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Mike Williams provides balance to General Motor's casting operations.

Success for a foundry boils down to the quality and cost of the castings it produces. Every foundry, regardless of size, succeeds or fails due to this principle.

However, like a ladle full of molten metal ready for pouring, many ingredients are charged together to create a successful metalcasting operation. Whether it is the optimized manufacturing processes or the relations with personnel, the community and the government, a leader's ability to blend these various ingredients is paramount to success.

For General Motors Powertrain's metalcasting operations, the blending is in the hands of J. Michael Williams, manufacturing manager-components and metal castings. A GM employee since 1961 when he started as a GM Institute student and an hourly worker in the Delco Remy Div., Williams, 55, has been the head of metalcasting for GM Powertrain since 1992.

Under his leadership, GM has maintained the largest commitment of the Big Three Automakers to foundries, because, according to Williams, "it is a strategically sound decision and a competitive advantage to produce certain key components in-house. It is never easy (to justify in-house foundries) when you are competing for scarce capital, but the organization has proven its capability to deliver what GM and its customers need."

For Williams, however, the management of GM's metalcasting operations isn't solely based in the production of castings, but in balance between the product and the people side of business.

People vs. Product

"Organizations are shifting to the lean manufacturing approach where the quality of the product has to be a given," said Williams. "Long-term stability is dependent on how an organization's system focuses on the environment, safety, government relations and people."

Although not foreign to GM, Williams and his team's adherence to balanced priorities hasn't always been given this level of attention within the company.

"Although the emphasis on the other side of business, the non-product side, has always existed in the metalcasting operations, there has been a greater recognition of the importance of diversity and expanding one's knowledge to include all phases of business compared to 10 years ago," Williams said.

"When we were the Central Foundry Div. (in the late 1980s and early 1990s), the effort was limited to producing castings to a high quality level and low cost. When we integrated into GM Powertrain (in 1992) and formed a much larger organization, we were able to look at the casting from a broader view."

There is no doubt that the Williams' era has continued the tradition of advancing the science of metalcasting. Recent developments such as GMBOND (an environmentally-friendly core sand binder) and the first plasma cupola in North America, and the continued research efforts of the Advance Development Lab and the Advance Materials Development Center in metal matrix composites, and investment, squeeze and lost foam casting, attest to this commitment. In addition, the recent announcement of the addition of aluminum lost foam casting to its Saginaw Metalcasting Operations demonstrates GM's desire to remain at the forefront of casting technology.

But in Williams' "lean manufacturing approach," these advances, although innovative and beneficial to the industry, are a must to simply remain competitive. The non-production side of the business - the work with the environment, safety, government relations and people is what puts you ahead, he said.

"To be effective, some people say you must choose between upgrading the product or your people," Williams said. "I believe it is critical to maintain a good balance. The balance must ebb and flow to meet the demands of what needs to be accomplished."

On meeting the demands of improving the production side of business, Williams cited two examples as evidence - GM's creation of the Metal Casting Technology (MCT) center with Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Milford, New Hampshire, and GM's development of foundry manufacturing cells.

When MCT was established in 1985, it had a narrow research focus to improve the production of iron castings. However, as needs have shifted in the last few years, so has the joint venture's direction. Among other things, it now focuses on a broader scope as a casting organization working with light metal technologies and how the capabilities of those metals can benefit GM.

GM's development of manufacturing cells within the foundry, according to Williams, is an improvement in production in response to competition. "We are focused externally on what our competitors are doing and where they are heading on a global basis. Our thinking has evolved from very traditional metalcasting operations with one large facility to more process-focused operations where we have linked many manufacturing cells together."

The manufacturing cells allow each step in the production process to be its own self-contained unit capable of providing innovations to production and solutions when problems arise. In addition, the cells work in conjunction with the entire auto manufacturing process, so what the metalcasting operations are doing is in line with what will help the rest of GM Powertrain produce the best components.

"It may be in the organization's best interest to produce a more expensive casting so that the manufacturing system control and system value is enhanced," Williams said, noting that a focus on lowest cost can cloak opportunities downstream.

Participatory Management

On the enhancement of the non-metalcasting side of business, in pursuit of balance, Williams cites the metalcasting operations' implementation of participatory management and its role in government affairs.

"Our biggest threat is failing to engage our existing workforce in our mission," said Williams. "We have to balance the daily efforts of our business while leading our people into the future. That means developing sound plans, communicating with our people and unleashing their creative potential."

Although Williams knows that with 13,000 employees these ideas are difficult to convey and execute, it is up to him and his management team to provide the model.

"Fundamentally, our leadership has to model the participatory behavior to follow," explained Williams. "Whether it is me touring the plants, or a plant manager or department head spending time on the foundry floor in one-on-one or group discussions, we need to reflect participation."

The participatory management style Williams and his team employs also is reflected in the organization's approach to government affairs. When Williams became head of metalcasting operations, only one person in management was responsible for government affairs. In addition, at his first AFS Government Affairs Conference in Washington D.C. he found himself being the only GM foundry represented on Capitol Hill. "I couldn't find time to talk to all the government officials in states where we had plants," he said.

To address this situation, Williams empowered his people with this task. Last March, GM casting operations had 26 in attendance at the conference, including plant managers, environmental engineers, safety personnel, HR personnel and communications staff.

"The results of interaction with the government have an impact not only on the bottom line of our operations, but also a ripple effect in the community," Williams said. "This is why we encourage managers at the local level to develop relationships with government officials. They are the best equipped to resolve the issues that inevitably arise."

But for Williams and GM's metalcasting operations, the buck doesn't stop in Washington. 'The real work is accomplished when we can interface with the government at our facilities. This hands-on approach in the government official's district is where things are accomplished," he said.

Williams cites the numerous times GM casting operations have opened their doors to government officials to educate them about foundry processes and products. "Through those interchanges, they (government officials) become aware of the effects of potential legislation and regulations on the business and ultimately their individual constituents."

He continued, "The key for us, and our industry, is to work toward finding creative solutions to our differences with government. In many cases, we agree on the end goal already - we just can't agree how to get there."

To GM, the customer (both internally and the consumer) is still the first priority. Under Williams, GM's metalcasting operations have developed a new way to focus on providing value to that customer.

"Helping to define a vision, establish direction and provide leadership are the foundations upon which any successful business is built," he said. "I am extremely proud of the progress GM's metalcasting operations have made in refocusing the entire organization to address the significant competitive issues faced by our industry."

J. Michael Williams Manufacturing Manager-Components & Metalcastings, General Motors Powertrain

Education/Degree: GM Institute/BS in Industrial Engineering, 1966

Central Michigan Univ./Master's in Management. 1992

Immediate Family: Wife-Penny Sons-Jeff and Jay Daughter-Julie

Professional Assns: AFS FEF and the Foundry Assn. of Michigan

Company Information

Year Founded: GM Corp. - 1908 GM Powertrain - 1993 (formerly Central Foundry Div.)

Foundries: Saginaw, Michigan Metalcasting Operations (two plants - one is malleable iron/green sand and one is aluminum and gray iron/green sand): Massena, New York (aluminum and ductile iron/lost foam); Defiance. Ohio (gray and ductile iron/green sand); and Bedford. Indiana (aluminum/permanent mold and diecasting),

Markets: Automotive

Castings Produced: 1.5 million tons/year

Metalcasting Employees: Approx. 13,000
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:General Motors Powertrain Manufacturing Manager for Components and Metalcastings
Author:Spada, Alfred T.
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Jun 1, 1998
Words:1499
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