Enterprise Minnesota Magazine - September 2012
HELPING MANUFACTURERS GROW PROFITABLY
Lean strides keep Alexandria staple manufacturer Gardner Bender steps ahead of its global competition.
Since starting lean in 1999, staple and fastener products manufacturer Gardner Bender has reduced lead time, increased on-time delivery and doubled output per employee. How? “Process improvements and automation,” says Operations Leader Ron Larson.
As part of worldwide industrial company Actuant Corporation, Gardner Bender manufactures plastic and metal staples and fasteners used to secure electrical wires and cables. Because manufacturing these products is relatively simple, the Alexandria-based company faces a constant deluge of U.S. and international competition to make them faster, better and cheaper. In 1999, it turned to lean to stay ahead of the competition without outsourcing its production. Thirteen years and more than 200 Kaizen events later, staple production remains at the Alexandria facility, output per employee has more than doubled, and lean has transformed the entire business.
Process improvements play a large role in Gardner Bender’s ongoing lean success. In one instance, the company invested in automation to blow freshly molded staples through a tube to a finishing area where nails are added, eliminating the need for workers to carry them from one end of the plant to another in bins.
Another improvement reduced its mold changeover time from three hours to 12 minutes. Mold changeovers involve many steps and require two people working together on either side of a machine. Workers found that committing the process to paper enabled each worker to better understand their specific assignments, thereby simplifying the process and reducing the number of unnecessary steps. Workers have also retired the time-consuming process of securing each mold with bolts, opting instead for bayonet mounts, which twist and lock into place in one step, no tools required. For processes that do require tools, workers find them right at hand on shadow boards next to each machine.
The company has also taken a pre-emptive approach to machine maintenance. Instead of repairing machines when they break, operators use an Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) system to track the ratio of fully productive time to planned production time on their machines each day. When overall efficiency on a machine goes down, operators identify and correct the root cause before it takes a toll on production. Companies with an overall OEE of 85 percent or higher are considered “world class” according to many industry sources, including automated OEE data monitoring equipment manufacturer Vorne Industries Inc. In June, Gardner Bender’s overall OEE was 93 percent.
“If something goes wrong, whether it’s a machine starting to fail or a person issue where someone isn’t running it correctly, we’ll know very quickly,” Larson explains. “We try to address any potential machine problems before they actually occur.” The preventive approach has also contributed to the company’s 99-100 percent on-time delivery and stellar safety record: zero lost-time injuries for the past 11 years.
The Actuant Corporation provides a website where employees can share best lean practices, before and after pictures, savings from Kaizen events and contact information for lean experts in various departments who can answer questions. Gardner Bender’s lean activity suggestion box is typically empty, but not for lack of ideas. Employees simply feel empowered enough to suggest improvements to management in person—a most telling sign of its cultural transformation.
“Usually, they’ll see something and then we’ll just implement it right away,” explains Tim Lamb, technical leader. “We won’t wait to go through a formal process.” Lean strides keep Alexandria staple manufacturer Gardner Bender steps ahead of its global competition.
To learn more about Gardner Bender, go to www.gardnerbender.com
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