E-Z-GO: IW Best Plants Profile 2009

Dec. 10, 2009
E-Z-GO Charts a Course for Competitiveness: Benchmarking initiatives and employee engagement help increase market share and profitability.

E-Z-GO, Augusta, Ga.

Employees: 608, Non-union

Total Square Footage: 672,047

Primary Product/market: Golf turf and utility vehicles

Start-up: 1954

Achievements: 90% increase in plant-level profitability in past three years; inventory turns improved by 30% between 2005 and 2008; more than 1 million hours without a lost-time injury

Thanks to lean manufacturing processes, Augusta, Ga., golf cart manufacturer E-Z-GO can take credit for bringing some previously outsourced work back to the United States. About six years ago, the company began a continuous-improvement initiative that included a detailed make vs. buy analysis.

Managers at the division of Textron Inc., a $14.2 billion diversified manufacturer, discovered they could fabricate certain components in-house for less than they could overseas. Machine shop team leader Greg Mims credits increased employee engagement for making E-Z-GO's fabrication department more competitive with outside suppliers. "Reality sank in that people can make it cheaper than us, so we all pulled together, and people started working smarter and coming up with ideas," he says.

For instance, the company relied on employees to improve flow in the machining area when it consolidated the fabrication department into one building about three years ago. The workers engaged in a "paper doll exercise" that entailed placing cut-out paper templates on the floor to determine ideal machine placement, Mims says.

The workers were able to nearly double productivity by situating the machines closer to materials. Now they can churn out as many as 700 brake drums in 10 hours compared with 350 prior to the transition, Mims says. The company also is saving about $500,000 by bringing brake-drum production that previously was outsourced to the Czech Republic back to its Augusta operations.

E-Z-GO's lean transformation has resulted in other significant improvements since 2003, when the business unit recorded an operating loss and was losing market share to competitors. Between 2005 and 2008, the company increased profitability by 200%, cut its supplier base by 60% and improved first-pass yield by 24%.

The manufacturing campus relies heavily on benchmarking data from other companies to implement its own best practices. The company built a new production line for its most recent product release, the RXV, using benchmarks from BMW and Harley-Davidson. (The company conducts up to a dozen benchmarking visits each year, says plant manager Darryl Heffline.)

The RXV golf cart is assembled on a highly automated paperless line that utilizes a manufacturing execution system to gather information and relay data displayed on an overhead LED screen to operators on a real-time basis. Fastening tools are integrated into the system and won't allow a vehicle to proceed if a component is installed using improper specifications, such as torque or angle.

The line ramped up in record time after the company unveiled the product in October 2007. "We had demand from the market saying we need the product sooner," recalls E-Z-GO President Kevin Holleran. "In seven weeks we were in full production. We held on to orders because of that." Benchmarking with companies such as Honda, which released a product in six weeks, helped E-Z-GO meet the ambitious production schedule, says Ronald Draper, vice president, integrated supply chain.

"We needed to shape the vision of what really good plants are doing," Draper says.

Judging by E-Z-GO's progress, it won't be long before more plants are visiting its operations for their own benchmarking initiatives.

Safety Lessons Learned

E-Z-GO workers make safety a priority.

An employee at an E-Z-GO plant in August, Ga., yells to a group of managers and visitors touring the facility to put their ear plugs in. The gesture on this early November morning was a friendly reminder by the employee that safety always comes first at this complex where the company produces golf carts and other turf utility vehicles.

After all, safety should be a priority at the 672,000-square-foot campus where a tragic incident took place more than four years ago.

On Oct. 6, 2005, every plant manager's worst nightmare came true at the E-Z-GO operations. That day an employee was killed when he attempted to dislodge a golf cart that was stuck at the unloading station at the end of an assembly line.

The company was cited and fined by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and the plant took corrective actions to prevent future incidents. Since then, the subsidiary of diversified manufacturing giant Textron Inc. has logged more than 1 million hours without a lost-time injury and has implemented a program that reminds employees to continually think safety.

The program, called behavior-based safety (BBS), is a proactive approach to creating a safety culture throughout the plant by empowering workers to observe their work of co-workers to try to identify unsafe processes, equipment or behaviors.

When employees notice a potentially unsafe condition that could result in an injury, or worse, they can record the potential safety issues on a BBS card that's submitted to the plant's safety department for collection and action. One of the most powerful aspects of this program is that employees coach each other directly on potential safety risks and brainstorm together on corrective actions.

Some of the safety incidents require immediate action, while others might be turned into a continuous-improvement initiative, says Cindy Michaels, team leader in the RXV product warehouse.

BBS audits are conducted periodically by all levels of leadership. In 2008 E-Z-GO averaged 56 BBS audits per month.

Michaels says most people understand that the system is designed to protect them rather than punish.

"We look at it like, 'Don't do that; I want to see you go home,'" she says. "We're not afraid of having our hands slapped. It's a good thing."

About the Author

Jonathan Katz | Former Managing Editor

Former Managing Editor Jon Katz covered leadership and strategy, tackling subjects such as lean manufacturing leadership, strategy development and deployment, corporate culture, corporate social responsibility, and growth strategies. As well, he provided news and analysis of successful companies in the chemical and energy industries, including oil and gas, renewable and alternative.

Jon worked as an intern for IndustryWeek before serving as a reporter for The Morning Journal and then as an associate editor for Penton Media’s Supply Chain Technology News.

Jon received his bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Kent State University and is a die-hard Cleveland sports fan.

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