Rieter Automotive Canadian Carpet, London, Ont., Canada
Employees: 160 (Canadian Autoworkers Union)
Total Square Footage: 150,000
Primary Product/market: automotive carpet
Achievements: Ford Q1; ISO 14001 and TS16949 certified; 1.5 days of finished goods inventory (down from 3 days in 2005); significant contributor to Rieter's achievement of the GM Supplier of the Year award for the past four years
Every road to excellence begins somewhere. For the Rieter Automotive Canadian Carpet plant in London, Ont., the journey began in 2001 with one automated line and eight employees. Today, the well-lit, 150,000-square-foot factory has six automated and three manual lines, and employs 160 people working across three shifts. The operation has grown as its primary customers -- Ford, Chrysler and General Motors -- have been battling to maintain market share.
"We are in a unique position, bringing in business in a more bleak local outlook," acknowledges Bert Briley, who works in shipping and receiving on the first shift. He is also the site chairperson for the Canadian
Autoworkers Union. Situated on an automotive corridor that stretches across southern Ontario, management attributes the factory's success to its location, technology and dedicated employees. "We all have to bring our A game," confirms Briley.
At the heart of that "A game" are the automated molding lines engineered by Maschinenfabrik Herbert Meyer GmbH, a German equipment manufacturer. Three to four trailers of carpet blanks, mostly shades of gray, tan and black, measuring approximately 70 by 110 in., arrive daily from a Rieter factory in Bloomsburg, Pa. Employees feed the polyethylene carpet blanks into the automated lines one at a time, where they are heated and stretched by robotic grippers before being pressed into molds. Acoustic insulators placed in the molds adhere to the back of the hot carpet before it cools. Workers remove the molded pieces and place them into another fixture where multihead, robotic water jets cut openings and the final outline. They then add clips and air ducts as required. Each molding cycle takes around 85 seconds.
Four people and a team leader perform the work on each of the automated lines, rotating jobs throughout their shift. Each week the employees rotate to another line. This means that anyone can perform any production job in the facility. For consistency, the team leaders stay with each line. Output varies depending upon daily customer demand. At maximum throughput an automated line will produce 900 to 1,000 parts per day.
On the manual production lines, employees stretch the heated carpet blanks onto pins before they move into the molds. A robotic arm then applies glue to hold the sound-dampening material in place before it is pressed and the final shape is cut. With only one quality coordinator and one supervisor for each shift, every employee is responsible for delivering quality parts to the customer. This means that before moving a rack of sequenced carpet to a staging area for shipment, team leaders will double-check the order of parts by color and feel. For 2006 the plant reported an exceptionally low customer reject rate of 8.8 parts per million.
At just over 150 people and a flat management structure the factory is very responsive to customer requirements, says Bruce Kavelman, plant manager.
Everyone contributes to day-to-day performance. Any improvement suggestion that anyone makes has a direct impact on the working environment and the plant's future competitiveness.
"My goal when I walk in the door is to build a strong team, both staff and hourly people," says Kavelman. "I will stack up the people I have here against any plant in North America."
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Every Idea Counts
Where good ideas go, rewards are sure to follow.
A computer terminal at the entrance to the plant floor makes it easy for employees at Rieter Automotive's carpet facility in London, Ont., to offer suggestions for improvement, whether the suggestion is for reducing the cost of production, eliminating quality issues or improving ergonomics. It also makes management and follow-up easier than a paper-based program. Recent suggestions have included packaging reductions, layout changes, hazard identification and other visual status indicators.
On average each employee submits around six such suggestions per year. The number of suggestions tends to rise during new model introductions. Employees also participate in "kaizen" teams that assist in the implementation of improvement ideas. Together these efforts contributed to $1.3 million in savings in 2006.
While such contributions are expected of every team member, the plant recognizes their ideas in a variety of ways. In true lean fashion it spells out the details of this recognition plan in a "standard operating procedure." At the end of every month the London facility conducts a random drawing from the pool of people who have submitted suggestions, awarding them a $25 gift certificate. Every implemented suggestion also receives an award. For ideas with a measurable return, the employee who made the suggestion receives 10% of the first-year savings. The company also recognizes the best ideas over a 12-month period with significant awards at the end of the year. As with many such programs, the biggest challenge is responding to the incoming flow of ideas and making sure good suggestions are quickly implemented.
At Rieter's London facility employee suggestions are divvied out every Tuesday at a weekly managers meeting. Quality-related ideas go to the quality manager. Engineering changes go to the engineering manager. And so on. Each manager reviews the ideas and determines if they can be effectively implemented. The status of these suggestions is regularly reviewed to make sure they don't grow stale and reported back to employees to keep fresh ideas coming in.
No Tolerance for Downtime
Rieter Automotives carpet plant in London, Ont., religiously tracks OEE (operating equipment efficiency), a factor of machine availability, quality yield and productivity. This 2007 IW Best Plants winner reports the metric for each shift on dry erase boards next to each production line. These results are then rolled up into overall plant performance measures.
Theres no fudging the number. Any form of unplanned downtime -- for example, when a brief loss of pressurization shuts down the water jet cutters on every line for several cycles -- will hurt performance. So do scheduled breaks and any prototype work. Such no-nonsense consistency focuses everyones attention on how to improve the metric, rather than playing games with the numbers.
"If you take your breaks and lunches out, it makes your OEE number look better," says plant manager Bruce Kavelman. "We arent pulling any punches here. Im not going to become part of a contest over who has the best OEE number."
The basis of the line availability calculation is the 480 minutes of available production time per shift. As Kavelman reports, if customer demand is such that the plant needs to run a particular line for the full 480 minutes, it can do that by moving people to cover any break periods from another line that might not require a full shift of output on a particular day.
"If you dont do that, and accumulate all of those minutes of downtime, I end up losing X amount of pieces per shift, per day and per week. That puts me into overtime on the weekends," says Kavelman.
Among other things, measuring OEE has increased employee awareness of first-time quality. When theres an issue related to internal or external quality, managers issue a quality alert. Any production line or department with any influence over the issue receives the alert. All of these employees must read the alert and sign off on it. To get at the root cause, a cross-functional team will review the issue and implement an "irreversible corrective action" plan. To ensure that the problem remains fixed, they also create a follow-up plan.
"People want to be productive. Downtime not only takes away the ability to be productive, it can also negatively affect attitudes," plant management reports. "Monitoring availability [one leg of OEE] and correcting root causes of chronic downtime have helped the plant improve productivity on both fronts."
Recycle, Reduce, Reuse
Other than the polyethylene carpet, which they haven't yet figured out an economical way to reclaim, Rieter Automotive is a big recycler. Every day the company's plant in Tillsonburg, Ont., ships seven to eight trailer loads of insulators to its facility in London, Ont. Manufactured from recycled fabric and clothing fibers, these sound-dampening components are glued to the underside of the molded pieces of carpet that go inside new cars and sport utility vehicles like the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX.
Depending upon the material, carpet cuttings can be chopped up and pelletized, and then reused in the carpet backing. The polyethylene carpet becomes like chewing gum when it goes through this reclamation process. That's one reason why Plant Manager Bruce Kavelman is coordinating a special event, pulling in over 30 people from around the globe, to figure out how to recycle this lightweight material.
On another environmental front, reusable containers and racks are a staple of the automotive industry. They are built into every program proposal. Rieter's London facility receives carpet blanks from its sister plant in Bloomsburg, Pa., on reusable, trailer-width racks. These stackable racks hold the carpet in a small storage area until the material is pulled into production. At the end of the line team members stack finished goods on similar fabricated steel racks that circulate between London and its customers' assembly plants.
Following the basic tenets of lean manufacturing, such material handling processes can offer their own opportunities for eliminating waste. On a recent project, Troy Taylor, a shipper/receiver on the midnight shift, suggested that the company switch the racks that it had been using to transport acoustic insulators from the company's Tillsonburg facility. By reusing and reconfiguring some other racks from a discontinued program, they could increase the number of parts on a trailer from 272 to 324. With daily demand at 910 units per day, the improved cubic utilization eliminated up to one trailer per day.
Taylor took the initiative and ran the trial himself with the approval of London's logistics manager. Today the new racks have been completely phased in and he is receiving a 10% quarterly payout, based on actual shipment volume, as a result of his suggestion and initiative.