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SI Corp's Journey Toward Lean

Progressive manufacturing processes such as the lean manufacturing approach taken by SI Corp are increasing in popularity.

TW Special Report

K nown for leading the way in product innovation, Chattanooga, Tenn.-based SI Corp. now is applying its forward-thinking philosophy of continuous improvement to its manufacturing practices. The company provides material for support, strength and stabilization in such applications as flooring, road construction, erosion control and furniture construction. SI has converted all five of its manufacturing facilities to a progressive new way of operating called "lean manufacturing."

Lean manufacturing represents a fundamental shift in thinking away from the mass production philosophy. For instance, SI's largest facility in Chickamauga, Ga., covers 1.5 million square feet - approximately 35 acres. This plant went from being one mega-facility to nine small plants operating under one roof.

The conversion to this new operational philosophy was initiated in the summer of 2002. "In order to achieve the concept of lean manufacturing, we knew that our operations team must be willing and able to change anything and everything," said Stan Brant, vice president, manufacturing.

siopening
SI worked directly with Sulzer Textil to develop air-jet looms that give SI more control over fabric properties desired by carpet mills in backing systems.

What Is Lean Manufacturing?
The fundamental basis for lean manufacturing is elimination of waste and non-value-added activities in every aspect of operation. The philosophy provides a structured game plan for achieving these goals.

"Lean manufacturing is a journey toward perfecting operations," Brant said. "In other words, it never ends. The key is continuous improvement through a step-by-step organized process."

The lean manufacturing philosophy offers a very broad definition of waste, and it seeks to identify and reduce what it terms the eight deadly wastes:
•    overproduction;
•    excess inventory;
•    defects;
•    overprocessing;
•    unnecessary motion;
•    waiting time;
•    transportation; and
•    wasted human potential/injuries.

Over time, this lean manufacturing operational philosophy will force change in almost every area including processes, policies, systems, competencies and behaviors.

silady2
Using lean initiatives, SI was able to reduce waste in its beaming operation.

Lean Manufacturing
At SI Improves Core Issues

For SI, the statistical changes resulting from lean implementation have been impressive. The core issues the company tracks - including safety, quality, cost and productivity - all have improved. First-year results show an improved safety recordable incident rate of 44 percent; a scrap rate reduced by 30 percent; off-quality finished goods reduced by 46 percent; and productivity increased by 15 percent.

A specific example of an operational change at SI is the creation of flow cells, which have replaced the traditional way of arranging a manufacturing floor. This was a natural outgrowth of implementing lean practices. A flow cell is a specific group of people responsible for the complete process of manufacturing a specific product. This group initiates the process with the raw material and completes it with the delivery of the finished product. At a pre-shift meeting, each product group discusses safety, quality, cost, productivity and customer expectation issues for its particular product. The team works together all shift long to manufacture its product.

The creation of flow cells provides a major benefit to SI. By giving its employees ownership of a product, they are more likely to have a personal stake in the creation of that product.

"Since we put the lean practices in place, an employee is not just spending his day extruding a nameless product," said Joe Dana, president. "He is creating SoftBac® Platinum foundation for Shaw Industries. He is responsible for upholding the integrity of the SoftBac name." This personal attachment to the end result works in the best interest of the company, as well as the employee.

silady
The lean process helped SI improve its weaving quality by giving the operator more accountability, process ownership and better awareness of true customer needs.

How Is Lean Implemented?
Two things are required for lean implementation: structure and leadership. At the top of the lean organizational chart is Brant, who came to SI from Duracell, part of Boston-based Gillette Co. Brant brought with him the idea of lean manufacturing and was responsible for implementing the new philosophy.

Reporting to Brant are guiding coalitions at each SI facility. These coalitions are made up of approximately eight employees, and they serve as a steering committee for the new philosophy. They are responsible for the following:
•    establishing direction to attain the vision of lean manufacturing;
•    communicating the vision and strategy with clarity and passion;
•    aligning resources to implement lean objectives; and
•    motivating and inspiring employees to overcome obstacles and barriers encountered on the journey toward lean manufacturing.

In order to be successful with lean manufacturing, a company needs cross-functional employee involvement. It represents a shift in thinking away from the mass productivity philosophy and allows employees to focus on common goals and outcomes.

If the guiding coalitions are the steering teams, the lean deployment team leaders are the hands-on implementers. At each facility, there is one such team leader, who reports to the plant manager. These team leaders are responsible for the following activities:
•    coordinating and leading Rapid Improvement Events - very intense, focused process improvement events lasting four-and-one-half days to highlight areas of waste; and
•    providing training and leadership in lean thinking and lean tools.

Rapid Improvement Events are the key vehicles to implementing lean manufacturing. During an event, cross-functional teams zero in on one weak area and seek to improve it. These teams are made up mostly of employees on the manufacturing floor, and the teams are accountable for a solution by the end of the event. Any and all means are available to the teams to correct problems. These events address issues relating to safety, quality, cost and productivity.

Portions of the Six Sigma analysis  process - which provides a disciplined approach to problem solving and evaluating gains - are used in conjunction with lean manufacturing principles.

sitruck
Through customer collaboration, SI has set up direct ship programs with some of its customers, reducing the need for warehouse space.

Why Change To Lean Manufacturing?
"Why change?" is probably one of the most popular questions the company's executive staff is asked in reference to the move to lean manufacturing. The broad answer is that the company allowed its own culture of product innovation to bleed into other aspects of its business. "We've spent many years focusing on innovation in product development," Dana said. "Seeing such positive results, we were inspired to think creatively in every area."

There were other factors that moved the company in a new operational direction as well. As an American manufacturer, SI needed a way to run more efficiently to fight the threat of foreign competition and withstand continued pricing pressure from industry consolidation. Pressure from rising costs in raw materials, health care, utilities, and other operational costs also pushed the company toward change.

How Lean Manufacturing
Benefits The Customer

The customer receives higher-quality goods and services as a result of lean manufacturing. Customer requests are sent directly to the team that makes the product from start to finish. Therefore, reaction time is shorter, and the entire product team has an opportunity to offer input on how best to satisfy the request.

With the increased productivity and cost reduction that lean practices provide, the customer will receive more features for the same or less money.

The Future Of Lean Manufacturing At SI
Lean manufacturing has proven to be a worthwhile endeavor for SI, and promises a climate of continuous improvement in the future. The productivity gains achieved through implementing this new operational philosophy free up capacity for future growth.

The mission of eliminating waste and non-value-added activities will lead the company down many new roads.

"Perhaps the best part of this new way of operating is the safety net provided when pushing the envelope again and again," Brant said. "Through structured processes, we have the freedom to improve any way we can. We are getting better all the time."

April 2004

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