Insulation Manufacturer Improves Business with Georgia Tech Assistance

Thermal Ceramics, an Augusta-based insulation manufacturer, has always been at the forefront of its industry. It is a world leader in the production of ceramic fiber products and insulating firebricks, as well as specialty insulation products. With more than 3,000 employees in more than 30 locations worldwide, Thermal Ceramics supplies customers in the petrochemical, chemical, automotive and power generation industries.

In the early 1990s, the Augusta, Ga. facility became ISO certified, meaning it was independently audited and certified to be in conformance with quality management standards maintained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). However, by 2005 the system had begun to lose its relevance.

“In 2005, we recognized that our ISO system was the old version and it wasn’t functioning for us anymore. It was burdensome,” recalled Sherri Pettigrew, environmental health and safety/quality assurance manager for Thermal Ceramics. “We contacted Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute to see if it would help us revamp and streamline our ISO system to meet our current needs with our current level of staffing.”

Elliot Price, Deann Desai, Don Pital, Holly Grell-Lawe and Dennis Kelly, all Georgia Tech quality specialists, assisted Thermal Ceramics with re-tooling its quality management system. ISO 9001 is an international quality management system standard that presents fundamental management and quality assurance practices applicable to any organization. Companies that are ISO 9001 certified have a demonstrated baseline of managerial discipline and control, and they also have higher rates of customer satisfaction.

Throughout the process, the Georgia Tech team reviewed the company’s documentation, developed a system that had a more value-added process and identified training needs. Team members also conducted a gap audit, helped with the development of an implementation plan, assisted with initial internal audits and management review, conducted a pre-assessment audit and corrected any system issues prior to the registration audit.

“We threw out almost everything and started from the ground up,” Pettigrew said. “Then we decided we were going to be ISO 14001 certified, so Georgia Tech built that system from scratch for us as well.”

ISO 14001, the international specification for an environmental management system, helps organizations develop a process to reduce negative environmental impacts caused by their operations while also complying with applicable laws and regulations. Like ISO 9001, ISO 14001 focuses on the process rather than the end product. The Georgia Tech team helped Thermal Ceramics integrate the two standards into one, and served as the company’s internal auditors.

“Our employees thought of our ISO system as just a bunch of paper and manuals sitting on a shelf, and they didn’t understand the value. Truthfully, there really was no value in that old system,” Pettigrew noted. “The big hurdle that we overcame was getting people to understand that the new system was going to be helpful to them. We actually went from a burdensome paper system to something that’s online and totally electronic, so it’s easier to maintain.”

Pettigrew estimates that as a result of becoming ISO 9001 and 14001 certified, Thermal Ceramics was able to increase its sales by $6 million while saving $2 million in costs. The company, which employs a total of 450 people at its Augusta facility, was also able to add seven employees.

On the heels of its quality and environmental standards success, Thermal Ceramics also sought assistance from the Enterprise Innovation Institute in the area of lean management principles, a set of tools that helps organizations identify and steadily eliminate waste from their operations. Paul Todd, a Georgia Tech lean specialist, led an executive introduction to lean, a 5S overview and planning session and 5S training and implementation. 5S refers to five Japanese words: seiri (remove what is not needed and keep what is needed); seiton (place things in such a way that they can be easily reached whenever they are needed); seiso (keep things clean and polished); seiketsu (maintain cleanliness after cleaning); and shitsuke (sustain the improvements over time). In English, the steps become sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain.

“We were very aggressive with the lean implementation. We had four teams that represented each of the three manufacturing areas plus a warehouse/shipping group,” Pettigrew explained. “We did everything from painting the lines for hoppers and pallets to getting rid of the clutter to implementing visual cues and labeling. We did it all.”

Currently, Thermal Ceramics is conducting lean projects in the areas of energy reduction, downtime reduction, safety, increasing melting efficiency, and shipping error reduction. Weekly 5S meetings are also held to maintain the momentum.

In December 2007, the Augusta operation of Thermal Ceramics – which spans 58 acres and 10 buildings – sought Georgia Tech’s assistance in the high-impact area of energy management. As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Center program, Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute can provide energy, waste and productivity assessment at no charge to small- and mid-sized manufacturers.

Mike Brown and Pierpaolo Baldisserotto, Georgia Tech energy specialists, visited the Thermal Ceramics plant to evaluate the company’s challenges, problems and solutions. They studied the facility’s energy consumption history and measured the major energy-consuming equipment. Along with several Georgia Tech co-op students, they produced a report that included a number of recommendations, including recovering fiber waste, recovering heat from the kiln exhaust, repairing air leaks and replacing desiccant air dryers with refrigerated dryers. The report estimates that Thermal Ceramics could save more than $1.8 million – 22 percent of the facility’s annual energy costs – by implementing its recommendations.

“Having Georgia Tech come in and assist us in these different areas has really worked for us,” said Pettigrew. “We’re better now than we have ever been.”

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

Georgia Tech Helps South Georgia Pump Manufacturer Attain ISO Certification

Thomasville, Ga. is known as the City of Roses, but it is also home to the North American headquarters of Wilo-EMU, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of water and wastewater pumps. Founded in 1872 by Louis Opländer as a copper and brass goods foundry, the company is now represented in more than 70 countries and employs 6,000 people worldwide. The innovative company – which files up to 20 patent applications annually – plans for Thomasville to be its technology center in North America.

When the Thomasville facility was asked by its German parent company to attain ISO 9001 certification, an international quality management system standard, it turned to the Georgia Institute of Technology, one of the nation’s top research universities. Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute provides comprehensive services to improve the competitiveness of Georgia’s business and industry, including technical and engineering assistance, continuing education courses, facilitation of networks and connecting companies to Georgia Tech resources.

“Some of the customers asked for us to be ISO certified and we figured it was better to go ahead and do it. We wanted to show potential customers that we have ISO 9001 certification and that we already have a process in place and that it’s controlled,” said Paulina Tompea, Wilo-EMU’s Thomasville plant manager. “It’s a benefit for us. It disciplines and teaches employees the processes and the flow to have a good system in place and send a quality product out of the door.”

Craig Cochran, a Georgia Tech quality specialist, assisted Wilo-EMU with developing and implementing its quality management system. Together they reviewed the company’s documentation, developed a system that had a more value-added process and identified training needs. Team members also conducted a gap audit, helped with the development of an implementation plan, assisted with initial internal audits and management review, conducted a pre-assessment audit and corrected system issues prior to the registration audit. Nine Wilo-EMU employees, including Tompea, were certified as internal auditors.

“I had worked with ISO 9001 before, but I looked at it through a manufacturing lens. I had never actually built a system,” recalled Tompea. “Craig conducted the gap analysis in June 2008 and determined we were 50 percent ready, so we had another 50 percent to work on. Craig was a very good trainer and mentor, and he knew how to motivate.”

Wilo-EMU received its ISO 9001 certification in November 2008, less than a year after beginning the project. As a result of the ISO certification, the company expects big results, including a sales increase of between $2 million and $4 million. The company will also add five jobs over the next two years as part of its natural growth.

“When a customer comes in and they see that we are ISO certified, they know they’re going to get something that is consistent,” said Terry Rouse, president and CEO. “I expect it to have a definite impact on our sales, especially out west where we’re not as well-known. It does make a difference.”

The ISO 9001 certification project was not the first time Wilo-EMU had worked with Georgia Tech, however. When the company moved into a 60,000-square-foot facility in Thomasville, lean specialists Sam Darwin and Tom Sammon developed an optimal plant layout by examining space utilization, work flow, processes, material handling and shipping.

In addition, Rouse and Thomas Halstrick, senior vice president of Wilo’s North American operations, visited the Georgia Tech campus to hear about hydraulics research being conducted in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. The connection was made via Greg King of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Partners Office, an “industry-centric” doorway that can link companies to leading-edge resources, applying Georgia Tech faculty know-how, specialized facilities and student talent to such goals as new product development, improved competitiveness and transformation of industrial processes.

“We spend about three percent of our revenue on research and development, and we utilize universities in Europe,” said Rouse. “We wanted to make a connection here in the states because there are issues that will be different here than in Europe. It’s been a good relationship so far with Georgia Tech.”

The next step for Wilo-EMU is to become certified in ISO 14001, the international specification for an environmental management system that outlines requirements for a company’s environmental policy. The standard exists to help organizations minimize their impact on the environment and comply with applicable laws and regulations. Tompea said she has already contacted Cochran about providing assistance in this area.

“From the beginning, Wilo-EMU’s focus was on creating a system that drove customer loyalty and that would support additional business growth,” noted Cochran. “The workforce embraced the common-sense control and discipline of ISO 9001 without missing a beat.”

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

New Book Translates International Quality Standards into Plain English

Although international quality standards were written to apply to a wide variety of organizations worldwide, many companies have a difficult time interpreting them. To address this problem, Craig Cochran, the north Atlanta region manager for Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, has written a new book, ISO 9001: In Plain English (Paton Press, 2008).

“To make the international standards applicable to everybody, they are not particularly applicable to anybody,” he noted. “The words and phrases used are not typically those that workers are accustomed to using. If you don’t have extensive experience interpreting international standards, putting them to use in your own company can be very difficult.”

ISO 9001 is an international quality management system standard that presents fundamental management and quality assurance practices applicable to any organization. The generic requirements of the standard represent an excellent foundation of planning, control and improvement for just about any enterprise. Companies that are ISO 9001 certified have a demonstrated baseline of managerial discipline and control, and, according to Cochran, they also have higher rates of customer satisfaction.

The newly-released book is targeted toward anybody who has to implement or audit within an ISO 9001 management system. After a 20-year career in quality, Cochran wrote the book to share some of his experiences in implementing quality systems.

“People interpret ISO 9001 in diverse ways, including those that are often just plain wrong. Because I’ve been working with the ISO 9001 standard since 1988, I thought people might benefit from my experiences,” he said. “I have assisted in implementing ISO 9001 in nearly one thousand organizations, ranging in size from two to 20,000 people, and in every imaginable industry.”

Cochran’s book includes sections on process approach, relationship with ISO 9004 (a standard on continual improvement), compatibility with other management systems, application, vocabulary and definitions, general requirements, management responsibility, resource management, product realization, and measurement, analysis and improvement. For additional information about this book or Georgia Tech’s quality services, please contact Craig Cochran (); E-mail: (email hidden; JavaScript is required).

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