Two-time AME award winner, Batesville Casket, Manchester, TN, finds consistency in change.
Batesville Manchester recently took home an Association of Manufacturing Excellence regional Manufacturing Excellence Award
Batesville Casket Company  was established in 1884 in Batesville, IN, where its corporate headquarters still remain today. Batesville is the leading manufacturer of hardwood and metal caskets in the U.S., with the Batesville, IN and Manchester, TN facilities being the metal-producing entities. The Manchester facility produces a metal casket, on average, in just under a minute.
Batesville Manchester recently took home an Association of Manufacturing Excellence  (AME) regional Manufacturing Excellence Award , but it wasn’t the company’s first experience with success. If you look at its record over the past five years, it’s clear that Batesville knows how to put the continuous in continuous improvement (CI).
This past year’s AME southeastern regional award win came on the heels of the company’s 2006 AME National Manufacturing Excellence Award. And just like the coach of a football team knows you can’t be afraid to change your approach in the middle of a drive, Manchester’s plant manager Mary Jo Cartwright maintains that modifying your strategy is critical when it comes to long-term growth.
Batesville Manchester’s plant manager, Mary Jo Cartwright, assists in a visual inspection. This part of the process features lighting which simulates that in a typical funeral home, to better inspect from the environment of an end user.
Same Journey, New Map
The company’s “lean journey” began almost a decade ago, and has seen significant changes over time. One of the biggest was an adjustment in focus, from event-driven CI, to a cultural change among the facility management and associates.
The initial push towards CI focused mostly on specific Kaizen events.
“Back in the late ‘90s, continuous improvement was events; that’s how our associates saw it,” explains Joe Weigel, director of communications, Batesville Casket. “But continuous improvement is a process; it’s a way of life. You make your biggest gains once that’s well-established in an associate’s mind.”
“We’re not going to concentrate on people; we’re going to go after the process,” Cartwright explains. “It wasn’t focused where every event led to ten percent headcount reduction. It was more about eliminating waste.”
Management keeps detailed metrics of the improvement the Manchester plant has seen over the past decade. Cartwright recalls a meeting in 1999 when they realized the facility was at 20 percent lost cycles. “Lost cycle is a lost opportunity,” she explains. “It means one fifth of everything you should be making, you’re not making for some reason—whether it be equipment downtime, quality rejection, etc.” At that time the company VP of manufacturing set a goal to halve that figure in three years time.
“It was so big in our minds. How do you tackle it?” recalls Cartwright. “But we started focusing on what was causing those issues, and what we found was one of those issues was with equipment downtime. We had a lot of pretty cool equipment, but it was also fairly complicated. So we started ripping some of those things out, and going back to the basics. And we started addressing some of those repeat quality issues—putting fixes in place instead of band-aids.”
Making Change A Must
A Batesville Manchester associate grinds casket lids as part of the finishing process
This fearless approach to the factory floor—never being afraid to tear up a production line, or change a process—meant that even when lost cycles hit one percent in 2005 and 2006, Cartwright saw the plateau as a motivation for further change. “We’ve got to do something different,” Cartwright says, of her thoughts at the time. “So we ripped out a lot of other things. We took out our secondary line and decided to do everything on the main line.”
In making these changes, the Manchester facility has opened up enough floor space to allow for additional projects to be housed there. And even though the lost cycle percentage went back up after this latest initiative, it is starting to come down again.
“It’s about continuous improvement—and not being afraid to do those things,” Cartwright explains. “My life was probably a lot easier when lost cycle was at one percent in ’05 and ’06, but this was the right thing to do for the plant and the company, long-term.”
For Batesville Manchester, the awards are less about winning an accolade, and more about the self-analysis that comes with the application process (Click here for more from AME President, Ralph Keller ).
Caskets are lined up to receive cloth lining for the interiors, which is sewn in-house.
“Once you apply, all the awards give you feedback,” says Cartwright. “I’d encourage anyone to do it, and we’ll continue to do it. We were national winners in ’06, and we reapplied in ’07. We do it, not necessarily to win the award, but to gauge where we are, and how to get to the next level.”
Batesville Casket’s Indiana manufacturing facility was actually a recipient of an AME regional award in 2007 as well. “All of the plants have their own ways of doing their CI efforts. That’s one thing that’s great about this company—they’ve given us the freedom to mold it within our culture.”
A Real Team Player
One of the biggest things in winning an award is that it shows teamwork,” Cartwright says. “It’s not about a bunch of individuals. I think these awards recognize that, and it definitely makes you feel like a part of something.”
And she does not just pay lip service to the word ‘team.’ “That’s probably been one of the biggest learning points along the way,” she says. “It’s not that people resisted it, as much as we didn’t do a very good job sometimes of explaining why we needed to do it. We’ve really tried to do a lot more of educating and communicating, and then celebrating the successes.”
In fact, this concept of team extends beyond the walls of the facility, supplementing the economic interests of the city of Manchester, and the state of Tennessee. “People in the community really take a lot of pride in the fact that the plant has won these awards. Definitely the awards filter all the way through Manchester, TN,” Cartwright says. “When we celebrate, we invite the mayor and the local dignitaries of the community, because they use it for industry recruiting. The governor knows we’ve won the awards, and he uses that in a lot of his manufacturing efforts as well.”
Quality, First And Foremost
In a company-wide effort to obtain feedback, Batesville includes a comment card in every casket.
One unique initiative employed at the Batesville Manchester facility is what they refer to as “the diamond standard.” This quality management program mandates that each associate at the management level is required to do two full inspections per week of a randomly selected finished casket pulled off the line.
Since the caskets are produced entirely in this facility and then put directly on the trucks, all imperfections are on Batesville’s shoulders, meaning consistent quality is incredibly important.
“Some of our biggest quality critics are our customers,” says Weigel. “They’re serving a family, and they want the very best for that family. They’ll look at a casket and they want 100 percent quality.”
In a company-wide effort to obtain feedback, Batesville  includes a comment card in every casket. “If they have an issue or a problem, the customer will get a personal call from myself or the quality manager,” Cartwright says.
Despite its stellar award record, Batesville Manchester  is not through with CI. In fact, the facility recently hosted an AME-sponsored workshop, inviting other manufacturers interested in learning more about the tenets behind a “lean journey.”
“We get more from those than we ever give,” says Cartwright. “We took a lot more from the 21 people who came through the facility; they gave us ideas that we’re going to execute now.”
Moving forward, a focus on communication and involvement of associates at every level is a critical point for Batesville Manchester. The facility has the additional distinction of not having had to lay off an employee since 1985. Says Cartwright, “I think the associates recognize that they’ve got to be a part of this continuous improvement to stay competitive and keep jobs around. We’re fortunate to have that involvement.”