Training, Planning And Doing An Improvement Effort

Marotta Scientific Controls, Inc. (Montville, New Jersey) designs, develops and manufactures valves, fluid control components and systems for commercial aerospace, space, industrial and defense applications.

Marotta Scientific Controls, Inc. (Montville, New Jersey) designs, develops and manufactures valves, fluid control components and systems for commercial aerospace, space, industrial and defense applications. Marotta strives to maintain a modern, well-equipped machine shop, and it has purchased state-of–the-art CNC technology to machine a wide range of exotic materials.

In order to shorten lead times and control costs, Marotta began a process improvement program based on lean manufacturing principles. When Steve Fox, the company’s vice president of manufacturing, joined the company, he reorganized the departmental structure. “There were too many walls separating the people,” Mr. Fox says. “As a result, communication was stifled and everything was linear.” One of Fox’s first acts was literally to knock down some walls, especially those separating planning and purchasing from manufacturing. Today, the planners and purchasing agents sit in the middle of the manufacturing area, and low-height partitions enhance communication and allow everyone to take part in the process in parallel.

The next task was educating employees about lean manufacturing. Working with the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP), Marotta established a plan to teach employees lean techniques. NJMEP uses a training program featuring live simulation developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Attendees follow a “train and do” approach to learning. Lean techniques such as standardized work, workplace organization, quality at the source, point of use storage, pull scheduling, and more are delivered in a classroom environment. Then they are put into practice in a simulated factory. As attendees learn, they are able to implement more, and the performance of the simulated factory improves. The management team believed a basic understanding of lean manufacturing by everyone in the operation was critical to the success of a plant-wide improvement effort.

The next step was to focus on Marotta’s CNC machine setup times. Being a low volume manufacturer, the company faces frequent setups. Improvement would lead to increased machine capacity, so a team of machine technicians and manufacturing engineers was assembled to learn setup reduction techniques and then apply them. CNC machine setups were videotaped, revealing opportunities for improvement. Many delays stemmed from inadequate or defective tooling, so the team set out to identify and replace it. Documentation of production processes also needed improvement, so the manufacturing engineers spearheaded this effort. The only significant capital expenditure resulting from the setup reduction effort was a tool presetter that allows CNC machining center setups to be transferred from an online (machine down) activity to an off-line (prepare in advance) activity. The team identified improvements that could cut setup times by a minimum of 50 percent. A general CNC setup procedure was developed, and a setup checklist assured that the new procedure was clear and easy to follow.

The next area addressed was workplace organization. Employees received training in the 5S program for workplace organization. 5S (which stands for Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain) stresses the importance of “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Employees in both the CNC and assembly and test areas were trained in 5S concepts, and then teams were formed to implement the program.

In the CNC area, all unnecessary items were removed. Areas for incoming material were identified, and lines were marked on the floor. Workbenches that could support shadow boards for holding commonly used tools were ordered. Tooling carts were assigned to each machine to store tools for the next scheduled job. Even cleaning supplies were organized in centrally located areas. In the assembly and test area, a good cleanup was also conducted, and then all drawers, racks and cabinets were labeled to show contents. Min/max levels were established for consumable supplies to keep better control of these items. Shadow boards were also established and contained all tools needed by area personnel.

As with any company, Marotta experienced growing pains that come with change. Some employees had difficulty with some of the lean concepts, especially those who advocated community managed, rather than individually managed, tools and supplies. Most, however, recognized the need for change, especially when it helps to make jobs easier for all and leads to improved customer satisfaction.