Worker empowerment at Advanced Filtration Systems Incorporated (AFSI) in Champaign has helped reduce waste 90 percent between 1990 and 1992. The number of product defects, which had been 26.5 per 1,000 units in 1988, fell to zero in 1991.
A 1992 Best Plants award winner, AFSI also eliminated methylene chloride and polyurethane solvent flush from its processes and reduced drastically the residual drum wastes of isocyanate, polyol, and adhesive. It recycles all of its paperboard and polyethylene wrap.
Considered state-of-the-art when it began operations in 1988 as a joint venture between Caterpillar Incorporated and Donaldson Company, AFSI had invested millions of dollars in equipment, but nothing in worker training. In-house programs were initiated in statistical process control, team building, and kaizen techniques.
"When we got to kaizen," recalls plant manager Stan Zwick, "we asked workers to solve specific problems on our machinery." Often choosing to solve a quality problem, they would wind up with a secondary benefit, such as cost savings, reduced setup time, or waste reduction.
One team videotaped how it changed rolls of polyethylene film. As a result, tools needed to change dies and fixtures were put nearer to the operation, and different handles and gauges were installed to make the changeover easier. An eight-hour process was cut to less than 90 minutes.
Similarly, waste reduction and recycling was accomplished through an employee analysis of every waste stream in the plant. The company now purchases much of its raw materials on the same size pallets used for storing the products.