Ideal Combination Technical innovation, team-oriented workforce help deliver superior performance to Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina.
Jill Jusko Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina, Graniteville, S.C.
At a Glance
- Plant: 1,762,310 square feet
- Start-up: 1998
- OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program "Star" Site;
- 2002 South Carolina Governor's Quality Award;
- 2002 Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing;
- three-year decrease of 74% in days of raw materials inventory;
- three-year reduction of 72.11% in scrap/rework as a percentage of sales;
- three-year reduction of 85% in landfill waste per tire
Stroll through the final finish operations of tire manufacturer Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina (BFSC), and it takes no imagination at all to see why it is sometimes referred to as Six Flags Over Aiken. Huge, soaring blue and yellow pieces of machinery that dominate the landscape resemble nothing so much as the complex steel structures that comprise amusement park roller coasters. Instead of shooting humans up and down swooping curves and hair-raising heights, however, these automated conveyors sort and route tires, carry them to final inspection, and forward them to automated palletizing operations -- all with little manual intervention. And Aiken? That's Aiken County, home to Graniteville, S.C., where the 1.8 million-square-foot Bridgestone/Firestone plant resides on 585 acres. There it primarily produces 15-, 16- and 17-inch Bridgestone and Firestone brand radial tires for Chrysler, Toyota and Mitsubishi, among others. (BFSC did not produce any tires involved in Firestone's 2000 recall of Radial ATX and Wilderness AT tires.) The 5-year-old plant operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can produce 25,000 tires per day. For BFSC, these powerful systems of conveyors in final finish are but one example of the many innovative production and information technologies that were designed into this nearly new plant with the aim of building higher-quality tires faster and with fewer people than traditional tire-making plants. Ongoing process improvements resulting from technology infrastructure, lean management methods, and a team-based approach are inherent to operations. Notes the Graniteville plant in its Best Plants application: "The belief was that if team members were constantly developing improvement ideas, assessing the impact of everything they do, and getting personally involved in solving problems related to safety, quality and downtime, then the results would be superior to their competitors." Other technologies the plant employs include an automated, continuous and touch-less tire assembly system; a real-time demand-scheduling system to help keep inventories low; and a computer integrated system that provides real-time quality feedback. Much of the production equipment that ultimately found its way into BFSC had never been industrialized prior to its use in the Graniteville plant, says Rick Carr, operations manager. As a result of the extensive automation, the number of human touches required to build a tire in Graniteville is just one -- in final inspection -- says Michael Darr, production planning and delivery service leader. That compares with a more traditional seven to eight touches at other facilities, he estimates. BFSC leaders are visibly proud of the technological prowess of their facility. Yet, while they tout the advantages of advanced technologies, BFSC leaders adamantly proclaim BFSC's people an equally important component to the plant's success. Rather than a case of machine over man, it's more a case of machine and man. The extensive use of technology to make tires actually affords employees an opportunity to focus their attention on continuous-improvement projects, plant leaders say. "It's not all about technology," explains Steve Brooks, vice president of manufacturing operations at Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire LLC, Nashville, of which BFSC is a business unit. "It's about developing a community approach" to improvement, something "we couldn't do if we had all manual labor," Brooks says. "It would be too hard to get people to step back and think big" if they were continually engrossed in manual tasks. Instead BFSC aims to instill a "spirit of ownership" among its workforce, with teamwork as its cornerstone and lean principles as a foundation. To that end, all hourly workers are
to participate in "small group improvement teams," which, as the name implies, work on projects to improve the plant's competitiveness. In fact, BFSC pays overtime for teams members to meet four hours each month on their off days to work on their improvement projects. BFSC has taken numerous additional avenues to drive that community approach to improvement. The very simple range from having all employees enter the building via the same door to requiring that everybody wear steel-toed shoes, regardless of whether they work in the offices or in production areas. Both practices serve a similar purpose, which is "to give consistent messages," explains Darr. The more innovative approaches include Results Share, a performance-based bonus system in which team members are paid based on plant performance in several production and quality areas, including scrap and customer returns. What sets this program apart from many other performance-based bonus programs, however, is that it is paid out every two weeks. "We wanted to tie results as closely to the effort as possible," Darr explains. And Bridgestone/Firestone's emphasis on proactive safety efforts is clearly reaping results. The Graniteville plant, for example, has reduced its OSHA-reportable incident rate by 62% in the last three years and lowered its workers' compensation costs by 79% in that same time frame. Components of its safety program include a requirement that all employees submit three safety suggestions per quarter. Safety also is measured as part of all employees' performance evaluations. Interestingly, BFSC's reliance on sophisticated technologies has, in one sense, increased its dependence on developing a dedicated, talented workforce. "A significant challenge for us was to get the right people from the onset. The sophistication of our equipment requires highly skilled personnel for maintenance of machinery and computerized information systems," Carr says. To help it meet its training needs, BFSC has established a training curriculum with an area technical school. Today, BFSC faces an interesting test, particularly for so young a plant. A mere five years ago it met the challenge to get BFSC up and operating in a hurry to capitalize on an unmet need for passenger tires in the North American market. The first tire rolled off the assembly line less than a year after the first piece of steel was erected on Dec. 15, 1997. BFSC's challenge today is again one of adapting to a rapidly changing market . While it has adopted a lean approach, Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina was designed primarily to produce high-volume, original equipment tires. That market is eroding. As a result the Graniteville plant is quickly working to adapt its machinery to a new mix, one that includes smaller volume, retail trade tires. How is Bridgestone/Firestone meeting this new challenge? "We're doing a little better this month than last month, and we expect to do better next month," Carr says.
Web-Exclusive Best Practices
Benchmarking contact: Michael Darr, production planning and delivery service leader,
The Visual Factory
Complex pieces of machinery are part and parcel of the highly automated Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina (BFSC) manufacturing plant. While the sophisticated equipment helps drive productivity gains at the facility, work instructions for the machinery can be detailed and difficult to remember. To combat this, BFSC has developed visual aids to help operators access key work standards quickly and understand them easily. Quick access means that the visual aids are mounted near or at the machinery to which they refer, not around the corner or deep in a drawer. Easy to understand means that the plant uses a wealth of symbols, illustrations, colors and other graphic elements to present instructions rather than relying heavily on the written word. Additionally, BFSC has created visual standards for the entire plant, assuring that all employees receive consistent messages -- even if they move between departments. For example, visual cues related to quality are always provided in orange, yellow messages mean they are safety-related, and operations-related messages rely on the color green. BFSC says that not only do the visual signals easily reinforce the training provided to employees -- particularly for those new to the area -- but they also serve as "memory joggers" for workers who have been away from work for seven consecutive days as a result of the plant's non-traditional work schedule.
Unusual Work Schedule
Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina employs a non-traditional work schedule for its production employees, who work 84 hours in each two-week pay period -- 48 hours one week, 36 the other -- in 12-hour shifts. As a result, every 28 days each worker will have seven consecutive days off. They also have two weekends off a month. This unusual arrangement reduces what would be a three-shift manufacturing operation to a two-shift operation. One goal of the reduced number of shift changes is to reduce the temporary slump in productivity that usually accompanies a shift change. Additionally, all workers rotate between working night and day shifts, which eliminates both shift pay differentials and "preferred" shifts.
Production employees average 120 hours of annual training, which includes a combination of both formal and on-the-job training. That training includes "one-point lessons," so named because they do exactly that -- focus on a single, easy-to-communicate lesson. The vast majority of one-point lessons focus on safety, quality or operations. One-point lessons may be as simple as explaining the procedure for turning in a work shirt (The shirts are leased and may be turned in for new ones if they become damaged.) to providing a lesson on the proper lifting technique for "green" -- or not quite finished -- tires.