General Cable - Indianapolis Compounds: IW Best Plants Profile 2007

Dec. 14, 2007
Continuing A Winning Culture: General Cable's achievements derive from a workplace culture bent on maximizing Six Sigma and lean.

General Cable - Indianapolis Compounds, Indianapolis, Ind.

Employees: 58, union (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers)

Total Square Footage: 50,000

Primary Product/market: polymer compounds

Start-up: 1987

Achievements: IndustryWeek Best Plants Finalist in 2006; selected as General Cable's 'Best Plant In North America' over 18 other facilities; President's Award for Lowest Incident Rate -- no accidents or incidents of any kind over a four-year period

Behind the successful implementations of Six Sigma and lean at General Cable - Indianapolis Compounds is a unique collaboration of union and management employees. "It's built on a shared attitude that's driving the push for continuous improvement," says Terry Jones, team coordinator and the plant's top union representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Their achievements start with a shared attitude: "We're not satisfied with what we've got." Adds plant manager William (Buck) Wright, "Our associates come to work committed to make things better."

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The plant's union-management team also shares other characteristics. For example, many of them have an intimate connection with rural and small town America, points out Susan Schroeder, HR manager.

Wright, proud of employee progress with Six Sigma and lean manufacturing, says their rural/small town connection is a heritage that helps support their performance. "With their rural/small town background, they tend to be effectively predisposed toward teamwork and collaboration." Wright, in fact, still lives in a rural environment near Terre Haute, Ind., about an hour's drive away from the plant.

Seniority is another shared characteristic. Jones, the union leader, has been with the plant for 19 years. Plant manager Wright has been with the compounding plant since it was built in 1982, when he served as engineering manager for the first owner, RCA.

The plant was originally built to manufacture the plastic compound for the RCA Select-a-Vision video disc. However, the disc was not recordable and the subsequent success of the VCR led to the closing of the plant in 1985.

Wright stayed through the purchase of the plant by Cablec, a wire and cable company in 1987, and then transitioned again when that company was purchased in 1989 by BICC, another wire and cable maker.

Bill Scott tests tensile strength of EPR compound.

General Cable, by acquiring the power cable division of BICC in 1999, gained not only the plant, but also Wright and three other associates who were part of the original staff of the facility. The plant serves primarily as an internal supplier of polymer compounds to the company's wire and cable producing plants. Wright says 87% of the plant's active capacity currently serves the company's operation in the U.S. and Spain. The remaining production capacity is used to market polymer compounds to competitors of General Cable.

The internal challenge, says Wright, is that other General Cable plants are not obligated to buy from the Indianapolis facility. Externally, on the open market, the Indianapolis plant competes with such companies as Dow, Borealis and ECC.

Wright attributes the product's acceptance to the implementation of lean and Six Sigma. But being the successful supplier of choice brings its own challenges. For example, the plant is currently operating on a 24/7 schedule and product demand continues to grow, notes Reed Elkins, engineering manager.

To meet that growing acceptance, a third compounding cell is scheduled to begin operating in January, says Lee Montgomery, manufacturing manager. The $4 million investment in equipment will increase annual volume by 23% and will increase the product line of available compounds by over 250%. The goal is to reduce dependence on custom compounders and reduce material expense.

The drive for manufacturing excellence is led by the plant's seven-year emphasis on Six Sigma and lean manufacturing. The supporting cast: Of 58 total employees, there are three black belts, five green belts plus one green belt in training.

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Lean/Sigma as practiced at the Indianapolis Compounds facility of General Cable is designed to maximize employee involvement in the production process. "Our No. 1 Lean/Sigma performance driver is OLPC (Operator-Led Process Control)," says plant manager William Wright. He says the plant's Lean/Sigma approach has resulted in a workplace culture where the employees dedicate themselves to continuous improvement and process optimization. "The resulting culture is not a 'I come to work for eight hours and then I go home' kind of environment," adds Wright. "They come to work and try to make things better." Wright says the plant's associates are totally committed to the mission of being the preferred supplier of polymer compounds to General Cable's wire and cable plants. While the plant supplies material on a cost of production basis, its internal customers can opt out. None have and the plant is operating on a 24/7 schedule.

Wright describes cross-functional training as key to establishing and maintaining the plant's OLPC Lean/Sigma culture. All hourly production associates with more than one year of service are cross-trained in all production job classifications. Three associates with less than one year of service are cross-trained in at least two of the three classifications. Refresher training is routinely scheduled with a minimum of 36 hours in each area every quarter. The plant has progressed from one trainer to having qualified trainers in each job classification on every shift. Charts posted on hallway bulletin boards show associates' trainer qualifications as well as who has participated.

The depth of associate involvement extends to recommending candidates for new hires. "Something right is going on because their candidates often include friends and family members," adds Wright.

Formally adopted in the 2001/2002 time frame, the OLPC culture is supported by black belts (Wright and both his engineering and production managers). In addition both the HR and finance managers have green belt status, adds Wright. "By having HR and finance involved, it really helps when going after a project."

Winning with Maintenance

Start your Lean/Sigma initiative with a maintenance strategy advises General Cables William (Buck) Wright, plant manager at its Indianapolis Compounds facility. He considers preventive and predictive maintenance programs as the foundation that enables a plant to grow. "If production equipment cant reliably fill orders, customers will be lost," he says.

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is used to schedules an average of 250 preventive maintenance procedures each month. Wright estimates total maintenance cost at about 3% of the cost of goods sold. That includes labor, services, consumables and replacement parts. Although total maintenance costs have risen 38% over the past three years, only 0.81% of the plants maintenance work is in reaction to unplanned equipment breakdowns.

A factor in the maintenance increase was the transition from a five day per week to a seven-day-per-week production schedule starting in January of 2006, explains Wright. Most of the increases are related to increased labor costs and fringes. Three additional maintenance personnel were added to support 24/7 operations. Some increases were also associated with increased maintenance costs of equipment operating on the 24/7 schedules, Wright adds.

The maintenance program at the Indianapolis facility consists of a manual work-order system in addition to the Datastream 10i CMMS. The Datastream 10i CMMS provides us the capability to start connecting both maintenance labor and repair parts to individual cells, Wright says. The CMMS system provides historical data and trends to determine the effectiveness of the predictive maintenance program.

All associates at the Indianapolis plant have maintenance responsibilities. Wright says a manual work-order system is also in place to correct problems as they appear. Bar coding helps manage part inventories.

General Cable's Manufacturing Principles

The Indianapolis Compounds facility is annually assessed by the company's 12 principles of operations excellence. For the last five years the Indianapolis plant has been ranked as one of the top two out of the company's 18 plants. The principles:

  1. Safety is the cornerstone of a high performance plant. It is a characterized by high associate awareness, effective associate training, ergonomic work environments, vigorous investigation and root-cause elimination of unsafe acts and conditions and results in zero loss time accidents.
  2. Good housekeeping and organization are expected at all times. Use of the 5S techniques is encouraged -- i.e. a place for everything and everything in its place.
  3. Disciplined use of authorized formal systems is required to ensure data integrity of BOMs, routers, labor, scrap and inventory records. Use of inaccurate date results in financial and customer service surprises and causes poor decision-making.
  4. Preventive/predictive maintenance systems will be routinely used to plan/schedule equipment and facility maintenance. An undependable plant delivers poor customer service and disappoints shareholders.
  5. Process capability will be measured on all key processes with a minimum process control expectation of >4 Sigma, 1.33 CpK. Use of statistical tools leads to a reliable environment with predictable outcomes on cost and service. The ultimate objective is to achieve theoretical levels of capacity utilization and material usage with process control approaching 6 Sigma, 2.0 CpK.
  6. Operators are responsible for product quality and will not knowingly pass defective materials to the next operation. The objective is to have zero "escapes" of poor quality product to the next operation or to an external customer.
  7. Product will be manufactured on-time to the agreed upon work order delivery promise. Manufacturing delivery performance is critical to growing the business profitably. It is a measure of the reliability of the shop floor and is an essential part of providing service that ultimately delights the customer.
  8. Evidence of Visual Management will be prominent throughout the plant with metrics at each work-center. The use of Kanban, color-coding and other visual techniques will be used as appropriate.
  9. Continuous improvement will result in relentless productivity improvement >5% year-over-year on a rolling 12 month basis. It is critical to the long-term job security of everyone to maintain a low cost and competitive manufacturing cost structure.
  10. A comprehensive, purposeful communication plan will be in place and executed in every plant on a rolling 12-month basis. Better-informed associates make better decisions for the business.
  11. A comprehensive, purposeful training plan will be in place and executed in every plant on a rolling 12-month basis. Fully competent associates work safely and deliver quality products on time at a competitive cost.
  12. All associates will help to create and then will support a shop floor environment where the operator is in control of the process. This will be known as Operator-Led Process Control (OLPC).

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