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Autoliv North America: IW Best Plants Profile 2007

Dec. 13, 2007
The Power of Suggestion: Autoliv's airbag initiator facility takes an "extreme kaizen" approach to continuous improvement.

Autoliv North America - Tremonton Initiator Facility (ITO), Tremonton, Utah

Employees: 382, non-union

Total Square Footage: 117,000

Primary Product/market: automotive airbag initiators; micro gas generators; pyro materials

Start-up: 1992

Achievements: Shingo Prize in 2005; Autoliv North America's Excellence in Safety Award in 2006; 75.2% improvement in productivity parts per person from 2003-2006.

Shortly after acquiring an existing airbag initiator facility in Tremonton, Utah, in 2001, automotive supplier Autoliv launched a kaizen suggestion program designed to encourage continuous improvement ideas from its employees. Nothing new about that -- any company involved in a lean initiative will have some sort of kaizen program. At the Tremonton facility (known locally as ITO, for Initiator Tremonton Operations), however, Autoliv is practicing what might best be described as "extreme kaizen." In 2002, 227 suggestions were submitted; through November 2007, nearly 15,000 suggestions had been submitted. And what's an even more impressive achievement -- virtually all of those suggestions have been implemented.

IW's 2007 Best Plants

See the other winners of IW's 2007 Best Plants award and find out how they made the top ten.

Most of ITO's continuous improvement efforts, however, are focused at the team level. Employees participate in kaizen events, called workshops, where they tackle key issues as defined by Pareto charts and other production data that indicate where problems lie, explains Mark Newton, plant manager at ITO. These kaizen workshops, which have grown in number from zero in 2003 to an estimated 160 in 2007, are focused on eliminating waste and improving productivity, and Autoliv accomplishes both of those goals via visibly managed worksites.

The idea of the "visual workplace" is part and parcel of the Autoliv Production System (APS), which is modeled on the Toyota Production System. Toyota helped mentor ITO in the implementation of lean manufacturing principles, and today thanks to the APS, "visitors see a clean, organized and visual workplace where associates and guests can clearly see and identify normal from abnormal," Newton says. "The visual workplace makes it easy to know when a problem exists anywhere in the plant. It also allows for easy manager updates," he adds. "By walking the floor, anyone with practice can determine how well the last 12 hours went in about 10 minutes."

Scott Stone verifies the integrity of an initiator-can laser weld.

According to Staci Gunnell, controller, "The continuous improvement culture has empowered people that they can make a difference." Some of those differences include tripling inventory turns since 2003; improving on-time delivery to 99.6%; and a 96.5% reduction in external customer quality defects.

Safety is another area where continuous improvement has paid off for ITO. Airbags don't merely inflate in a collision; there is an explosion that is generated by the initiators manufactured at the Tremonton facility. Autoliv has been the beneficiary of the trend to add airbags for side, curtain and seatbelt applications, but that increase in business has also introduced the challenge of safely manufacturing many different and large quantities of pyrotechnic materials and products. As Newton explains, "With pyrotechnics, we must avoid friction, heat, impact and static discharge. Any of these can cause combustion."

That's led to the development of a new manufacturing process called the slurry loading process. Basically, that refers to the process of handling the pyrotechnic chemicals while they're wet rather than dry, since they're much safer to handle when wet. A team workshop dedicated to safety and productivity resulted in savings of over $1 million thanks to 67% fewer safety incidents and cost savings of 59%. And you can be sure that ITO employees will continue to suggest ways to achieve even more savings.

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Autoliv Practices "Good Neighbor" Policy to Eliminate Waste

Conversation leads to opportunity for a "win/win" situation.

Sometimes the best continuous improvement results are the result of simply being a good neighbor. Autoliv North America - Tremonton Initiator Facility (ITO) manufactures pyrotechnic devices that initiate automotive airbags, and the reactive wastes that result from its production processes need to be stored in vegetable oil. Just down the street, its Tremonton neighbor Malt-O-Meal produces cold breakfast cereal, and in the process of making its food products, the plant ends up with many drums of leftover vegetable oil.

The opportunity was there for a "win/win" situation; all it really took was for a conversation between Janet Bass, part of ITO's environmental team, and a colleague at Malt-O-Meal. It turns out that Malt-O-Meal was more than happy to give its drums of non-usable (for human consumption, that is) vegetable oil to its neighbor, rather than incurring the costs of disposing of it. ITO, for its part, is able to save up to as much as $10,000 per year (the cost of the oil ITO would otherwise have had to purchase) through its partnership with Malt-O-Meal.

Meanwhile, another Autoliv plant in nearby Brigham City, Utah, has also expressed interest in using Malt-O-Meal's vegetable oil for its wastes. And if for any reason Malt-O-Meal is unable to provide sufficient quantities of vegetable oil, ITO is looking to other food producers in the area that might be interested in a similar arrangement.

When ITO is finished using a drum of vegetable oil, those empty metal drums are put to good use as well, as a storage container for collecting recyclable metals and other wastes.

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