I received a story from thread roller maker, C.J. Winter which talks about how the company used the recession to finally look at some of the easily put off things that needed to be done with the business. Too often, when business is busy, there simply isn’t time to take a good look at how things are getting done with the idea of how they can get done better. There simply isn’t time to deviate from “normal” even if normal may not be the most efficient or profitable method of accomplishing the task. Well, nothing focuses the collective mind of a company when every dime becomes important because recession has reared its ugly head and survival is now a factor in the game. I think the story of how C.J. Winter used its slack time during the recession to prepare for recovery is compelling because it relates to most shops, suppliers and yes, publishers. It explains the concrete steps the company took to be better than before the recession and the optimism it displayed that indeed the recession would be over sometime and their company would be among the survivors. Here is the article:
Improving Your Competitive Advantage During Tough Times
Monday mornings at the coffee machine are always interesting at C.J. Winter. Everyone recounts their weekend, pours some coffee and runs to start the week. If you’ve been to enough coffee machine conferences, you’ll start to notice a trend. You’ll learn the finer points of tuning a dragster engine, how to build a winning pinewood derby car with your kid and that 100 mph seems “not that fast” if the snowmobile trails are groomed like they were last Sunday.
The culture at C.J. Winter is obsessed with speed. In the early 1990s, the company was already established as having some of the shortest lead times on thread rolls in the industry. What others did in four weeks, this company typically did in two. It was an important competitive advantage.
With similar price and quality, the manufacturer that could get product to the customer fastest, stood the best chance of winning the order. That is where the company got it’s foothold in the market. Custom thread rolls were made to order in half the time you could get them from other major suppliers. C.J. Winter’s competitive advantage became a competitive advantage for its customers.
With all its emphasis on speed, you’d think this most recent economic slowdown would be upsetting to these employees. Rather, the company refocused its energy to review operations, methods and make improvements to position itself for the rebound.
Engineers and management went to work in early 2009, and set up several lean teams to evaluate how they supplied thread rolls, and how to make the process faster and more efficient. When the lean teams examined the process, they looked at it from the standpoint of the customer. Customers order rolls, customers open boxes and get rolls—pretty simple. Everything that happens between order and receipt is irrelevant to the customer if they get the right rolls when they need them and at a competitive price.
The streamlining started before the customer picked up the phone. The teams updated the technical literature and catalogs so the most effective roll is identified with minimum delay. The order entry process was revamped so customers have to spend less time on the phone, and answer fewer questions. Thread roll engineering was largely automated using custom software known as ATRD (Automated Thread Roll Design).
“It’s common to think of lean as a factory philosophy, that needs to be applied to manufacturing on the shop floor,” says Sandro Belpanno, senior design engineer. “However, the tools that lean brings to the table can be effectively applied in the office environment as well.” Upon order entry, job paperwork is automatically printed right at the thread roll cell on the factory floor, where the manufacturing process starts. All of these incremental steps to speed up the process took days off the lead time of the rolls, and no chips have been cut yet.
When looking for waste in the manufacturing stream, it was important to C.J. Winter management to involve the machinist making the parts. During normal “busy” periods, these machinists don’t have a lot of time to ponder “how can I make this better,” but in 2009, they were invited to become integral parts of the lean teams. Their hands-on knowledge of the existing process made value-stream mapping much easier, and their input and buy-in was invaluable to successful implementation of the whole program.
One example of waste found through this process was material handling of the bars of stock prior to sawing into individual blanks for the rolls. Material was sawed into five or six large daily production batches, each change-over taking about eight minutes. However, one of the goals of this lean event was to increase flexibility and speed of response to an order and decrease the frequency of blank shortages. This strategy would produce 30 smaller batches each day, and would require four hours of non-value-added material movement each day. To address this problem, engineers developed a sliding material rack/conveyor to hold the 12 most common sizes of material required directly behind the band saw and eliminate most material movement entirely. Changing stock sizes now takes less than 30 seconds, and material handling accounts for less than 15 minutes a day, requires no cranes, strapping or lifting and uses very little effort.
Visual controls are another important strategy implemented to help with inventory management of thread roll orders. “I used to hate our old blank storage shelves,” says Jim Schriener, site manager. “Those little cubbyholes were difficult to see into. You never knew what you had, and what you were out of.”
Blank inventory is now held in an easy-to-see flow rack system, in plastic bins that serve as KanBan triggers, as well. When a particular bin is empty, it is moved back to the saw where the process automatically fills it back up with the correct style of blank. There is no paperwork, no lag time for a MRP system, no inventory errors to keep blanks from being replenished.
Following the visual strategy, the lines at each workcenter are set up as conveyor FIFO lanes. The length of the line is an indicator of workload at that machine. Senior Manufacturing Engineer Paul Francia asks: “How much easier can it get? When you see a long line of parts on the FIFO lane, you know you have to work overtime or put an extra shift on to keep the orders on time.”
Even feedback to the sales department is visual. A web-cam set up over the threading area queue table gives the order entry people instant and continuous feedback, so they can accurately quote lead times on roll orders while on the phone with customers. As a result of these improvements, more than 85 percent of roll orders now qualify for “next day” shipment. And despite shorter lead times and a doubling of order volume in 2010 compared with 2009, on-time deliveries are at an all-time high.