Collins & Aikman Corp., Guelph Products: IW Best Plants Profile - 2003

Feb. 14, 2005
A Partnership Of Muda Fighters At Guelph Products, communication fuels an effort to eradicate waste (muda). In the past three years, customer cost of a typical product dropped 34.6%. By John Teresko Collins & Aikman Corp., Guelph Products, Guleph, ...

By John Teresko

Collins & Aikman Corp., Guelph Products, Guleph, Ontario, Canada 

At a Glance

  • Plant: 240,000 square feet
  • Start-up: 1986
  • Achievements:
    • 15 PPM quality rating for 2003;
    • tool changes now average 34 minutes, down from 90 minutes two years ago;
    • achieved $7.4 million in customer cost savings in 2002;
    • 2001 DaimlerChrysler Gold Award

Auto parts supplier Guelph Products, a site of Collins & Aikman Corp., builds a muda-busting partnership with its union employees on trust, starting with a policy that no layoffs can ensue from process improvements and efficiency gains.

"We continue to build the partnership by emphasizing communication with the employees," says Chris Heinrich, plant manager.

Hourly personnel, represented by the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), have never been involved in a labor walkout, strike or disruption.

"By viewing our hourly workers as equals, the production effort gains partners with the knowledge and motivation to seek customer success via lean manufacturing methods," he adds.

The plant has a formidable corporate reputation to uphold. Its corporate parent claims a No. 1 or No. 2 North American market share position in seven out of 10 major automotive interior categories. (Last year three Collins & Aikman plant sites received IW's Best Plants Award -- Americus, Ga., Athens, Tenn. and Rantoul, Ill.)

The plants of Collins & Aikman are specialists in the design, engineering and manufacturing of automotive interior components including instrument panels, fully assembled cockpit modules, floor and acoustic systems, automotive fabric, interior trim and convertible tops.

The Guelph plant's evolution as a world-class manufacturing facility was not certain a decade ago when the journey was begun, says Heinrich. For example, some of the initial innovations such as the no-layoff policy were met with disbelief.

"At first, we found the no-layoff policy difficult to believe," admits Dale Heaney, the CAW chairperson for Guelph. (She is now a believer!)

The focus of the plant's lean initiative is the elimination of waste across all areas including labor, materials and emissions. Heinrich says the Guelph experience proves that success with the principles of lean manufacturing can both maintain and build employee security.

"Lean attracts new customers while motivating current customers to give us more business. Attracting new business also means we gain an opportunity to grow while picking and choosing the kind of business that we want. We seek the opportunity to align ourselves with high profile, very successful OEMs. In short, the principles of lean manufacturing have given us a choice."

Lean principles are a fundamental part of Heinrich's strategy for maintaining profitability in the face of continuing OEM pressure for price reductions. He says such OEM pressures are the plant's greatest challenge. For example, in the past three years customer cost of a typical product made at Guelph has been reduced by 34.6%. Heinrich explains that the suppliers wishing to secure work must absorb the costs of meeting an OEM's expectations.

"To offset those costs we use the principles of lean manufacturing whereby each process is scrutinized for waste through the application of value stream maps."

What are the profit metrics of lean success? Over the last three years, the plant reports a 27.6% increase in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization).

A multitude of awards testifies to the plant's achievements in satisfying customers and in using lean manufacturing prowess to attract new business. For example, DaimlerChrysler awarded the plant its coveted Gold Award in 1999 and again in 2001. Of DaimlerChrysler's 256 interior suppliers, only 15 receive the award.

Another testimony to manufacturing excellence is how the plant's manufacturing reputation attracts new customer programs. For example, the facility has been selected as the lead plant for the DaimlerChrysler 2004 large car (LX) program to supply, in sequence, the instrument panel, the door panels, console and interior hard trim and the front and rear struts.

As a result of becoming the greatest content supplier for that program, the Guelph plant also has taken on a new aspect of the automotive business. In addition to sequencing its own parts to DaimlerChrysler, the Guelph operation will act as a third-party sequence delivery provider for other suppliers.

Also new is Honda's 2005 TU truck program -- now in the preliminary stages of advance product quality planning. Currently Guelph ships components to DaimlerChrysler, Toyota Motor Corp. and New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., the Fremont, Calif.-based joint venture of Toyota and General Motors Corp.

To provide room to grow, 17,000 square feet were added in 2000 followed by the acquisition of a second 112,000 square-foot facility in 2003. Heinrich firmly believes that communication and people talents are the source of the plant's production excellence.

"We view our versatile, talented people as partners -- as equals in accomplishing customer satisfaction. Both management and the hourly workforce take pride and ownership in what they do. They're superb in dedication, energy and focus. And I think that's [management's] reward for always striving to improve communications with the hourly partners."

Heinrich insists that refining communication skills is the single most important initiative in achieving Guelph's winning performance.

"I cannot say enough about communicating what we're doing, why we're doing it, where we're going and why we want to go there."

A trip through the plant shows evidence that the communication emphasis is not an ephemeral abstraction or platitudes. For example, vision boards located in every department communicate the operating measurables that evaluate performance success. The measurables include absenteeism, health and safety, overall equipment effectiveness, first-time capability, quantity requirements and delivery.

Departmental progress in each category is color coded to enhance communication at a distance.

To instill a sense of ownership and accountability, employees have to do some of the actual calculations and post them on the board every shift, says Heinrich. Understanding the calculation process helps in relating operating factors to plant success.

The Guelph plant also communicates job instructions in a very accessible way via virtual job instructions at workstations. Using the personal computers that monitor the real-time production activity, the virtual instruction system allows an operator to view the job as it should be performed, along with written instructions.

Heinrich explains that the virtual instructions assist in training a multicultural workforce by providing both visual and written instructions that can be viewed over and over again at the press of a button.

An added benefit is that these instructions also minimize the use of actual trainers and allow cross training with ease and flexibility. For those wondering where the emphasis on communications and empowering employees originates, CAW's Dale Heaney offers a clue: Heinrich started his career at the company in human resources! 

Web-Exclusive Best Practices

By John Teresko Benchmarking contact: Bruce Pawlett, quality system superintendent, [email protected], 519/767-4230

Tool Leak Board A visual approach helps the Guelph plant of Collins & Aikman Corp. quickly resolve leakage problems common to large tonnage plastic-injection-molding machines. The plant's solution is a tool leak board in the main plant aisle displaying a schematic diagram of the injection-molding department on a press by press basis. Any employee who detects a leak is able to go to the board and complete a tag and visually display (on the diagram) where the leak is located.

 Incomplete tags visually inform the maintenance department that a problem exists that requires their immediate attention. Once a leak is repaired, the tag is completed and removed from the board. The visual aid is designed to help the plant identify and correct problems as soon as they occur. The approach quickly solves serious maintenance issues and reduces downtime.

Quick Changeovers Looking for ideas to reduce tool changeover time on plastics injection molding machines? Consider benchmarking the Collins & Aikman Guelph plant. For example, techniques developed at the facility have pared one two-hour procedure to less than nine minutes. The achievement was a two-step procedure. Step one, which cut changeover time by 60%, was the result of using quick-change magnetic plates, retractable hoses, tandem manifolds and quick-connect fittings. Step two involved time study procedures and a quick-changeover tool kit.

Results: improved equipment efficiency, better machine utilization and the ability to meet daily build schedules. The plant claims the improved procedure has eliminated the need to schedule catch-up work on weekend overtime. Ultimately Guelph anticipates bottom-line savings through reduced capital investment.

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