The workforce at Carrier Collierville know all about the importance of efficiency. It is a critical component of the very products they manufacture: residential split-system air conditioners and heat pumps. These units must meet federally regulated minimum energy-efficiency standards in addition to appealing to homeowners.
Efficiency is also critical to the continuing success of this sprawling facility located about 30 minutes east of Memphis, Tenn. Like many other manufacturing plants whose fortunes are tied closely to the U.S. housing market, this 900,000 square-foot facility has had to weather – indeed continues to weather – tough economic conditions that show few hints of an impending turnaround.
Driving Carrier Collierville to meet the efficiency challenge is the diligent application of ACE, or Achieving Competitive Excellence. ACE is the operating system of United Technologies Corp., of which Carrier is a subsidiary. United Technologies describes ACE as a comprehensive approach to achieving customer satisfaction and business results through continuous improvement. Its success relies on three elements: culture, tools and competency.
For Collierville, ACE translates to this philosophy: “The plant’s greatest asset is the culture: people who apply the right tools with competency to understand customer value, the processes that create the value and [the ability to] solve problems wherever value is lost.”
“ACE is how we do business,” says general manager Phil Grady.
ACE in action is evident throughout the clean, brightly lit manufacturing operations, where workers represented by the United Steelworkers build the outside units of residential split systems (a split system has components in two locations, typically one inside and one outside) in multiple sizes, nine different efficiency offerings, four electrical options and across seven different brands. In addition to assembly and test operations, production processes include the manufacture of sheet metal components, paint operations and brazing. During peak season, some 1,500 workers can be turning out product across nine assembly lines.
In an operation so vast, the opportunities to lose value are profound. Among the many processes Carrier Collierville has implemented to reduce such opportunities are:
• A quality improvement team, which includes hourly workers, attacked a leak issue at braze joints on a heat pump component. Changes made to the work area, including improved lighting and modifications to the fixture that held the piece during the brazing operation, resulted in a nearly 50% reduction in leaks and the associated repair costs.
• Long changeovers eat up a lot of valuable time, particularly in high-volume areas. Carrier employees modified equipment in the coil shop operations and reduced an eight-minute changeover to a 10-second changeover. That’s a set-up reduction of more than 90%.
• The Collierville team implemented a visual solution (flashing lights) at an assembly line workstation that warns operators who accidentally introduce the wrong components along a high-velocity, mixed-model assembly line. The solution also prevents the product from continuing down the line until the error is corrected.
Such process improvements and problem-solving techniques have yielded rewards for Carrier Collierville. Achievements include a 50% reduction in the customer reject rate in the past four years, as well as a 79% reduction in scrap costs over the same time frame.
Jill Jusko is senior editor of MH&L’s sister publication, IndustryWeek.