Tag Archives: ohba

Always Made in America

[Blogger’s Note: A couple of important events coming up in the next couple weeks give me an opportunity to showcase a great American manufacturer in this post.

First the events:

1)    The 2014 Massachusetts Advance Manufacturing Summit, on April 29 at the Worcester, MA DCU Center will feature keynoter Harry Moser, a national champion for reshoring manufacturing. Through his organization, The Reshoring Initiative, Moser has highlighted the fallacies of “low cost” off shore production and created a new momentum to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. GBMP will have a booth at the conference, and we hope to see folks from our locale there.

2)    On May 5-6, as part of the Shingo Institute’s annual Shingo Conference, GBMP’s Shingo Certified Instructors will be teaching the Institute’s Discover Excellence course at Whirlpool’s Findlay Operations in Findlay, Ohio.

And that brings me to the great American manufacturer, one who will not “re-shore” because, despite all of the off-shoring frenzy of the last two decades, they kept jobs here in the U.S. – they never left! Whirlpool, where I’ll be teaching on May 5-6, has always been “Made in the USA.” I asked my friend, Kevin Spradlin, Assembly Leader at Whirlpool’s Findlay Operations, to provide a guest post to tell their story. I hope you’ll find it as inspiring as I have. In fact, we’ve invited Kevin and his team to present their lean journey at the Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference in October in Springfield, MA, a great opportunity for you and your team to network with other lean practitioners like Kevin!]




Always Made in America

It is interesting to hear about companies proclaiming how they are bringing jobs back to America. Often they refer to it as re-shoring, in-sourcing, etc. The compelling part about Whirlpool’s story is that we have always been committed to U.S.-based manufacturing. Two decades ago as companies left our shores to follow “cheap” labor, we kept most of our manufacturing in the U.S. One has to ask: How did you compete when all of your competitors left? The answer is simple yet the journey has been hard. We had to develop a mindset of continuous improvement.

In the beginning, the road started with a small group of individuals completing a rigorous training called Operational Excellence. This is Whirlpool’s version of 6-sigma. At that point projects were bountiful and gains were huge. Several years of training, developing black belts and master belts through hands- on, tacit learning under the tutelage of a coach yielded tremendous results in our products and our profits. However, our top leadership was looking for more!

At the turn of this century, a core group of individuals started to study “The Machine that Changed the World.” In our initial lean journey we thought of lean as a set of tools; much like anybody on the outside looking in thought of OPEX (as we call it). However, after 5 to 6 years of starts, stops and learning, we really started to realize this is all about people! Moreover, if you really have people at all levels understand what a culture of continuous improvement is all about, a culture can truly start to change.

My own journey started well before my Whirlpool days when I was working for Delphi Automotive Systems and had the chance to work with John Shook’s TWI group.   My first teacher was an individual named Jim Parcus. Jim had worked at the Georgetown Toyota facility as a team member, team leader, and area manager. Jim was introducing us to concepts and tools, but though I did not realize at the time, also behaviors I was learning by being immersed in the application of the tools. I brought that learning with me to Whirlpool, but did not truly understand Kaizen — and what behaviors it took to support Kaizen and problem solving — until I had the chance to work with the YOMO consulting group at the Marion Division from 2007-2010. During that time, I had the privilege to work with many teachers, but our main teacher was Mr. Ohba.

Mr. Ohba was the former leader of the TSSC. Mr. Ohba had a team that was tasked to come in and help us learn how to transform the Marion Division of Whirlpool. Our “target” and/or business need was to dramatically reduce the cost of our front-load dryer by $50! As part of that learning, we also transformed our behaviors and how we thought about what it truly takes to develop people in the continuous improvement way of thinking. We were also fortunate that our plant leader, Brian Gahr, had worked for several years with Mr. Ohba and learned modeling the behaviors as a leader in lean.

Mr. Ohba had a way of asking great questions to make you think, but I was always amazed by his humility. He always would say that “nobody is an expert.” I interpreted that as we are always learning. So, my biggest learning through all of my experience is that lean gives us a vehicle to do great things by unlocking the potential of our people. Lean, Kaizen, continuous improvement — whatever you call it — is the competitive advantage as long as it is used to nurture and grow your folks!

So fast forward to 2014 in humble Findlay, Ohio, and what you find is the world’s largest dishwasher plant.   We have 2,200 employees and are the largest employer in Hancock County. We are part of Whirlpool’s overall Ohio presence of five plants encompassing more than 10,000 employees. Clyde sports the world’s largest washing machine plant and Marion is home to the world’s largest clothes dryer plant. Ottawa houses the upright freezer facility, and last but not least, Greenville is home to the legendary Kitchen Aid stand mixer plant. We just announced a $40M expansion to Greenville that will add 400 jobs to the plant. I am not sure any other manufacturer even makes small appliances in the U.S., let alone stand mixers. Overall Whirlpool employs 22,000 employees in North America. That is more than all of our major competitors combined! This did not happen by accident. It was a commitment to continuous improvement at all levels that fueled it. The passion for American manufacturing endures to this day.

Whirlpool is deeply committed to communities by providing good paying jobs and supporting community service. We support Habitat for Humanity, Cook for the Cure, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and our local United Way agencies. As a matter of fact, Findlay Operations has built several Habitat homes in the community — we were the first plant to build a Habitat Home in seven days! All of the credit goes to our greatest resource: our people. Nearly half of our employees have worked at the Findlay operation for more than 20 years. We believe these jobs represent more than just a job. All of these folks live locally, shop locally, pay taxes, tithe at church, etc. Our plant is the “lifeblood” of the community. We believe everybody working here is part of something bigger than themselves. We represent something greater than just building dishwashers. We believe we are creating a legacy that will endure for generations to come!

In conclusion, Whirlpool’s Findlay Operations are on a journey to become a Continuous Improvement Organization. We want to be the “undisputed choice” when someone goes to buy a dishwasher, and they only consider buying our product. We believe in putting the customer first, the dedication of our people and stay committed to continuous improvement wherever the work is done. We will accomplish this by means of 9 principles:

  1. Respect for the capabilities of all people
  2. Common objectives
  3. Business results driven through an external customer focus
  4. All decisions are principal based not rule based
  5. Personal development
  6. Teamwork
  7. Continuously improving
  8. Decision making at the lowest level as we problem solve
  9. Productive use of differences

Thanks Bruce for the chance to tell our story …the story of a company invested in American Manufacturing!

Warm Regards,

Kevin Spradlin, Stainless Steel Assembly Leader
Whirlpool Findlay Operations in Findlay, Ohio U.S.A.

Too Happy Too Soon

Our machine shop was assisted by Toyota Supplier Support Center in 1996 to reduce set-ups on our CNC lathes.  TSSC had already helped us in a downstream final assembly department, and now we were endeavoring to provide just-in-time delivery to that department from machining.  After some study we were able to determine that one lathe could produce sixty-six different parts for this downstream customer, nearly all that were needed.  [There is a prequel to this story regarding early struggles we had in machining before TSSC arrived.]  While there were clearly families of similar parts within this group, the challenge was to be able to run quantities of five to fifty pieces in the exact order of need, irrespective of ‘set-up efficiency.’  We were given a target by TSSC of 8 minutes per set-up, a daunting drop from our then current average of 90 minutes.   I knew we could do much better than 90 minutes, but I was privately skeptical of 8 minutes.

With TSSC’s help we analyzed current set-up activities in detail, breaking minutes down to seconds.  Simple preparation steps like bringing material to the machine and gathering tools had a big payback. These were the steps that companies often refer to as the “low-hanging fruit.”  Soon, set-ups were under 40 minutes.  We dropped lot sizes proportionately and, most importantly, on-time delivery for this machine shot up.  A machine that had always been behind, now had extra time available.  For the operators, who had been roundly criticized for an inability to get parts to assembly, this was a big deal — something that spurred them on.  We were like a football team that, after years of losing seasons, was now going to the super bowl!   When our teacher, Mr. Ohba, visited, he was pleased with our progress, but reminded us of the eight-minute goal, and challenged our operators to use their knowledge and creativity to find many small improvements.  Seconds mattered.

Three more weeks passed with operators chipping away at time wasters. Each time a set-up was made there were more ideas.  One operator suggested that tool holders, which were each mounted by four bolts to the turret, could in fact be secured with just two.  The remaining two holes were replaced with guide pins to make it easier to position the tool blocks.  We tried it; it worked. (The equipment manufacturer, incidentally, said it wouldn’t work.)  In the process of pushing the envelope on set-up reduction, we began to realize the possibilities for improvement were much greater than we had initially supposed.

By the time of Mr. Ohba’s next visit, set-up times were under 20 minutes with high reliability.  About this time, operators decided to expand the pilot project to an adjacent lathe, replicating many of the lessons they had learned on the BNC.  This seemed like a good idea to me also.  Why not deploy what we had learned?

On the day of Mr. Ohba’s visit I greeted him enthusiastically in our company lobby with the words, “Things are going well.  Set-ups for the BNC are now below 20 minutes and we’ve expanded the pilot to include our LN22.” The words had barely left my mouth when Mr. Ohba turned on his heels and headed out the front door.  “Good luck.” he said.  “You won’t be needing our (TSSC’s) help any longer.”  Flabbergasted, I followed him to the parking lot.  I could see that I’d made a fatal mistake, but had not yet figured it out.  “I’m sorry,” I blurted out.  “What have we done wrong?”

Mr. Ohba stopped, turned to me and heaved a sigh.  “You’ll never be better than 20 minutes,” he said. In an instant I reflected on the miraculous change that had occurred in our machine shop over the preceding weeks and realized that I’d inadvertently short-circuited that process.  I apologized once more, apparently with enough anguish that he reconsidered and followed me back into the factory.

TooHappyPicHad my mistake not been brought to my attention, I might very well have never understood the problem – and we would never have gotten to the eight minute changeover – which we achieved several months later.  The moral of this story is that managers like me can become mesmerized by early results – or sometimes intermediate results – and lose sight of the environment that makes these possible.   I was ‘too happy, too soon’, a behavior that plateaus individual and organizational development.

How about your organization?  Have you had a similar experience?   Have you ever been too happy too soon?