3 ways to stay ahead and sustain an award winning factory

Being the best doesn’t mean that you have to stop there

It was not so long back that ABB’s Generator Circuit Breaker (GCB) manufacturing unit in Oerlikon, Switzerland won the accolade of Best factory in Europe (ABB Factory is voted best in Europe). There is always the risk of complacency setting in when winning such an honor but in our case it only provided more motivation to the GCB team.

Being the best doesn’t mean that you have to stop there – and with this belief the team continued to look for process improvements and productivity gains. Three years ago our production time of a GCB was reduced from weeks to days. Today we are producing a GCB only in 16 hours ! I am often asked what lies behind this team success so I put together three salient features which may seem extremely basic but have a profound effect on the factory’s output and brought about the incremental benefit.

1. Everything has its place – Whether it’s a wrench or any other tool, a broom or a water bottle – it has its own place. Nothing is ‘lying around’ in the factory. Designed and produced by the factory workers themselves, all the tools have a place to go in custom made tool racks with place holders for all materials, from hammers to drinking cups.  Our factory manager surprised me once, when he explained to me how he thinks it is important that he follows the same principles he oversees in the factory and showed me his personal office drawer, which was in perfect order with a custom made place holder for every single pen, marker, stapler and other office equipment. Now that’s what I call commitment to walking the talk !

2. There is a bus route – In 2010 we had already implemented a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system for our material supply logistics, to enable ready and on-time supply of material for the flow production. We used to have our logistics person in the factory delivering the material to empty containers and in the process he/she walked around 25km every single day within the factory ! Today, he/she operates a “bus”, also known as the “milk run”, which runs twice  a day on a specific route filling containers as required. There are literally designated ‘bus stops’ on the factory floor indicating the refill points. This has considerably reduced the time needed for the supply effort.

3. Cleanliness enables effectiveness and minimizes defects – To maintain production time without compromising quality in any way, we insist that everything is clean and in good working order. We believe that maintaining and improving lean processes with a zero defect approach requires efficiency in every part of the process and cleanliness needs to be embedded in everything we do. This is tracked by giving a weekly color marker with a corresponding smiley to each production phase, indicating the level of cleanliness achieved. Our factory manager once aptly commented that the purpose of the board is not having a red, yellow or a green smiley per se, but having the “smiley” on our customers’ face eventually.

The initiatives mentioned above go a long way in maximizing the factory’s efficiency and productivity, but none of this would be possible without daily commitment of our workers. Like a professional Formula 1 team, each of our 65 team members have a clear sense of purpose and know exactly what to do and how to do it. They make it possible that each product gets new “tires”, is “filled up” and ready to hurtle back to the “race” in less than a day. And just like the F1 team, we are also after the records – even breaking our own ! That’s why we brought down the production time to 16 hours a product and we are not done yet !

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About the author

Daniel Zeidler

I am the Local Product Group Manager for ABB generator circuit-breakers in Switzerland, based in Zurich. I have more than 14 years of experience with ABB in various roles such as in SCM and Operations & Service. Besides being inspired by award-winning processes and premium products my interests lie with politics on local and global level and, of course, my two young boys.
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