H.C. Starck recently made several process improvements to reduce the amount of time it takes to melt tantalum ingots, thereby alleviating a bottleneck in one of its melting furnaces.

2013 IW Best Plants Winner: H.C. Starck -- All the Parts for a Ferrari

Jan. 13, 2014
H.C. Starck's Newton, Mass., plant had the pieces it needed. It just had to rejigger them a bit.

When John Andy came aboard as manager of H.C. Starck Inc.'s Newton, Mass., site three years ago, he found himself at the helm of an operation that had recently installed a sophisticated manufacturing system based on 5S, Six Sigma and lean methodologies. But something was missing. While the facility -- which makes fabricated metal plates, sheet and similar parts -- was improving and growing, it wasn't taking off. It wasn't soaring.

"Our program -- what we call our world-class manufacturing program -- was introduced in 2009 and '10," Andy says. "In those first couple years, we saw pockets of success. But it didn't really take off until 2011 and '12."

How did Starck's Newton site go from pockets of success to lift-off? Andy attributes it in large part to his operations team's gradual assimilation of the new methodologies. It took a couple of years for lean, 5S and Six Sigma to become part of the site's DNA.

"Eventually it just became the way we run the business," he says. "Simple as that."

But getting to that point was not so simple. Andy -- whose background includes work with PriceWaterhouseCoopers specializing in manufacturing turnarounds -- had to figure out why the Newton site was achieving only intermittent success despite having assembled what he calls "an absolutely rock-solid world-class manufacturing program."

He analyzed the site's operations and found two problems. First, the organizational chart was out of whack, organized by plant (the site contains three plant buildings, recently reduced from four) with too many departments reporting directly to operations manager Leo Gibbons.

Second, the line workers and supervisors were swamped with administrative tasks that hampered them from doing their jobs.

"I believe this is what middle-market manufacturers miss most often," Andy says. "You've got to be organized right, and you can't have your operators burdened with admin tasks."

So Andy and his team made changes. They flattened the site's operational structure. They formed a technology and engineering group and installed one of the site's former plant managers, Bob Dorvel, as technology and engineering manager. They realigned the engineers by product family rather than manufacturing process. They consolidated the quality assurance and quality control groups into a single unit. And they flipped the org chart upside down and freed the line workers from the non-value-adding tasks that were bogging them down.

The changes have worked. Starck's Newton site has achieved lift-off, as the figures at left show.

"It was like we had all the parts for a Ferrari sitting there," Andy says. "All it needed was someone to assemble them right, then start the engine and go." 

Read more about 2013 IW Best Plants winners.

See the IW Best Plants winners at the 2014 IW Best Plants Conference.

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