asked. For one thing, such thinking builds inventory, and the facility doesn't want to build inventory unnecessarily. For another, design changes happen, and if one happens while you are holding a now-obsolete (and high-value machined) part in inventory, no one is happy.
  • A night-shift employee working in the machine shop was taking classes to complete a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. For a programming class, he decided to create an offset program that interacts with the data collected through the SPC program in the nozzle cell. "If a machine offset change is determined to be necessary, the program utilizes the numbers generated in the SPC program and automatically calculates the new offsets," according to Nordson. The end result is a savings of about three hours a week and improved quality because the offset numbers are computer-generated.

Nozzle cell team leader Eric Story says other areas also have been identified in which to use the program.

  • As senior lean coordinator/ISO management representative, Ebby Hamby heads and coordinates lean events for the Dawsonville plant (as well as others). These events include addressing such challenges as reducing lead times, de-bottlenecking processes and optimizing manufacturing processes for prototypes that have been released for production. With a significant background in sales and marketing, however, Hamby is also very customer focused. "She understands the voice of the customer, explains Skimel.

"I can see both sides of the fence," she says. And isn't meeting the needs of the customer what lean is all about?

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