Georgia Tech Helps North Georgia Metal Fabricator Increase Production and Sales

Lee Adams, president of Fabritex, shows EI2 project manager Karen Fite how the company implemented lean principles throughout its facility in Hartwell, Ga.

Lee Adams, president of Fabritex Inc., remembers exactly how his family-owned business started. His entrepreneurial father had purchased a trampoline and realized he could make the metal frame as well as anybody else.

“We started 20 years ago in 1989, and since then, we’ve grown into a 55-employee, 110,000-square-foot facility with an emphasis on tube fabrication and sheet and plate fabrication,” Adams said. “We manufacture everything from tubular wire carriers to stem baskets to annealing process materials. Just because we haven’t built something before doesn’t mean we’re not going to quote on it. We try to think outside the box and sell ourselves as a one-stop shop.”

It was precisely this innovative mindset that brought both opportunity and challenges to Fabritex, based in Hartwell, Ga. In 2007, a customer asked Adams about producing a new product line within a specific timeframe and gradually ramping up production to cut cost. To determine the most efficient way to do so, Adams called on Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Tara Barrett, Danny Duggar and Karen Fite, all project managers with the Enterprise Innovation Institute, led a project in value stream mapping, a technique used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer. As part of a value stream mapping project, the team developed a value stream map that identified all the value-added and non-value-added steps then in use, assessed the current state to create product flow by eliminating waste, and drew and implemented a map showing what the future state could be.

“Fabritex needed to increase throughput and reduce cost. The results were that they were able to increase their production to a capacity of 500 units per month and meet their customer’s requirements,” noted Fite. “Our goal is to have Fabritex learn the concepts and continue to implement them after we’re gone.”

According to Adams, the process is now streamlined and more efficient. The company has made nearly $300,000 in capital investments, saved $100,000 and increased sales by more than $1 million. The company also created eight jobs and doubled production.

“Georgia Tech was really able to get the creative juices flowing. It gave the guys working on the floor the encouragement to make improvements and make suggestions where normally they wouldn’t have spoken up,” Adams observed. “Now there’s a craftsmanship to what they do; they’re not just here punching a clock.”

The value stream mapping project proved so successful that the company has continued to partner with Georgia Tech. Dan Trier, sales and marketing manager, has already taken several classes offered through the Georgia Tech Procurement Assistance Center (GTPAC), an organization based at the Enterprise Innovation Institute that helps Georgia businesses identify, compete for and win government contracts.

“We’ve had a Corps of Engineers project for more than 10 years, but this is an area we would like to explore more. I’ve attended classes on how to read and speak government procurement language, which is not easy, as well as learning where to find government contracts, how to read them and how to fill them out,” Trier said. “Joe Beaulieu, Steve Bettner and Chuck Schadl will answer any question we have and have really been helpful in terms of where to find the contract opportunities.”

In addition to classes, GTPAC provides its clients with coaching, mentoring and a set of tools to research and identify government contracting opportunities. Services are available at no cost to any Georgia business, large or small, that possesses the interest and potential to perform work, as a prime contractor or a subcontractor, for federal, state or local government agencies.

According to Fite, Fabritex has all the ingredients for success, especially in these challenging economic times.

“Fabritex had the right culture to accept and tackle this type of project – a strong culture that adapts to change, employees who will create solutions to unique problems, and, most importantly, leadership that promotes continuous improvement through the motivation, guidance and support of employees,” she said.

 

 

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (email hidden; JavaScript is required).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Athens Hospital Improves Processes by Implementing Lean in Laboratory

As part of the lean implementation, team members removed sliding doors from shelving and doors from storage cabinets to easily identify supplies.

Debbie Guzman, laboratory director at Athens Regional Medical Center, says that implementing lean principles in a health care setting is especially challenging. Traditionally used in manufacturing, lean refers to an operational strategy derived from the Toyota Production System that focuses on eliminating waste while increasing value-added work to improve profitability, customer satisfaction, throughput time and employee morale.

“People involved in health care are about hands-on care-giving, comforting and healing,” she said. “We needed someone to help us who understood our language.”

Fortunately, Guzman found an excellent translator in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. Through its Healthcare Performance Group, project leaders work with health care professionals to conduct lean assessments, teach basic lean concepts, develop value stream maps to analyze the flow of materials and information, develop quality systems and implement rapid process improvement projects.

“We wanted the Healthcare Performance Group to provide the training, the structure and the facilitation for a period of time to do a 5S project in the lab. By using the 5S system – sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain – we thought we could significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the laboratory,” explained Jim Pirkle, Athens Regional’s associate director of quality services. “Originally we were going to begin the project in one area, but we wanted each of the section supervisors to be involved so it could be a whole lab culture change.”

After years of inventory accrual and process adaptation, the five sections of the lab – pathology, chemistry, hematology, microbiology and blood bank – were in a physically dysfunctional environment. As the hospital expanded, team members had the opportunity to design a new lab that had the right supplies next to the right instruments, the appropriate amount of storage and counter space, equipment set up to facilitate testing processes and work processes arranged to minimize excess steps.

“We wanted to address inventory control – having the right inventory in the right place and at the right time,” said Frank Mewborn, leader of the Healthcare Performance Group. “An example that everyone could understand and relate to was gloves. We had the team estimate the glove inventory and then we actually counted it. We found open boxes and unopened boxes all around the lab. The inventory was three times higher than the team predicted. It was an eye-opening exercise.”

While the overall goal was to help design a highly-functional lab, the immediate project goals included making workspace more efficient, reducing inventory and supply costs, decreasing process steps and complexity and creating efficiencies in a timely manner. Participants included the lab director and supervisors, lab staff and quality support staff from Athens Regional, as well as Mewborn, Tara Barrett and Kelley Hundt from Georgia Tech. Five teams of 21 people learned about lean and 5S methodologies, participated in brainstorming and planning exercises and completed an “eye-opening” walk-through of the entire laboratory.

“Typically when we do a project like this, we do it in a series. We’ll pick one small area of the lab and get it really ship-shape and then use it as a model for the next area,” Mewborn recalled. “But Debbie wanted this to be a culture change in addition to a procedural change so we did all five areas simultaneously.”

In the first phase of the project, team members sorted the useful from the unnecessary. They evaluated the necessity of all supplies and equipment, cleared away trash and outdated equipment from the area and removed sliding doors from shelving and doors from storage cabinets to easily identify supplies. Most importantly, each department developed a systematic and collaborative process for sorting obviously misplaced items from useful ones.

Team members also relocated supplies, acquired supply bins and consolidated storage areas; set up a standard visual inventory system with red and green tape and developed kanban cards to display the name of the supply, the name of the supplier, the desired number of units and the item’s reorder point; and cleared trash away from the work area, thoroughly cleaned countertops, drawers and cabinets and removed redundant and unnecessary signage. Moving forward, Athens Regional has established a committee to focus on sustaining these improvements.

“Employees say this is now a much better place to work, and there is not as much clutter or confusion. In regards to patient safety, that’s a significant benefit,” Pirkle said. “As a result, we’ll have better patient outcomes as we become more accurate and timely.”

In particular, the 5S project increased the lab’s storage capacity by 64 percent, freed up counter space by 30 percent and reduced body fluid processing times from 12 to four minutes. Other results include reduced inventory and supply costs, decreased stock on hand, and greater clarity in the lab environment. Projected savings from reduced steps and time to complete work total more than $15,000.

“When the process is really lean, when you walk through the lab things are in their place. Everything is in the front and one person can go through the lines and know what needs to be ordered,” Guzman noted. “The biggest benefit of the project is that we now have some real lean champions in the lab.”

For more information on health care performance improvement services offered by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, contact Jennifer Trapp-Lingenfelter (404-386-7472); E-mail: (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@retlefnegnil.nnej).

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (email hidden; JavaScript is required).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright

Athens Manufacturer Goes Lean, Green with Georgia Tech Assistance

When entrepreneurs Sherrie Ford and Steve Hollis purchased an Athens manufacturing facility previously owned by the Swiss conglomerate ABB six years ago, one of their first items of business was to realign the company’s mission. Founded in 1958 by Westinghouse, the 400-employee company now known as Power Partners continues to manufacture the pole-type distribution transformers that help bring electric power to homes and businesses throughout the world, but with an innovative business angle.

“Our mission is no longer just to make the best transformers on the market, but also to not be put out of work ever. We can make anything as long as we’re able to keep the employment base,” stated Ford, chairman and executive vice president of culture. “Adding a breakthrough technology product that addresses global warming fulfills our ‘reinventing manufacturing’ promise to the work culture, a step toward securing at least these 400 manufacturing jobs, and creating a role model for others to consider.”

In 2007, Power Partners expanded its product line to manufacture solar water heater systems, which use solar energy to heat water and can provide up to 85 percent of the energy needed to produce domestic hot water. Systems are composed of solar thermal collectors, a fluid system that moves heat from the collector to the point of usage. According to commercial operations manager Scott Childs, Power Partners is initially marketing the systems to utility companies and dealers.

“The solar water heater system is going to provide hot water mainly in the summer, when electricity is most valuable to a utility, and the system will use more electricity in the winter when there is plenty of electrical capacity,” he noted. “We think that situation will marry well with our product, in addition to the utilities’ increased focus on green.”

In addition to the distribution transformers and the solar water heater systems, Power Partners has the exclusive North American rights to begin manufacturing adsorption chillers, a product that can substantially reduce operating costs by converting waste heat into cool air. Ford says she is excited about the new product’s potential.

“When combined with other technologies, adsorption chillers create about as low an impact on the environment as you can get. This is really going to revolutionize the way architects and construction firms think about their designs,” Ford said.

With all of the focus on manufacturing environmentally responsible products, it made sense for Power Partners to examine its own manufacturing processes. After working on projects in lean manufacturing and quality standards with Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, Ford contacted the organization again to conduct an energy assessment.

In July 2008, Bob Hitch, a project manager with the Enterprise Innovation Institute, evaluated Power Partners’ process heating systems – annealing, welding, drying and painting – for potential energy-saving opportunities, an estimated energy savings of 30 percent. As a result of the recommendations, Power Partners is replacing its water-cooled bearings with high-temperature graphite bearings. Earlier assessment of the general facility energy usage by Hitch and the Power Partners engineers led to the update of lighting in the plant to T5 and T8 high-efficiency units, and replacement of outdated air compressors.

“By changing the bearings and the lighting and the compressors, we have saved an estimated $600,000 easily,” said Mike Stonecipher, vice president for technical services. “Those are realized savings and we now have a whole philosophy and set of tools to move us forward.”

Power Partners also participated in a November 2008 project for the Green Supplier Network, a partnership between the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership. In addition to Hitch, the project was facilitated by Bill Ritsch of the Enterprise Innovation Institute and Dan Loudermilk of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Pollution Prevention Assistance Division. The work was sponsored by Power Partners’ customer, Pepco Holdings, Inc.

“The primary objective of this three-day project was to identify opportunities for reductions of waste energy, material and inventories by creating a value stream map, which is a diagram used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product to a consumer,” recalled Hitch. “A team of key players was chosen, and this group was effective in seeing beyond the current processes by proposing a future state map that included some impressive gains in productivity, material usage and environmental reductions.”

The improvement ideas included operating the paint line during one shift only, creating a single point of contact for ordering tanks, rearranging the tank wall inventory to minimize travel, reconfiguring conveyors to improve material flow, minimizing repair stations by combining repairs where possible, and re-using the waste water from the paint area. However, Stonecipher says that the most significant improvement was completing a “green” value stream map for all plant processes.

“As part of lean manufacturing, we were familiar with the value process map. But what we had not done was look at it in terms of the environment. That was the first time we had taken a process map of a section of the factory and done it in accordance to our waste streams,” he said. “Now when we do a process map, that’s a standard part of it. From a lean and practice standpoint, lean green is a new tool that’s been brought to the equation.”

Power Partners realized other benefits as a result of the Green Supplier Network Project. Tank inventory was reduced by 34 percent, total supply chain lead time for tanks went from more than 17 days to less than a week, water usage was reduced by 10,000 gallons per day, quality improved and productivity increased. Stonecipher notes that while not all of the results were measurable, they were all beneficial.

Power Partners, which was recognized in 2007 as the seventh largest woman-owned business in America as certified by the Washington, D.C.-based Women’s Enterprise Business National Council, plans to use Georgia Tech’s assistance in the future to focus on pumps and motors, as well as ways to capture waste heat and re-use it so it can install its own adsorption chiller.

“We are people who are continually looking for creativity and innovation, and doing things that are not business as usual,” said Ford.

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 314
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail (ude.hcetag.etavonninull@noot.nhoj).

Writer: Nancy Fullbright