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Successful Implementations in Lean

Staying TRU to Plan: TRU Corporation Hosts Lean Roundtable

By Karen Myhaver, Outreach Specialist, MassMEP

"This is just one company’s journey. We are not textbook but are happy to share our ups and downs." — Joe Perna, Vice President of Operations, TRU Corporation
  • Two day Kaizen resulted in 50% reduction in set up time on most machines
  • On time delivery improved from 77% to 93%
  • Capacity and dollars shipped improved 20-40% with same number of staff and machines

On November 15, 2007, approximately 50 people from 15 different companies participated in a Lean Champions Roundtable at TRU Corporation in Peabody, Massachusetts. TRU chose this venue to share some of the positive impacts and lessons they have learned thus far in their Lean implementation. They also emphasized to the group that this was just Phase One of their ongoing Lean journey.

The event provided a forum for companies at various stages of the Lean journey to share ideas and experiences with others and see first-hand what TRU, a manufacturer of high quality, high performance cables and systems (used for military, aerospace, telecom, medical, semiconductor, and other commercial industries) has been doing. 

Glenn Gertridge, Manager of New Business Development for the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP, a co-sponsor of the event), began the program by introducing TRU Corporation President, Gene O’Neill.

According to O’Neill, "It was not easy to take a company that had been doing things one way for over 50 years and make changes, but it was necessary. We had to focus on changing the way we do business by adding value through engineering and design and not having to battle over price pressures and margin squeeze. We needed to drive improvement across the entire enterprise and be competitive."

Evaluating Alternatives, Choosing Lean
Before beginning work with MassMEP in the fall of 2005, TRU evaluated several alternatives for change, and ultimately chose Lean. They realized that they needed to improve operations company-wide, not just in manufacturing. Over the past 3 years, there have been more changes in their industry than in the past 10-20 combined.

In order to stay competitive, TRU chose to distinguish themselves by focusing on their creativity, adding value through performance and reliability, and by providing customers with total engineered solutions.

"TRU is a job shop with low quantity, high mix," said O’ Neil. "We needed to engage all the employees, and reward and compensate them for improving their skills and their company. You can’t make them [employees] feel that Lean is being done to them but that they are a part of the process. We are also a union shop. There is a great relationship between the TRU and our [union] employees. We have a wonderful partnership and there have never been any negatives."

During the Roundtable, PowerPoint presentations were made by TRU employees Tony Martiniello, VP of Business Development and Engineering, Joe Perna, VP of Operations, and Steve Overberg, Business Process Quality Manager. They provided a history of the 56 year old company and illustrated before and after scenarios about the Lean work that has been done. Participants were free to ask questions throughout the event and were treated to a plant tour with presentations by operators and supervisors from different areas on the shop floor.

Improving Manufacturing Capabilities and Flexibility
TRU Corporation employs 60 regular employees in direct and support positions. The 40,000 sq. ft. manufacturing area houses the machining and assembly processes. As a make-to-order job shop, they manufacture about 900 lots per month with an average size of less than 100. They produce 35,000 to 80,000 piece parts each month and purchase similar volumes from other vendors. Monthly, TRU ships 6,400-12,400 units.

The business started as a parts supplier to the military but recognized the need to branch into the commercial sector. Tony Martiniello said, "As TRU expanded into other emerging markets we began to have a real problem trying to be all things to everyone and found it beneficial, instead, to let our clients know what we ARE NOT. We have to be selective so we can WOW them with what we are able to do and become a valued technological partner. TRU can provide solutions that they cannot get anywhere else. We have the ability to design, manufacture, and test in-house, and even offer prototype design."

Customers want the engineered solutions, but over shorter time periods as they head toward more supply chain and fulfillment. They also want highly reliable products with competitive pricing even though material costs keep rising due to large amounts of brass and copper in our products. "To stay in the game, TRU needed to improve manufacturing capability and become more flexible," Martiniello added.

Opportunities to Benefit the Whole Company
With the support of TRU’s management to help drive the process, the company partnered with MassMEP and began their initiative with a Lean assessment and a Value Stream Map (VSM) of the entire enterprise. The results of the assessment and VSM helped them develop a Lean Implementation Plan which was used to manage the process and determine priorities.

MassMEP staff delivered Time Wise LE102 training which helped familiarize all TRU employees with the basic Lean terms and tools for a job shop. Charlie Lincicum, MassMEP Project Manager, facilitated Value Stream Mapping and Set-Up Reduction Kaizens with employee teams on many areas of the shop floor, and helped them form work cells. TRU continues to use VSM throughout the facility as it gives a broader perspective of what the whole organization needs and helps them find opportunities to benefit the entire company. Cross-functional employee Kaizen teams use the findings as diagnostic tools to help make improvements and sequence projects.

Linda Ellis, a colleague from NH MEP did an enterprise level process map which assisted TRU in determining that they needed order management. She also helped a team create cell prototypes in assembly. Set-up reduction was done in both assembly and machine areas and 5s (cleaning, sorting, and organizing) was done throughout. Re-layout of manufacturing and assembly were major projects coordinated by MassMEP’s Gertridge. The team, which included many front line employees, developed a layout for these areas which involved getting approval to purchase new equipment.

Statistical process control (SPC) was introduced to help TRU re-establish internal quality teams since compliance was low. This resulted in an upwards movement in acceptance levels. Improvements to set up, implementing inspection at the source, and using more visual signals all had positive effects on quality, as well.

Involved Employees
All TRU employees participated in the Time Wise LE102 basic Lean training so everyone has a common language. They are involved in cross-functional Kaizen teams, in MRB (material review board) meetings, and frequent formal and informal meetings with various groups to keep them updated. Front line staff now review new designs before they hit production — design for manufacture.

SMED Reduces Set up
A Set up Reduction Kaizen was done on the most contentious machine in the facility. The team videotaped the set up and then watched the video to determine "What is wrong with this picture?" Findings indicted that one resource was walking over 1500 feet per set up and 60% of the wasted time during change-over was spent searching for tools and materials. TRU implemented SMED (single minute exchange of dies) and located change over tooling near to where it is used.

Steve Boraizia has been with TRU for 30 years and oversees operation of this machine. "I admit that I was skeptical of the change but seeing the difference won me over." he said. "Production did not stop during this SMED work. We focused on one machine at a time and the rest operated as usual."

By using SMED and Point of Use Storage (POUS), they were able to reduce down-time. At the end of the two day event, set up was reduced by 50% on the target resource, and the lessons spread to several machines in the area, which showed similar gains.

Data Driven Plant Layout Design
Steve Overberg, Business Process Quality Manager, explained, "TRU’s plant was laid out in 1963. Machinery and equipment were added wherever they fit and did not optimize flow. Review of the situation indicated that we needed to 5s (clean and organize and standardize), improve product flow, reduce lead time, and reduce the amount of material and people traveling around the shop. Employees were moving far too much large, heavy material like cable and brass bars all over the facility and things were hard to find. This wasted time and increased potential for damage and injury."

Gertridge helped the TRU employee team create a Systematic Plant Design (SPD) using a process driven by data. Over a 12 week period they came up with a layout which they continue to revisit and revamp. Their layout included POUS for materials, moving stock into the assembly area, and repositioning related processes so that work could flow from one to another using the existing building. Phase one included replacing old equipment with new CNC machines and lathes and implementing new layouts in assembly and machining. In assembly, work is done in cells set up by product and travels in a set direction using single piece flow whenever possible. Cable cutting was moved into assembly and is now used as a visual cue for production. The new layout also helps train new employee since the process flow makes sense and things are visual. 

Removing Communication Boundaries
Employees suggested that TRU move people and like processes together. Design and process engineers now work together, and customer service and fulfillment work together, greatly improving communication between departments. This has resulted in reduced lead times and new initiatives. Organizational boundaries have been removed and customer requests can be expedited. Cross-functional relationships have also made people realize the impact they have on other functions, their internal customers.

Impressive Results

  • Reclaimed 25% space by replacing and relocating old equipment
  • Reduced finished goods Inventory floor space by 20%
  • Improved capacity and dollars shipped by 20-40% with same number of employees and machines
  • Reduced lead times reduced, allowing for new initiatives
  • Reduced setup on most machines by 50%
  • Increased on-time delivery from 77% to 93%
  • Improved acceptance levels indicating quality improvements

TRU has received great feedback from their customers as a result of the changes and was recently awarded DSCC – Defense Supply Center in Columbus’ Supplier of Excellence for 98-99% on time delivery. The next step raises the bar to delivering when customers want rather than when promised as they move forward to Phase Two.

When asked what has had the most significance in TRU’s success with Lean so far, Joe Perna said, "I can’t point to one thing that drove the numbers. It is all the changes and improvements together. But most importantly, it is the people in the plant, the front line, who have really made this happen. We provide quality, made to order products on-time which allows us to get a premium price. Our lead time has improved from 6 weeks to 5 weeks and we are targeting 4 weeks in 2008".

Perna added, "When you are in the middle of doing Lean all you see is the worst. Step back and appreciate the improvement and then see where you still need to go. Hold on to gains. Don’t stop working or you will backslide. Reward successes, share the wins, raise the bar, and measure! Our results would not have been possible without Charlie, Glenn, and Linda and their support and efforts. We are extremely satisfied with this group and the MassMEP overall. They are always a tremendous help."

At the close of the Roundtable event, Gene O’Neill stated, "TRU Corporation needed to improve manufacturing capability. Business was fluctuating. Many of the semiconductor manufacturers we supply had begun using supply chains to cut their costs. TRU needed to be able to be more flexible to move up and down with demand. We wanted to drive creativity and flexibility and to reduce costs. Our customers want it perfect, free and now, and the idea of Lean would help us improve throughput so we could be better, cheaper, and faster. Lean has helped us create additional capacity and to substantially reduce costs. Participation is the solution which has helped us to develop and grow. It has been a bottom up transformation. I thank the TRU team. This is their success. I thank MEP for all their help. I am excited about our results to date and look forward to the future."


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