Chicago-How does a 95-year-old, family-owned manufacturer survive aggressive global competition?
For Bodine Electric Company, which makes motors, gears, and controls, the secret of success boils down to two words: continuous improvement. Along with a shift to lean manufacturing and broader worker responsibility for production steps, Bodine has embraced the Kaizen concept with a vengeance. Borrowed from the Japanese factory culture, Kaizen relies on multi-disciplinary teams to effect major gains in factory productivity, product quality, and customer service.
Over the last two years, Bodine has conducted more than 80 Kaizen events, which typically last five days and draw on ideas from 6 to 10 people. Targets for improvement have ranged from order and delivery procedures to changes in factory lines and part designs.
Kaizen 64, for example, was started to eliminate instances of lubricant leakage at the shaft seals of gearmotors. Visits to customer sites by sales representatives and applications engineers found that the leaks nearly always occurred when the gearmotors where used continuously, and typically after 20,000 hours of in-service life. These non-stop applications subjected the motors to three to four times the hours found in normal industrial applications. Marketing also found that more customers were building their equipment for such continuous operations, so gearmotors would need to function reliably for as much as 30,000 hours.
With this data in mind, design engineers on the Kaizen team drew upon previous R&D and life-test results that showed up to a tenfold increase in shaft wear resistance by incorporating a two-step design change in gearmotors: changes in shaft material characters, as well as changes in seal design and materials.
The result was a new "leakfree design," which dictated new investments in tooling and processing. Despite the added expense, Bodine now had a product that would hold up well, regardless of the application.
"What Kaizen does is get a fresh perspective on a problem," says David Alspaugh, Bodine's VP of Manufacturing. "In the process, people often get the opportunity to remake their jobs."
Alspaugh notes that design engineers have been an essential part of the whole Kaizen effort at Bodine, since so many Kaizen events result in either new designs or design modifications. Paul Ruff, Bodine's focused factory manager, adds that Kaizen events also have brought design engineers and manufacturing engineers closer together.
Changes brought about by cellular manufacturing and Kaizen programs have enabled Bodine to get the same productivity out of 10,000 square feet in its Chicago factory as it once did in 35,000 square feet. Workers themselves perform more of the quality-control tasks, reducing the number of QC inspectors. Lead times for orders also have been cut in half -- even for custom products that make up 50% of Bodine sales in such markets as medical equipment, packaging machines, conveyors, office equipment, and lab devices.
Such changes have required a re-education of Bodine workers, many of whom were used to being paid on piece work. The company provided 16 hours of training to every employee on such topics as lean manufacturing, team building, and communications.
Now, anyone at Bodine can call for the start of a Kaizen event. Says John Morehead, director of Marketing: "The more people get involved, the more our company will improve."