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Teams buy into toolmaker's vision.

The common management wisdom today is that if you can get your employees to "buy into" company strategies and objectives communications between workers and management will be improved, employee morale will soar, and productivity, product quality, and overall plant performance will enable you to serve your customers better

At Carboloy's steel tooling manufacturing facility in Lenoir City, TN, organizing its workforce into product teams has produced those benefits and more.

Bottom line result: a one-year increase of 30% in plant output with the same number of employees for the Detroit headquartered tooling manufacturer.

The Lenoir City facility manufactures Carboloy's inch-based milling cutters, rotary tools, square-shank turning tools, and premium PCD (polycrystalline diamond) and PCBN (polycrystalline cubic boron nitride) inserts for the North American market.

Team formation

Day-to-day operation of the four product sectors is the responsibility of day- and night-shift product teams composed entirely of hourly employees. The teams select their own "captain" to conduct team meetings; other members serve as "coordinators" in charge of quality, maintenance, safety, and external liaison with other teams.

Weekly 30-min meetings are held to discuss delivery and quality issues, and any particular jobs that may have to be expedited to meet special requirements of Carboloy Customer Services. The product teams are largely self-managed and are empowered to issue their own maintenance work orders and work promise dates.

Two additional "standing" teams round out the team structure. One is a Communications Committee that reviews team or employee complaints or suggestions and proposed solutions to the plant manager. The other is a Steering Committee, composed entirely of managers, that oversees the teams. A single management-level team coordinator is responsible for ensuring that all of the teams get the equipment and tooling they need to be productive and maintain the motivation to function effectively.

First steps

The product teams were created in 1992, in response to an employee survey that reflected a widespread desire for greater input into how things were done at the plant. As a first step, plant management hired an outside facilitator and formed a pilot team from its highly skilled "five-axis" machine operators who are responsible for machining ultra-precision insert pockets in milling cutters and other rotary tool products.

Since establishing teams throughout the plant, every employee has received a minimum of 40 hr of training on how to be an effective team member. The basics covered include interpersonal skills (for example, how to accept criticism constructively), how to run effective meetings, and how to deal with team associates on a day-to-day basis. Some team members have also received training in technical skills such as calculus blueprint reading, problem-solving, and creating simple data documents such as fishbone charts, Pareto charts, and histograms. In addition, company managers have all received 40-hr week-long facilitator training at the University of South Carolina.

Overall, Lenoir City spends from $30,000 to $40,000 each year on employee training. It is part of the plant's people-oriented approach, explains Chuck McKeown, plant manager. He says that the team structure at Lenoir City has generated a much stronger sense of employee commitment, or "buy in" to company goals, and with it a new "Hey, we can do it" attitude.

It is this attitude, in turn, that has been responsible in part for justifying the purchase of expensive new equipment that can meet the plant's stringent delivery requirements with improved product quality.

Lenoir City operates under Carboloy's Ready Stock Express policy, which stipulates that, at any one time, 95% of the company's total product inventory must be available to customers anywhere in the country within 24 hr.

"People are the key," says Mr McKeown. "We can spend all the money we want on equipment and training, but it takes people to take some ownership to properly set up the equipment, get it running, and keep it running."

When people feel good about themselves "they don't leave their brains at the door," Mr McKeown believes. He cites shift starts as evidence of this. "Before, people would follow the supervisor around asking what jobs they should do. Now, they come in and know what needs to be done. They just go do it."

To help smooth transitions between shifts, the day- and night-shift Square-Shank teams share a unique activity. Fifteen minutes before the end of the first shift, the two teams get together for a "roll-over" meeting in which they discuss production priorities and which machines are running and which aren't.

Interteam communication has virtually eliminated interruptions to the production flow and illustrates the participatory nature of the team structure. Although each of the Square-Shank teams has a team captain, neither serves as a supervisor. The function of the captains is to structure and run the meeting, not to give work directions.

New ideas generated

Lenoir City teams are strongly encouraged to generate ideas for process and productivity improvements. Team proposals are assessed by the Communications Committee. "It's very important that the ideas are given a fair hearing," says Gene Harris, a team coordinator. "You'll lose credibility if you say that team members are empowered to make changes and then fail to consider their suggestions."

Examples of how receptive both management and teams were to the new communications covered everything from buying an expensive piece of equipment to recommending the adoption of a work uniform.

* The Five Axis Team provided input into the selection of a major new capital equipment, inspecting potential equipment candidates and evaluating their ability to meet production goals and meet ease-of-use guidelines.

* The Carbopax Team (PCD/PCBN inserts) redesigned its work area to reposition everything including the supervisor's office (out of the way) to optimize work flow.

* The workforce requested uniforms, then designed and ordered them from vendors that management had brought in.

Reduces setup by 80%

Working with the engineering staff, the Five Axis Team developed a system of color-coded families of tools for each standard rotary tool manufactured at Lenoir City. Tool kitting is credited with reducing tool setup for the five-axis machining centers from about 3 1/2 hr to only 45 min. Overall time savings are immense, since some of the products are run in lots as small as four, with the average lot size being 20.

Previously, part changeover was a time-consuming process. Operators determined which of the 50 to 60 tools in the automatic tool changer (ATC) were usable for the new part run and which were not. They then obtained the new tools required from the tool crib, set up the holes, and installed them in the machine.

Now a pre-set color-coded tool family is available for each standard part number. For changeover to a new part, all that is required is calling up a new part program and installing the corresponding pre-set family of tools directly in the ATC. Tool kitting also takes the selection of the right tools for a particular job out of the tool crib and puts it into the hands of those most knowledgeable of machining the part--the operators.

Carboloy addressed tool duplication that tool kitting brings with it head on. When machine operators throughout the plant said that they needed more tools to do their jobs more efficiently, the company invested nearly a million dollars in new tooling. "We've given our people the responsibility to get the job done and make sure it's done right. With that, we believe we have the obligation to give them the resources to make it happen," says Dennis Reszka, manager of shop support.

At the same time, management has demanded added discipline from the five-axis machine operators. "They can't compromise the integrity of the color-coding system by, say, taking a tool from a yellow family to replace a tool in the orange family, just for the sake of expedience."

An added benefit of tool kitting is that a mix of both fresh and used tooling is loaded into the ATC. As the machine is running, used tools showing obvious wear can be selectively pulled out, changed, set up again, and put back in place with no interruption to the machining cycle. Previously, a tool such as an end mill might be used for only ten pieces of a given part, then pulled out on changeover to be either discarded or resharpened. Now, the same tool is left in its holder and put back in the rack with the rest of the color-coded family of tools. When the next job comes up, the tool goes back in the machine and is run until it is consumed. Utilizing the full performance life of tools has led to a dramatic reduction in perishable tooling costs, the company reports.

"At this point we would never go back to the old way of doing things," says Mr McKeown. "But you can't take the improvements for granted. Management has to consistently do its part to maintain motivation."

To this end, Mr McKeown cites six basic ways Lenoir City management is helping to make teams work.

* Get team members to work together and have mutual respect;

* Give all of the teams, and individual members, a lot of encouragement;

* Help employees appreciate the value of teamwork;

* Encourage active participation by all team members;

* Mandate daily or weekly team meetings; and

* Get team members with the best attitudes to encourage other team members.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Carboloy Inc.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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Next Article:Zinc die-casting makes even the smallest parts.

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