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Putting Green In Motion

Fri, 02/20/2009 - 11:38am

Issuing a challenge has long been used as a way of motivating people or pushing them to achieve greater results than they may have previously thought possible. In the case of NSK Precision America and its Franklin, IN facility, which produces linear motion products, a challenge has helped push the plant's team to new levels of greener and leaner operational efficiencies.

As part of the NSK group, a global supplier of various motion control components with literally unlimited application potential, the team in Franklin was given the challenge of becoming ISO 14001 certified.

Issuing a challenge has long been used as a way of motivating people or pushing them to achieve greater results than they may have previously thought possible. In the case of NSK Precision America and its Franklin, IN facility, which produces linear motion products, a challenge has helped push the plant's team to new levels of greener and leaner operational efficiencies.

As part of the NSK group, a global supplier of various motion control components with literally unlimited application potential, the team in Franklin was given the challenge of becoming ISO 14001 certified. This standard addresses environmental management practices that work to identify and establish better controls relating to the impact of a company's activities, products or services on the environment. The certification process aids in establishing systematic approaches to reaching internal and external environmental objectives, which demand continuous improvements in order to meet these goals.

In embracing this challenge, there were some paradigms throughout the plant that had to be addressed. "There was definitely a learning curve involved," offers facility engineer Bud Ponto. "For example, one item that is important for the 14001 audit is having everything properly labeled, so everyone knows what's inside a container or in inventory.

NSK Precision America's Franklin, IN facility has gone from a series of individual work cells to a direct line production flow that has helped improve lead times.

Getting Onboard

In embracing this challenge, there were some paradigms throughout the plant that had to be addressed. "There was definitely a learning curve involved," offers facility engineer Bud Ponto. "For example, one item that is important for the 14001 audit is having everything properly labeled, so everyone knows what's inside a container or in inventory.

"In the past, production has always been at the front of everyone's thought process, so we had to establish a new mentality that leads the worker to stop for a second and find the right label to put on a container before moving on to the next task. It's a simple procedure but it goes a long way in improving overall efficiencies. This way we're not searching for parts and we're more accountable when it comes to those items or materials that can be recycled."

With the help of a cross-functional, nine-person team, the plant responded to the corporate challenge by meeting 14001 standards in early 2007. "A lot of the benefits we've seen stem from replacing and retro-fitting equipment that wasn't necessarily bad, but just not as efficient," continues Ponto. In most cases this meant upgrading from units that were about as old as the facility itself – 15 years, and without disrupting production. So while there was a great deal of internal change, the eventual benefits seen by customers needed to appear seamless.

"Some of the key areas we addressed included a number of climate control components that generated a great deal of steam-based heat loss," adds Ponto. "We also enhanced the operational efficiency of our metalworking and other capital equipment units with more efficient motors and controls. This not only allows them to handle larger work loads more quickly, but saves us money in terms of electricity and lubrication use, as well as spending less time on maintenance procedures."

Ponto also points to the implementation of several new pneumatic equipment upgrades that, combined with a new production flow and a better overall environmental footprint, have generated less dust contamination for those working on gearing products. Greater automation has also helped increase operational and waste reduction efficiencies. Overall, the facility recycles 97 percent of its material waste, but in the spirit of continuous improvement that drives all successful U.S. manufacturers today, the goal is 98 percent by 2010. Also impressive has been a 26 percent reduction in the use of all utilities, much of which can be attributed to lower natural gas demands.

Bins like this one reflect a greater emphasis on recycling metal waste and keeping the plant floor cleaner, safer and better organized.

Ponto also points to the implementation of several new pneumatic equipment upgrades that, combined with a new production flow and a better overall environmental footprint, have generated less dust contamination for those working on gearing products. Greater automation has also helped increase operational and waste reduction efficiencies. Overall, the facility recycles 97 percent of its material waste, but in the spirit of continuous improvement that drives all successful U.S. manufacturers today, the goal is 98 percent by 2010. Also impressive has been a 26 percent reduction in the use of all utilities, much of which can be attributed to lower natural gas demands.

"We're recycling things that we never thought we would, like grinding wheels," offers Ponto. "In most cases there is some revenue generated from metal recycling or other initiatives like that, but the primary benefit is that we're more environmentally sound. One of our most recent projects dealt with a holding tank that was being used for mop water and used oil, which we now send to the same processor who treats the water and then skims and recycles the oil. It's an exciting thing to be a part of, and we couldn't have done any of it without NSK stepping up to provide the necessary investments in this facility."

Ponto feels the most significant benefit of these ISO 14001-related improvements is that they've created a plant which is simply more efficient overall. While the main focus has been on physical waste management, these procedures, combined with NSK's LEAN Advanced Production Systems approach, have produced results that are further reaching than just environmental gains. Lead times have been reduced, equipment change-over procedures are being performed more quickly, and varying parts are easier to access. All of these initiatives have helped to better position the company as it competes in a very competitive global marketplace— especially in these tougher times.

Labels like the one on the above parts cleaner help
reinforce a greater sense of organization and in
helping to ensure that materials are properly recycled.

Operational Overlap

Ponto feels the most significant benefit of these ISO 14001-related improvements is that they've created a plant which is simply more efficient overall. While the main focus has been on physical waste management, these procedures, combined with NSK's LEAN Advanced Production Systems approach, have produced results that are further reaching than just environmental gains. Lead times have been reduced, equipment change-over procedures are being performed more quickly, and varying parts are easier to access. All of these initiatives have helped to better position the company as it competes in a very competitive global marketplace— especially in these tougher times.

APS is an operational mantra that mirrors the Toyota Production System, which was discussed in greater detail in the January issue of IMPO (http://www.impomag.com/scripts/ShowPR~RID~10508.asp). The primary target, which should sound familiar, is to focus on the best ways to eliminate "muda," or waste. With a focus on the three Rs of reduce, re-use, and recycle, the Franklin facility improved waste recycling better than five percent in less than three years. Added operational efficiencies have also bred lower carbon dioxide emissions. And with more visual indicators in place, the facility as a whole uses less paper, which has also aided in waste reduction.

More specific to operations, the company transitioned from 63 individual work cells to a direct line production flow, which is based on part size. This has not only improved production efficiencies by 16 percent over the last two years, but helped in improving material handling functions and cutting related costs. Additional areas that have benefited from the plant's overall attention to improving its operational and environmental approaches have included:

  • The implementation of 5S has enhanced preventive maintenance programs, and gone hand-in-hand with environmental practices centered on properly disposing of, or recycling used lubricants.
  • A cleaner environment, due to a combination of tighter inventory controls from the use of a continuously improving Kanban system and greater recycling efforts, has been key to cutting lead times.
  • The more efficient management of materials and work flow has also played a part in building a stronger safety record. The plant has established a benchmark of over two million hours without a lost time incident.
"There are two main reasons behind the success of these improvements," states Denny Smith, the facility's materials coordinator and LEAN champion. "First, nothing is set in stone. We're constantly holding Kaizen and lean events for obtaining worker feedback and monitoring the progression of past projects. In some instances we've actually changed back to the way things were done before because the desired results weren't achieved.

Upgrading equipment controls and functionality have played a significant role in improving NSK's environmental and operational efficiencies.

"There are two main reasons behind the success of these improvements," states Denny Smith, the facility's materials coordinator and LEAN champion. "First, nothing is set in stone. We're constantly holding Kaizen and lean events for obtaining worker feedback and monitoring the progression of past projects. In some instances we've actually changed back to the way things were done before because the desired results weren't achieved.

"Second, we understand our culture, and NSK has made a long-term commitment to these programs. We know the key to the success of these initiatives is to keep people involved and in the loop. To take the next step we need to work towards continuing to improve everything, from both an operational perspective, as well on the environmental and recycling side. Having three additional NSK factories in Indiana also helps. We have and will continue to bounce ideas off each other, and we're always sharing information relative to environmental and lean procedures."

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