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A small thought.

Just a few years back, automation was king. Production lines were established so that workers could perform as few tasks as possible. We aU know the stories of workers in Detroit who put in one type of screw in one location, eight hours a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year.

Then, through unfortunate experience, we found that our products weren't as good as some of those being made overseas. Our specialization which was designed to simplify and reduce potential defects had resulted in boredom and monotony and had actually increased defects.

From that came new production techniques and new ideas. These included quality circles, statistical process control and others. More recently, another concept has come forward. Ifs called "Idle Zero," or IZ.

The Freudenberg-NOK General Partnership (FNGP) is one major corporation that has implemented this concept. Its Cleveland, Georgia, facility was designed and started with this concept in mind. At this location they manufacture seals and other rubber products for automotive and general industrial applications. At the same time, other plant locations are being changed over to use the IZ manufacturing concept and procedures.

What is Idle Zero?

IZ is a manufacturing concept that this company has worked with for over 15 years. Using it, workers become the key element in the manufacturing process.

The flexible IZ concept developed by FNGP is predicated on smaller batch production and matches machine and operator times. All required sequences in the manufacturing process are orchestrated so that idle time for both workers and machines is minimized. The ultimate goal is to achieve large volume, precision production using small volume equipment controlled by a quality conscious worker.

In the mixing areas at the plant mixers are "state-of the-art." Both mixing and calendering are completely under computer control. Ingredients are kept in locked compartments which will only open if called for in the formula. They must then be properly weighed before the computer will allow delivery to the mixer. The operator then controls the mixing process in the mixer, as well as preparing all documentation for the batch.

In FNGP's operation, each IZ processing area is self sustaining. Each operator will control a variety of jobs related to the product he is producing. For example, in one seal manufacturing process, the operator controls the molding machines, spring insertion, finishing, inspection and packaging. Time is scheduled so that the operator has enough time to complete all his tasks without being rushed or pressured. The basic tenets of the system include:

Smaller batch sizes are better than large. Processing piece by piece is optimal.

Each operator handles a number of processes including inspection to assure quality of his production.

Operators are more involved in the production process and less specialized to functions. After they complete training and obtain job experience, they are expected to have the skills and initiative to take responsibility for the process. In addition, they are expected to work towards continuous incremental improvement in their area.

Supervision is minimal. Supervisors work more as facilitators for the workers to perform their tasks.

While machines are designed to do as much as possible, it is recognized that they are not quality conscious. Therefore, operators maintain control of critical steps as well as overall production of their zone.

* Small batch processing assures that any nonconformances are caught quickly and without involving a large quantity of material. Problems that are identified are corrected immediately.

* Maintenance of machines is critical to optimum production. Inspection and maintenance of machines assures that the output will be acceptable and the process in control.

Total batch production time is determined by the process that takes the most time. Normally, this is the in-mold curing time. It may, in fact be any one of the other processes.

In any given cycle, the operator would start by removing parts from the mold, clean and apply lube (if necessary), load material, close the mold and start the curing cycle. He then moves on to the next station, such as trimming.

The third station could be something such as spring insertion or application of lubricant. Finally, inspection and packaging. At this point, the next batch should be ready for removal from the mold. There is always some allowance in the process time for adjustment of the process to optimize production efficiency and quality. There is no final inspection department.

Typically, anywhere from 2-10 pieces will be processed in each cycle. Lots are defined by what each operator produces on a given shift. This can range from 60 to 2,000 pieces.

What about physical arrangements?

One of the other distinctive characteristics of the plant in Cleveland is the lack of any interior walls. That includes no separation of activities such as shipping and receiving, formulating and mixing as well as general manufacturing. The objective is to produce an open perspective and "management by sight." Objectionable conditions, such as might occur in a mixing area, are clearly visible throughout the plant. As a result, positive efforts are made on the part of both workers and management to alleviate any such conditions.

With the open flow through the plant and with batch operations designed to process each item as completely as possible at each step, there is virtually no in-process inventory in the plant. Just-in-time delivery operations from one step to the next and to the customer become a reality.

Workers effectively "buy-in" to their own production. In operations that move from one IZ area to another, the first must sell his product to the next and so on down the line. In all cases, people on the floor are able to make decisions about the products they produce.

"Continuous improvement" or "total quality management" are buzz terms for increased involvement of the workforce in implementing incremental quality and production improvements in the manufacturing process. As the IZ process is set up, there is a high degree of worker involvement and continuous improvement takes on real meaning. Workers are given a high degree of control over their production area. As a result, they are able to have significant input into the production process. They also receive a high degree of recognition.

There are very few job classifications among the workers in the facility - set up, operator and maintenance. Training is extensive both when bringing new employees in and after they are on the job. For example, each new employee receives basic training in statistical process control. All operations monitor performance through SPC techniques. Employees are then given intermediate and advanced training in SP techniques where needed.

Also, with the increased emphasis on the worker, ergonomics of each job becomes an important consideration. The philosophy is to work smart. Provide an environment that is conducive to optimum output and quality for each worker and function.

What are the results?

FNGP has been working with IZ for about 15 years. The Cleveland, Georgia, facility was started with the concept in mind, and it has been highly successful there.

However, there are other facilities in the country that have utilized more typical assembly line procedures. Because of the positive effect of the process on quality and the workforce, these facilities have been undergoing a change to IZ for several years. Full implementation takes time because of capital equipment changes, etc. that must be made.

In virtually all cases where the concept has been implemented, the company has seen significant improvements in both quality and production costs. This includes:

* reduction of total quality costs by 15-20%;

* reduction in defects and non-conforming materials by 20-30%;

* lower labor intensity to produce a given part;

* lower labor costs per part;

* improved worker morale;

* reduced worker turnover (80% lower). Summary

The idea that smaller is better certainly diverges from what most of us have grown up with. But more and more we are re-learning the need to make our production efforts more human. And the need to re-emphasize the workers and operators on the floor.

The Idle Zero concept seems to be a significant move in that direction. Plus, the statistics reported seem to confirm the positive effect.

The kind of statistics being reported are the type reported by well run, small manufacturing operations. I think it's quite significant that the numbers being reported are coming from a large manufacturing operation. FreudenbergNOK's Cleveland facility encompasses 165,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing area and currently produces over 12 million finished parts per month.

Perhaps by using this technique, larger corporations can retain some of the spark that always seems to be part of the small shop that is lost as the company grows.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Tech Service; "Idle Zero" - a manufacturing concept
Author:Menough, Jon
Publication:Rubber World
Article Type:column
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Previous Article:Editorial.
Next Article:A new concept for microwave/hot air curing systems.

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