MW Industries, Inc., headquartered in Logansport, Indiana, manufactures and distributes a range of industrial springs, flat stamped products and specialty fasteners for many industries, including transportation, construction, agricultural, electronic, petrochemical, medical, power tool and industrial equipment. The company has committed time and resources to learning about and implementing lean manufacturing in many of its plants across the country. Two of the company’s plants have reaped significant benefits from their lean manufacturing initiatives, making them more competitive and bolstering customer satisfaction.
The first plant, Atlantic Spring (Flemington, New Jersey), is a manufacturer of cold wound springs offered in various sizes and materials. In-house manufacturing processes include coiling, heat treating, grinding and finishing. The company began its lean transformation in 2003. It started by learning about the lean tools and techniques critical to driving out waste. An introductory class, sponsored by the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP), provided a solid foundation and a vision of improvement that was possible in the organization.
The company's management team realized that lean manufacturing was the way to go. According to Jeff Van Natta, Atlantic Spring’s president, “Through a series of cross functional teams, we were already involved in some lean initiatives. We just did not know it, and we had no real road map of how to tie everything together. The NJMEP program provided the vision and the road map.”
The company began by immediately implementing some of the principles in the shop.
Because the plant was faced with long machine setup times, especially in the coiling area, the first step was to learn quick change-over techniques and put them to use. According to Steve Krajewski, vice president of manufacturing, “We observed a few setups and found people spending too much time walking around getting necessary tools, materials and fixtures. We reorganized the coiling area and relocated many items closer to the machine and made things much easier for the setup personnel.”
The next step was to change the way the company scheduled workflow throughout the shop. Often, there were jobs that were not needed until later in the process. When “hot” jobs hit, they caused major disruptions and a lot of expediting. As Atlantic Spring is really a job shop that produces a large variety of customized springs, visual “first in, first out” (FIFO) lanes were established to link successive manufacturing processes and communicate job priorities. Today, there is much less work-in-process (WIP) inventory, and the jobs in queue are the ones that are really needed to satisfy customers.
A second plant, Accurate Screw Machine, (Fairfield, New Jersey), is a manufacturer of electronic hardware and fasteners, including bushings, spacers, adapters, and standoffs.
Under the direction of the company’s new president Scott Solomon, (formerly the president at Atlantic Spring), Accurate Screw Machine made a commitment to lean manufacturing. One of Mr. Solomon’s first tasks was to get all employees to keep their work areas clean and free of unneeded items. “Keeping our manufacturing areas clean and well organized is vital because it improves efficiency.” Mr. Solomon says. “Waste elimination and improved safety are the direct results of our efforts.” Mr. Solomon was also instrumental in fostering a team culture within the organization. Teams were established to improve plant housekeeping, shipping effectiveness, flexibility and speed to market.
Next, employees attended an introductory class on lean manufacturing principles. Furthermore, managers and a large number of employees participated in a team-building class geared toward promoting teamwork as a means of addressing the challenges that lie ahead. The company was then on track with its lean transformation.
One of the biggest issues facing a screw machine shop is long machine change-over times. It was normal to have screw machines down for hours waiting for the completion of job change-overs. After receiving training in quick change-over concepts, a team of employees videotaped and reviewed some typical setups. Suggestions were made and ideas were developed for reducing setup times on all screw machines. Shorter setup times are a key to increased flexibility, allowing the company to “right-size” run quantities.
Both Atlantic Spring and Accurate Screw Machine have already benefited from lean techniques as they continue their lean transformations.