Manufacturing: Get lean, flexible, and improve product flow

Baldor Electric Co. has been improving its manufacturing processes as it integrates people, processes, manufacturing capabilities, and best practices in a "Lean-Flex-Flow" initiative after several major acquisitions.

04/07/2010


Baldor has been collaborating with plant-floor employees to make work areas more efficient, putting the right tools in the best locations.Baldor Electric Co. has been collaborating with plant-floor employees to make work areas more efficient, putting the right tools in the best locations.

After several major acquisitions, Baldor Electric Co. (NYSE: BEZ) has been improving its manufacturing processes as it integrates people, processes, manufacturing capabilities, and best practices in a "Lean-Flex-Flow" initiative. The company has expanded its lean initiatives, by adding flexible workflow strategies while increasing throughput. At the same time, Baldor has changed its motor designs to comply with the next major compliance deadline for the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which is Dec. 19, 2010 .

In a multi-year effort, Baldor is completing the integration of Reliance motor products into redesigned Baldor-Reliance motor lines later this year. The process, while complex, has progressed while achieving its goal to avoid adverse affects to Baldor, customers, or shareholders, said George P. Weihrauch, Baldor product manager - AC motors. (In January 2007, Baldor acquired Reliance and Dodge product lines from Rockwell Automation for $1.8 billion .)

Through the integration, the company looked at best in class design, highest overall efficiency, and the broadest product offering, Weihrauch said. Baldor continues to:

1. Implement lean manufacturing processes that eliminate waste and streamline workflows. In the Oshkosh, WI, generator plant, John Raber, generator product line manager, explained how a recently completed rail line allows generators to roll to the workers, instead of the workers going to the generators. (Baldor purchased Energy Dynamics in February 2003 and Pow'R Gard Generator Corp. in Nov. 2000.)

In the Fort Smith, AR, plant, preparations are being made to install a new highly integrated robotic motor coil winding cell, said David E. Steen, product manager - ac motors. Concrete has been removed in key locations, to install utilities and provide the required footings to support the new equipment, he said.

2. Teach and learn from employees by adapting best in class in efficiency. Baldor consults with operators about layout of production machines, related tools, and workflow. Managers also consistently evaluate equipment investments to get the most efficient mix of automation and manual operations. The goal was to balance manufacturing load across plants and shorten lead times. This move has been helped by migrating all operations to the Baldor SAP system, explained Randy Breaux, vice president, marketing.

In mapping out new capabilities across Baldor plants, it made sense to close one facility in South Carolina, Breaux said. All employees were offered positions in another plant 35 miles away. Those who chose not to go were offered a three-month severance package and a $10,000 bonus to remain until the plant's closing; about half of the 50 employees stayed with Baldor. During the merger and economic downturn of 2009, Baldor, a non-union operation, also avoided layoffs by not replacing employees who left through attrition, stepping up training as needed, Breaux noted.

3. Reorganize manufacturing, in a three-year process. In 2007 and 2008, motor product lines were evaluated, then integrated based on customer preference, market share, features, plant capacity, and cost. Phase 2 (begun in 2009 and concluding in 2010), reorganizes production locations by limiting number of frame sizes built at any facility. Minimal redundancy among plants ensures higher throughput and fewer errors, while keeping some extra capacity, as needed. Steen noted that right after the Reliance-Dodge merger, the company had about 11,000 part numbers, which migrated down to about 8,500 today. Total may get down to approximately 7,500 some time after the Dec. 19 EISA deadline, he said.

For Baldor, sometimes the right balance translates into an implementation counter to conventional lean-flex-flow thinking. For instance, Breaux explained, "we purchase and stock certain materials beyond usual just-in-time considerations. If we hadn't planned ahead and build inventories in 2009, we'd have been missing orders today." With an expected 6% growth in 2010, Baldor anticipates 15%-20% growth in 2011; the new energy bill is expected to help, Breaux added.

Also read from Control Engineering :
- Motor efficiency requirements come December 2010. Are you ready?

- Baldor delivers motor energy calculator via iPhone app ;

- Machine design: New ball bearings withstand washdown conditions ; and

- April 2010 Think Again: Efficiency, applied .

Discussion: Are your lean efforts working?

Start a discussion below using the TalkBack feature. Are you looking at how your lean manufacturing efforts can flow more flexibly? If you're working on lean initiatives, are they effective?

- Mark T. Hoske, editor in chief, Control Engineering , www.controleng.com