Turning Ideas Into Action Monarch Marking Systems tells employees: "Don't make a suggestion, make a change."
Paxar Corp., Monarch Marking Systems Inc., Miamisburg, Ohio
At a glance
- Material/component suppliers reduced by about 74%.
- Nearly one-third of Monarch's current production (based on dollar value of shipments) represented by new or redesigned products introduced in the previous 12 months.
- Productivity (measured as annual sales per employee) has increased by 45% in the last five years.
- Inventory reduction efforts allowed Monarch to eliminate a 190,000-sq-ft warehouse/office building.
Who knows better the difficulties that plague production than the hourly workforce? Nobody, believes Monarch Marking Systems Inc., a Miamisburg, Ohio-based manufacturer of mechanical price-marking "guns," electronic bar-code printers, and the labels used by both product lines. Furthermore, Monarch figures, if plant-floor employees know the problems, they likely are the best source for solutions. Employee Vicki Stewart and her teammates, who assemble a family of portable electronic bar-code printers at Monarch's 234,000-sq-ft headquarters location, would agree. Three years after the fact, they still are aglow when they reflect on a continuous-improvement project they undertook that not only improved their cell's productivity but also garnered them a national award. "We were like roosters with our chests sticking out" after the honor, Stewart admits. And why not? Their collective intelligence identified the cause behind subpar productivity levels in their cell. The primary culprit was lengthy setups that chewed up hours that otherwise could have been devoted to the assembly process. The team pondered potential remedies, tested theories, and ultimately implemented five solutions. Those solutions reduced change over time in the cell from 60 minutes to four. Even better, the solution "makes our job easier," says Effie Winters, another team member. That's because a major component of the team's solution was to become more mobile. Team members added wheels to benches and tables, which allows their assembly area to be quickly reconfigured for new product lines. Their ingenuity won the team a National Assn. of Manufacturers (NAM) award for workforce excellence in 1997. Three other Monarch teams also have been recognized by NAM for their achievements. More recently a different team worked with a supplier to simplify a product component. Their efforts increased output by 22%. Yet another team developed a unique weighing system that has all but eliminated an inventory accuracy problem that had regularly beset workers who fed Monarch's paper-converting presses. And while Winters, Stewart, and their teammates are happy to reminisce about their award-winning effort, they are quick to say that it is not their only -- or latest -- achievement. These are but a few examples of Monarch's Practical Process Improvement (PPI) program, one of several efforts this Paxar Corp. subsidiary utilizes to drive continuous improvement throughout its operations. (Some 1,100 employees work at the Miamisburg location.) The PPI program relies heavily on harnessing the knowledge of the company's workers. It provides them with the tools to identify root causes of process weakness, forces them to develop solutions, and trains them to develop even better solutions. Company officials admit that PPI teams may not differ much from what other companies employ-except for a few twists. However, while many other programs have "come and gone" at Monarch, says vice president of operations Jerry Schlaegel, "[PPI teams] have stuck around." PPI teams first were introduced in 1996. They succeed, says David Liebrecht, director, quality assurance and product reliability, because they are just one facet of Monarch's total continuous-improvement package. PPI teams are "a cog in the whole wheel," he says. Other cogs include: "Waste Outs," a program that takes a big step beyond an employee suggestion box by requiring workers to take action rather than make suggestions; a lengthy list of posted metrics that drive the formation of PPI teams; and flow-up/flow-down meetings, twice monthly get-togethers that keep both plant employees and management apprised of each other's activities and concerns. What differentiates Monarch's PPI program from others of its kind are the output requirements. They include:
All problems addressed by PPI teams must be tied to one of the multitude of metrics posted visibly throughout the plant. Stewart's PPI team was launched in response to negatively trending productivity metrics.
Teams must test their solutions. For example, when the portable-bar-code-printer team members determined that adding wheels to their workstations might shorten changeover times in their cell, they conducted time studies to determine whether their solution had merit. "If it wasn't going to work for us, we weren't going to present it," says one team member.
The team, composed of hourly employees and a team-appointed leader, meets twice a week for no more than two hours at a time. Each team also has a facilitator who cannot be involved in the solution. Instead, the facilitator acts as a coach, accomplishing tasks that the team does not have time for, running interference where necessary, and helping to present the solutions "in a language the accountants will understand."
The teams have only 30 days to provide an implemented solution to division staff. PPI efforts go hand in hand with Monarch's Waste Outs program. But while PPI teams have a formal eight-step process to follow, Waste Outs allows employees to contribute to Monarch's continuous-improvement efforts in a more casual manner. Monarch defines a "waste out" as anything that saves money or that drives waste out of a process. "[A waste out] can be as simple as the elimination of a multipart form to the sourcing of a more cost-effective vendor to provide the same quality materials resulting in huge dollar savings," notes Monarch in its Best Plants application. In 1999 employees submitted about 2,000 fully implemented waste outs. Like PPI projects, waste outs demand completed action from the employees. In many cases, notes Liebrecht, waste outs are activities employees engage in anyway. "We are just asking them to document it," he says. Employees have good reason to participate in the Waste Outs program, as well as the PPI program. Production employees are eligible for quarterly bonuses based on the company achieving set goals in 10 metrics, which include waste outs. Additionally, profit-sharing bonuses are based on meeting operating-income goals. PPI teams and waste outs also have reaped benefits for Monarch. The company estimates that the two efforts have increased operational efficiencies-including areas measured by cycle time, throughput, and inventory reduction-by some 20% in the last four years. Good for the company and good for the employees, notes Monarch's Stewart. "It makes sense to keep Monarch competitive." Web Exclusive Best Practices Paxar Corp., Monarch Marking Systems Inc., maker of price-marking guns, electronic bar code printers, and labels. By Jill Jusko Benchmarking contact: Dave Liebrecht, director of quality, [email protected], 937/865-2464. ISO Documentation Online Monarch Marking Systems has put all of its ISO-9001 quality management systems documents on its intranet, completely eliminating printed copies. Not only does the practice cut back on the amount of paper devoted to ISO 9000 documentation (one revision update and the documentation it generates could easily create a paper stack 3 ft high), but it also increases the accessibility of the documents and, importantly, makes users aware of changes immediately. Pay For Skills Monarch offers its employees an opportunity to earn money for learning new skills -- regardless of whether there currently is an opening for that job skill. Monetary rewards are provided both to the employee who successfully learned the skill and passed a test to demonstrate his proficiency and to the trainer who successfully taught the skill. The training occurs during work hours, typically during lulls in activity. Currently the plant is pursuing an effort to have every employee trained in two skills. Interchangeable Parts Monarch product-development efforts include driving more common parts. Therefore, while the number of SKUs produced by the company is increasing, the number of components used to create those products is not. One Monarch employee likened the tactic to a Chinese restaurant menu, where a short list of ingredients translates into a large number of menu items. Supplier Partnerships Do suppliers contribute to cost-reduction efforts? Absolutely. In a recent example, a PPI team faced with the challenge to increase productivity in an assembly process identified a supplier's component as a bottleneck in the assembly process. The supplier not only worked with the PPI team, redesigning the component to make it more easy to assemble, but ultimately joined the team. Additionally, the supplier representative offered suggestions that helped reduce the cost of the product. Ultimately the team increased its output by 22%. Recycling And Pollution Control Monarch has implemented numerous pollution-prevention strategies. Some examples: Hydraulic oil for the plastic injection molding machines is recycled through a portable filtration unit. All excess material used in the manufacture of plastic components is reground and used with fresh material to create more product. And the company relies on water-based printing inks rather than solvent based. Fulfillment Options To reduce order-fulfillment time, Monarch offers its customers three different options: take-from-stock, custom orders, and demand agreements. Take-from-stock items are standard in the industry and can be shipped the same day the order is received, if that order arrives before 3:30 p.m. Custom orders are unique to one customer, which is provided with a wide range of options for the product it purchases. Monarch guarantees delivery in 10 days on custom orders even with no advance knowledge of customer-desired options. Third, demand agreements provide ongoing deliveries to the same customer for the initial custom orders.