Blickman Health Industries (Lodi, New Jersey) is a leading manufacturer of storage, transport and utility equipment used in the health care industry. Most of Blickman’s products are made from stainless steel and undergo typical sheet metal operations such as shearing, punching, bending, welding, polishing and finishing. The final steps in the manufacturing process are assembly, inspection, packaging and shipping.
At one time the company held a monopoly-like position in the market. However, in recent years competition has impacted the company’s market share. Blickman was faced with increasing pressure to reduce delivery times and contain costs while maintaining the high level of quality that made the company successful.
The company’s management team recognized the need to streamline its manufacturing operation to improve its ability to respond to customer needs. A Productivity Improvement Team (PIT) was created for this purpose. This team consisted of key management personnel who had worked well together to run the business, but now had to learn to work together to improve the business. Therefore, the PIT needed to undergo training on both manufacturing cycle time reduction strategies and teamwork.
Once initial training was completed, members of the PIT had a number of meetings to determine how they wanted to operate. Rules of PIT conduct were developed and approved by the entire team. Next, it was time for the team to establish clear and measurable objectives. The key to establishing these objectives was developing a clear picture of how things were at the time and how things should be in the future. The PIT developed objectives that focused on improving on-time shipments and reducing the lead-time for those shipments.
The team decided to focus its initial efforts on the company’s highest volume product line—instrument tables. Although these tables are sold in a variety of sizes and configurations, the manufacturing processes employed are consistent. The team believed that every instrument table could be produced in one dedicated manufacturing cell.
The PIT started by reviewing the capacity of the equipment needed to make the instrument tables. Most of this equipment was used for multiple product lines, so the team had to determine how much capacity could be dedicated to the instrument table manufacturing cell. It became clear that additional press brake capacity was needed, so the PIT focused on the press brake setup process to see if this could be reduced. As is true in most setups, improvements in organization presented opportunities for increased machine capacity. With this increased capacity, it was concluded that a press brake could be dedicated to the instrument table cell for a fixed period of time each week.
The next task was to find a viable location for the cell. Space at Blickman was at a premium, so the PIT searched for an area that was crowded with work in process inventory that would not be needed in a highly flexible manufacturing cell. Options were evaluated and the team ran a simple simulation using paper cutouts to illustrate the flow of work through the cell. This was effective in identifying space requirements for the cell, and working out some processing issues prior to actual production. An area was selected to form the instrument table manufacturing cell.
The next step was to determine the production rate required to meet customer demand. A scheduling spreadsheet was developed to allow employees to input totals for back orders (to work off the existing backlog), orders received in a given week and forecast demand for that week. These totals were “massaged” to provide a weekly quantity to be produced in the cell. The commitment was made to produce no less and no more than this weekly quantity.
It was time to begin to make instrument tables in a new way. Although the manufacturing process was basically the same, the idea of completing small order quantities in a shorter time interval was new to Blickman, and like any other company, there were some growing pains. However, today Blickman is producing its largest volume product line in a cellular environment on a make-to-order basis. Since implementing the cell, there have been few, if any, late orders for instrument tables.