Team-Based Operations Delight Customers

Visteon Automotive Systems' North Penn Plant is a manufacturer of automotive electronics. The plant is located in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and supplies parts to Ford Motors and other automotive customers.

Columns From: 12/1/1998 Modern Machine Shop,

Visteon Automotive Systems' North Penn Plant is a manufacturer of automotive electronics. The plant is located in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and supplies parts to Ford Motors and other automotive customers. To improve manufacturing cycle times, the North Penn Plant has transitioned from a traditional manufacturing environment to a team-based operation.

Being a United Auto Workers facility, a joint agreement had to be reached in the early 1980s to expand employee involvement in operations. This required a great deal of commitment from both management and union leadership. It took 15 years for teams to fully evolve from "OK, we're a team, so now what?" to "OK, we're still teams, but where is the business heading?" This evolution required training, and a gradual but continuous expansion of team responsibilities.

The growth of team-based operations at the North Penn Plant has involved the following key steps:

  • Focusing on teamwork,
  • Establishing a system to measure team activity, and
  • Implementing a team-based manufacturing system.

To focus on teamwork, employees are given team-based training, such as holding effective meetings, solving problems, using interpersonal skills, and resolving team conflict. Employees also receive training on tasks specific to individual teams, as well as fundamental techniques for working with customers.

As an automotive supplier, there are many key production measures in place at the North Penn plant. These include:

  • Build-to-schedule percent,
  • First-time-through percent,
  • Dock-to-dock hours, and
  • Overall equipment efficiency.

Other evaluation measures developed at the North Penn Plant include:

  • Development of team objectives,
  • Number of Action Plans developed,
  • Customer evaluations (for both internal and external customers),
  • Material and labor cost per unit,
  • Training matrix updates (to show the cross-training that has been completed),
  • Preventive maintenance tasks, and
  • Performance to schedule.

Implementing the team-based manufacturing system was the next logical step. According to Dave Newcomer, production systems manager, this boils down to a change from "Do it this way" to "Do it the right way."

Along with the commitment to team-based manufacturing came an even greater commitment to "delighting" customers. In order to delight customers, everyone on a team must be familiar with who their customers are. Internal customers are the people and departments down the line. External customers are the end-users or buying organization. Having received training on working with customers, team members become comfortable in this role. Team members are then recognized and rewarded when they truly delight their customers.

The North Penn Plant measures customer satisfaction through:

Internal:

  • Surveys between departments
  • Recognition and reward
  • Sharing best practices

External:

  • Survey customer locations
  • Fix/prevent issues
  • Sharing best practices.

Recently a team delighted a customer when that customer experienced a problem at its site. A team of operators and engineers went to the customer's site and found the source of the problem. The team then built and integrated a new test process within three weeks.

In the North Penn Plant's team environment, people really talk to each other and hourly line workers interface with customers. The focus is on fixing the problem so it will not reoccur.

According to Mr. Newcomer, teams have been a major factor in the North Penn Plant's success. This success includes:

  • Reduced manufacturing cycle time from 8 days to less than 2 days,
  • Improved warranty claim rate from 25 per 1,000 to 2 per 1,000, and
  • Improvement in customer satisfaction surveys from an average of 4.45 out of a possible 5.0 to an average of 4.9 out of 5.0.

All employees now have an appreciation that doing a lot of small things right adds to the bottom line performance of the plant.

Everyone at Visteon Automotive Systems' North Penn Plant knows that if they don't take care of the customer, someone else will.

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