Whoever coined the phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” obviously never heard of Roper Pumps. The 150-year-old company, which just celebrated its fiftieth year in Commerce, Ga., is recognized as a leading supplier of industrial pumps.
“Historically, Roper Pumps has been very vertically integrated. We pretty much made everything in-house and bought almost nothing outside – your basic company with blinders on,” explained Jim Simonelli, vice president of business development for Roper Pumps. “We had some issues with quality and did a Six Sigma project on our own to identify and remove the causes for errors and defects. Based on the success there, we started thinking that if we got some outside help, we would have even greater success.”
That’s when the company contacted Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute for assistance with implementing lean management principles, a set of tools widely used in manufacturing to help identify and steadily eliminate waste from an organization’s operations. Walt Stadnisky, president of Roper Pumps, serves on the Industry Services Board for the Enterprise Innovation Institute and was aware of available services. Karen Fite and Frank Mewborn, Georgia Tech lean specialists, led a project to help Roper Pumps reduce lead time, inventory and production costs while improving production capacity, cash flow and response time to the customer.
The first step in the process was to develop a current state map. By walking through the process, the team observed and documented value-added versus non-value-added time spent on each step. The observations were striking: for one product line, the non-value added steps totaled 18 days whereas the value-added steps took a mere 42 minutes. After a brainstorming session, the team chose to focus on waste, changeover time, production planning and material productivity.
“To eliminate waste, the team at Roper Pumps implemented 5S, a method of cleaning up and organizing the workplace that typically results in labeled and color-coded storage locations, as well as kits that contain just what is needed to perform a particular task,” Mewborn said. “We implemented point-of-use tooling and gauges, as well as point-of-use material, saving more than 300 miles of travel per year within the plant.”
The company also developed a kanban system (a signaling system used to trigger a particular action), implemented a quick change tooling method to reduce changeover time, and eliminated outsourcing heat treatment (a method used to harden or soften a material in manufacturing). Changeover time went from 88 to 38 minutes, a 55 percent decrease; lead time went from 18 to eight days; and material travel was reduced by 450 feet daily. By no longer outsourcing the heat treatment, the company also saved $18,000 annually.
“All of the lean projects we did with Georgia Tech went so well, we decided to get their assistance with product development,” said Simonelli. “We’ve taken our blinders off in terms of how we produce a product and handle any problems that might arise. Instead of outsourcing, I prefer to call it best-sourcing.”
Charles France, a growth services specialist with the Enterprise Innovation Institute, began working with Roper Pumps in 2007 to put more rigor into its product development program. During a two-day planning event, Georgia Tech facilitated a brainstorming session that resulted in more than 150 ideas for new products involving new market entry, improved sales distribution channels, upgrading existing products and product processes, new technologies and creative arrangements with potential partners.
“Roper Pumps had been experiencing problems common to product development, such as too many projects in the pipeline and legacy projects that wouldn’t go away,” France said. “We provided guidelines for implementing more stringent evaluation criteria and consulted on improving key aspects of their existing new product development processes. Roper Pumps not only prioritized new product projects but also was able to cull out the legacy projects, thus freeing up resources to focus on the most promising new products.”
Simonelli said that France’s assistance helped Roper Pumps avoid an ill-fated project that would have cost $300,000. The company is now pursuing a major product development for its main product line – gear pumps – that will provide product sales for decades. Out of the 150 ideas generated at the brainstorming session, 12 ideas rose to the top and have been added to Roper Pumps’ long-term strategic plan.
Phil Smith, Roper Pumps’ vice president of operations, is also working with energy specialist Matt Soderlund to audit Roper Pumps’ energy usage. On his initial visit, Soderlund identified $15,000 in potential annual savings based on Georgia Power’s billing structure.
“Georgia Tech has a host of wonderful programs and if you look at the cost of getting this highly professional experience, I don’t know how anybody can turn it down,” said Simonelli. “The value is outstanding. The biggest worth is the overall culture change Georgia Tech has helped bring to Roper Pumps.”
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright