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Quality, Layer By Layer

Wed, 07/16/2008 - 9:14am
By Anna Wells
Metalsa Roanoke's emphasis on technology and long term vision guides the company's recent changes in its IT and CI projects.

Metalsa Roanoke's emphasis on technology and long term vision guides the company's recent changes in its IT and CI projects.

Metalsa Roanoke's emphasis on technology and long term vision guides the company's recent changes in its IT and CI projects.

Tucked into the rolling hills of Botetourt County, Metalsa Roanoke, provider of frame rails for Class 8 trucks, serves as a pillar of manufacturing success in the rural Roanoke Valley. After setting up shop in Roanoke in 1996, the facility expanded in 2003, and has very recently undergone an IT platform shift including PLC, MES, and ERP layers, as well as adopting an aggressive TPS program-all of this while still keeping employees and quality as core values for success.

Cross-Cultural Goals

Metalsa Roanoke is a division of Metalsa, a Proeza Group company. Headquartered in Monterrey, Mexico, Metalsa has been in Virginia for 12 years, with three other main facilities-Apodaca (Monterrey), Saltillo, and San Luis Potosi. New ventures have the company developing an operation in India as well.

"The cultural differences between our plant in Mexico and our plant in Roanoke provided some unique opportunities when it came to standardization," says Diane Hollins, Market Research Analyst, Metalsa Roanoke.

"We wanted to have a good synergy between the multiple plants, and standardize the processes," adds Troy Blevins, IT project manager. "So we examined the processes and best practices, and identified the common traits. Then we can take the best of each and, when we're in India, combine them and not reinvent the wheel-because we're going to have the same manufacturing process."

Metalsa Roanoke takes coils to steel through a roll-framing process for Class 8 truck frame rails.

Metalsa Roanoke takes coils to steel through a roll-framing process for Class 8 truck frame rails.

Finding The Right Fit

The Metalsa Operational System (MOS) is at the core of the company culture, and this very specific approach to culture has manifested itself in Metalsa Roanoke's other, very specific approaches to its general operations and continuous improvements methods-rather than try to artificially implement a plan of action, Metalsa Roanoke has been careful to tailor projects to its specific environment, and not be afraid to do some major upheavals to ensure success.

One benefit to both the factory floor employees and the management team is a practice called "incremental innovation." The concept behind this process is incorporating employee feedback into multiple tiers of operation. For example, each year, every employee is asked to provide six 'ideas' (something that has a budgetary impact), 12 'improvement projects' (something involving a small team of employees), and 24 'suggestions' (something which makes that employee's individual job more productive). This information is kept in a repository, making it available to everyone.

MOS sits under the umbrella of the company's over arching Metalsa Model (MM), an approach the company describes as "a way of life based in the conviction that we can achieve growth and permanence of the company through our people and the culture that is lived." The other branch of the model is Quality as a Way of Life (QWL) and is comprised of a combination between TPQ (total personal quality) and leadership.

For Metalsa in general, the most important thing is the people; Metalsa believes that quality product can only be produced by quality people.

This focus on TPQ has been instrumental in the company's low turnover rate. Working for a company on the higher end of the competitive pay scale is one thing, but Metalsa Roanoke makes the deal even a bit sweeter for its employees-the work schedule for the manufacturing team is a three day week, divided into 12 hour shifts-for a total of 36 hours, where employees get paid for 40, with the incentive of having longer stretches of time off than a typical weekend.

Objectives of the Metalsa Operational System (MOS) include elimination of waste and unsafe conditions, reduction of variability, and innovation of products and processes.

Objectives of the Metalsa Operational System (MOS) include elimination of waste and unsafe conditions, reduction of variability, and innovation of products and processes.

Taking Quality To Other Realms

Metalsa's specific, internal method to company culture seems to mirror the way Roanoke's employees have been able to approach some more recent daunting operational changes. Take for example, the facility's recent overhaul of its IT capabilities. "We're very technology-based," explains Blevins. "The shop floor and front office is mainly run by the systems in place-the PLCs (programmable logic controller), MES (manufacturing execution systems), and ERP (enterprise resource planning) layers.

"We started looking two years ago at our next ten year vision-our systems, and how we're going to either maintain our current systems or replace them. Our goal is to provide a global vision to reach out into new areas of the business. The current system was limiting Metalsa's ability to expand our current manufacturing process. In 2006, Metalsa created a cross functional team to locate an MES solution to meet strategic goals and needs."

From Goals To Successes

"Our customers send engineering orders, and we build from the engineering orders without any human intervention or action taking place; we can execute orders directly from our customers engineering and business systems. Our EDI process allows us to validate and direct orders to our manufacturing locations based on our business rules," explains Blevins.

"So we wanted to maintain our fundamental process flow, from our customer, to shipping back to the customer-we want to keep that intact, while concentrating on our middle layer, which is MES. We had three objectives:

  • To have very flexible capabilities. If they came in and said ‘I want to add a new manufacturing process and want it done in three months or less,’ we could accommodate, whereas we couldn’t say that before.
  • To assist projects to increase production, and doing it twice as much as we do today.
  • To stabilize the process and reduce downtime in other areas—and give operations control of the system.

"Our goal is to have one integrated platform, limit the number of repositories of information, and have it all in one area-so if we have problems and want to improve our process, our analysis is a lot better and faster, and allows us to react quickly to the customers-versus today, it's a painful process to receive information and determine the root cause. As technology gets better, and customers want things at a lower cost, if you can't find out the problems sooner and you allow things to keep going, it's not a value added to your customers."

As many manufacturers are well aware, ERP software can be a mammoth undertaking, but Blevins is quick to point out that the benefits are only fully realized if the company involved starts with ERP from the ground up.

 

Knowing ERP

As many manufacturers are well aware, ERP software can be a mammoth undertaking, but Blevins is quick to point out that the benefits are only fully realized if the company involved starts with ERP from the ground up. "If you don't change some of the ways you do business, or you try to force fit the ERP to your business practices, then you'll have problems.

"The thing I've seen as a stumbling block for a lot of customers is how to use ERP effectively, know it well enough, and have internal resources that are champions of each functional area. Another is to not be overwhelmed by all the functions and features, because ERP encompasses everything in your business. With the second go-around with this MES solution, we've changed the order management process, where we store the master data-the value added of an ERP solution. It's a master repository of customer-related part numbers, internal part numbers, order management, and shipping activities. There are some areas for improvement, but I've seen some companies throw their hands up and walk away from the implementation."

Natural Business Teams

"Lots of companies talk about teamwork," says JR Huffman, production manager, and manager of industrial engineering. "Our concept here is what we call natural business teams. We've made recent changes this year to get our employees more onto the conceptual model. For instance, one of the things I've seen with past employers is that the guys on the night shift really don't get involved; you may see them in passing and that's it. With our natural business team concept, we're going to further define the folks out on the shop floor by process, to try and get everyone aware of all the objectives in each area as far as safety, quality, and machine uptime-and have one central leader across all shifts in an area. That person would be kind of like a coach, being able to draw all the resources together in one area, so that the folks on night shift (maintenance, quality, production), are all on the same sheet of music, as far as trying to attain the goals in that area, which feed up into the plant level goals and the corporate goals."

Adds Hollins, "There's also some bragging rights involved-a little healthy competition between the work cells to see who goes the most days without any first aid accidents, who has the most throughput, and who has the best quality numbers."

Improvement Is Continuous

From a continuous improvement methodology standpoint, Huffman puts a lot of emphasis on the company's recent adoption of TPS (Toyota Production System). "TPS as a whole is a very in-depth methodology," says Huffman. "You can't just go in and have all your problems fixed in a matter of months. This really gets down to a change in the way you approach problems.

"I think that the way you implement is extremely important-fortunately for us, we have commitment from management on up to the highest levels. It could injure you if you don't have buy-in, because it is resource-intensive.

Adds Huffman, "I think TPS is a big part of the puzzle, and the reformulation of the natural business teams to be really process focused in each area will be the other part. When you combine the two, we're really expecting to see some big gains in terms of safety, quality, and productivity."

"It's one of those things where some parts of it are common sense; it's just that sometimes you have blinders on and don't necessarily see those things. "With something like an A3 report-you can explain a story so that somebody from outside can go through the different sections and see what your gap is, what you're working on, what your action items are, what you're responsible for, when things are due, and finally, your indicators- and being able to say 'well, this is where we were at, and where we made the changes.' Hopefully you've got a positive trend in one direction after that. There are some things like that which are obvious, but sometimes, until you get into the methodology, they weren't that obvious before."

Adds Huffman, "I think TPS is a big part of the puzzle, and the reformulation of the natural business teams to be really process-focused in each area will be the other part. When you combine the two, we're really expecting to see some big gains in terms of safety, quality, and productivity."

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