Invensys Foxboro honors employees for awards, changing approach

Foxboro, MA—Invensys Foxboro recently honored its employees with a luncheon for 500 thanking them for innovative thinking required to capture four awards in just a few months.

By Control Engineering Staff March 18, 2003

Foxboro, MA— Invensys Foxboro processes. Making time for the event also required a change of thinking for company executives present-executives described it as the first full-plant shut down in the facility since the 1950s.

Recognition included a Control Engineering Editors’ Choice Award for the company’s CFT50 digital Coriolis flowmeter , which appeared in a supplement to the January 2003 issue, on page s7. Instrumentation and Automation News , also part of Reed Business Information, and ISA also recognized that product. Processing magazine gave an award to the DolpHin pH probe.

“You deserve these awards,” said John McKenna, president of Invensys Process Systems’ Measurement & Instrumentation division, to plant employees, after accepting each on the employees’ behalf. After lunch, he encouraged each to see the award in the lobby display case.

Recognition extends beyond the prizes, Mr. McKenna explained afterward, to Control Engineering . “Development money is now focused on key opportunities and technologies judged to have the best upside for growth and profitability. People in the plant have continually improved our processes to the point where we are able to go up to five weeks without having to redo a piece. Lines were streamlined. Demand pulls components out of consigned inventory and into a measured workflow. For pressure products, for instance, 75% are built and out the door in 24 hours or less.”

Changes were made in the sales channel, as well. For instance, the CFT50, available Dec. 17, 2002, is only selling through a dedicated mass flow sales force to ensure they’re applied absolutely correctly, Mr. McKenna said.

It’s been a strategic plan, added Mike Jost, the Measurement & Instrument division’s development and marketing vp. Mr. Jost told Control Engineering, “We have a large breadth of products. Rather than chasing every me-too product, our goal was to concentrate on three or four real breakthrough products, in areas with large projected growth,” such as flow, with the CFT50, which resulted from more than 50 customer interviews. That also requires attention to key features during the design process. “John hired most of us to grow the business and develop flagship products for our customers. Just three years ago, for instance, the mix of offerings were just 10% new products, now it’s about 30%; and in a few years, we’re looking toward 50% or more. Still, we have an installed base to support. We don’t want to abandon platforms. Customers have learned that if they’re going to invest in what we offer, we’re going to be there for many years to come.”

Indeed, one of four manufacturing areas in the 275,000-ft2 Neponset plant is devoted to legacy products, including some pneumatic technology designed in the 1930s and 40s, according to Michael J. Godek, Measurement & Instrument division’s manufacturing gm. The other three areas are Electrochemical, Pressure/Temperature, and Flow. Foxboro was founded on the site in 1908; Building 5 is the oldest remaining, dating from 1898.

Other plant modifications, Mr. Godek pointed out, designed to improve productivity and profitability, include the Kan Ban supermarket, posted attribute goals with actual results shown against employee-set targets. And, while the Foxboro plant used to have the largest machine shop in New England, now it’s just one of the largest because some pieces are imported machined or partially machined to fit better into workflow or pricing strategies. Many components are 100% tested in multiple areas. Some things, like the glass for the DolpHin probe, are still made in-house by hand because of the strategic advantage from patented chemical mixtures in the glass forming the electrode.

While awards are great, it doesn’t mean things come easy. Mr. Godek gave the example of machine shop personnel, who held four Kaizan events, examining “what ifs” to make the process better. Three resulted in incremental gains. The fourth meeting resulted in a breakthrough, “One we wouldn’t have seen if we hadn’t stuck with the process.”

As much as things changed to bring about the ceremony, tendencies remain. Toward the end of lunch one official was seen looking at his watch, at the crowd, and at the awards table. Recognition is good; but quiet factories still make people uneasy.

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Mark T. Hoske, editor-in-chief