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Cultural change is key to Wolfpack successes.

At Milacron:

Cultural change is key to Wolfpack successes

Coming up with a catchy name for a new corporate strategy is one thing; making that program fly is quite another. At Cincinnati Milacron the strategy was dubbed Wolfpack. But getting the "wolf" to howl took a cultural change that's still going on.

Wolfpack is a multi-disciplinary team effort to search out new product opportunities and to redesign existing products in an effort to offer more competitive features and specifications, to boost quality, lower cost, and implement advanced technology and equipment to produce and support those products, the company explains. In short, to design, produce, and sell a more competitive machine tool, not only for the US, but also for the world market.

Its goal is to approach product development with an eye toward designing for marketability and manufacturability. Potential projects, in order to win funding, have to promise the opportunity to reduce manufacturing cost by 40% and increase performance by 40%, says Raymond Ross, newly named president of the Cincinnati-based capital equipment builder. "The driver is cost. That's the only thing we have control over; everything else is dictated by the market."

Wolfpack, as a corporate strategy, was unveiled in 1990. It was adopted as a way for the company to recapture the "standard" machine-tool market which it abandoned in the late 1970s in the face of fierce foreign competition and an over-valued dollar while it pursued a path to diversification. It has since decided to refocus on its core businesses--metalworking and plastics processing--including the standard machine business.

Mr Ross hastens to explain that when he talks about "standard" machine tools, he is not referring to some unsophisticated product. "The Sabre machining center and Talon turning center are performing at levels much higher than machines that some people are claiming to be precision tools. We are building in a very low-cost manner and trying to drive down to that low end of the market for an affordable machine tool for anybody out there. But the performance on that product is not economy grade," he adds.

Milacron has some 30 Wolfpack projects in various stages of achievement. The continuing effort on the Vista plastic-injection-molding machine line resulted in a 50% reduction of parts and a cost reduction of 40%. On one machining center project, the company reports, manufacturing time was slashed by 64%, costs were trimmed by 47%, and the sales price was reduced by 34%.

Mr Ross knows the principles of the Wolfpack program well. He instituted them as head of the Plastics Machinery Div in the 1980s as a way of successfully countering the Japanese invasion of the US plastic-injection-molding machinery market. Within nine months, the group created a totally new approach to design and manufacturing which led to the highly successful and internationally competitive "Vista" line of injection-molding machines.

According to Mr Ross, the first step in a Wolfpack project is to form a team of employees involved in the design, production, sale, and service of the product. Usually represented are design engineering, production, marketing, purchasing, cost analysis, manufacturing engineering, assembly, and inventory control. The process begins with extensive market research and an analysis of competitive products relative to features offered, design, materials, electronics, performance, and other factors. That's followed by an analysis of which machines are selling in various markets.

In the product-development stage, the principles of simultaneous or concurrent engineering take over. The teams strive to break down the walls between the departments and work closely with suppliers and customers, Mr Ross explains.

"We design in the performance, quality, and features that meet or exceed prevailing market standards and we design out manufacturing costs," Mr Ross adds. The job isn't done once the product hits the market. The "Q Prime" program kicks in to continue enhancing quality and reducing costs. To insure that effort, training programs are held for employees in the use of statistical tools to spot non-value-added work, process variations, and to streamline operations by removing barriers between functional areas.

Before the company could embrace Wolfpack, Mr Ross admits, it had to reverse its "engineering-driven" culture. "We were a very engineering-driven company," Mr Ross says. "The engineers developed the better widget. Since they had divine guidance, they were able to design with absolutely no constraints as to cost or how to manufacture, or whether it was what the customer really wanted to buy. As a result, the engineers drew it up, manufacturing built it, and eventually it ended up in the sales department where the reaction was that it was a good idea five years ago, but not worth much now. That's how long it took to get the product to market," Mr Ross says.

"We have been struggling since the late 1970s with this constant internal dilemma of trying to be a very engineering-oriented company, yet not figuring out how to utilize the engineer to his best abilities. . . to get the most out of their skills...not engineering for engineering sake, but engineering to arrive at a solution," Mr Ross says.

Wolfpack, Mr Ross claims, has already gone a long way in changing all that. It's a team approach that starts with the marketing department. But it's more than simply asking the salesman or the customer what he wants to buy, Mr Ross warns. "Ask a salesperson what you should be designing and making and he'll describe the last order that he lost. Ask the customer and you'll get the description of a machine he won't buy. He'll ask for every bell and whistle you can think of, but he wants it all for about half of what it'll cost," he adds.

"Those are inputs that can't be ignored, but have to be tempered," Mr Ross advises. "Then you ask the service people, the customers who are going to be working on the machine, your own shop people who have to machine and assemble the product, somebody from purchasing, and obviously, the engineer.

"You test what is selling versus what the customer says he wants. With that information and analysis, just like an artist, you get the canvas you want to work on--the selling price because that is what the market tells you it is willing to pay; the profit you need; and that determines the cost of manufacture. Then we go back to the engineers and tell them the features we want on the machine, specifications as to speeds and accuracies, size of the work envelope, and other specifics.

"The immediate response of the engineer is that he is losing all his freedom," says Mr Ross. "What he finds, however, once he gets started, is that the engineering challenge is so much greater; that his creativity really has to get with it. He doesn't have a landscape where he can go anywhere he wants with his paints. He is challenged to get his message across in a much more compelling space.

"When we first started the program, some engineers felt it was beneath them to go out onto the shop floor. Today, those same engineers, before they put a line on paper, are out in the shop talking to the people to get their input on the impact of any change.

"Once you get the wall to come down and the players realize they are not competitors, but rather members of the same team and that they can help each other, then you start to get results," Mr Ross claims.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Corporate planning at Cincinati Milacron
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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