DEARBORN - Four manufacturing plants in North America have marked a milestone.
The Sharonville Transmission Plant, Rawsonville Plant, Woodhaven Stamping Plant and Buffalo Stamping Plant are the first to be approved by Ford and the UAW to begin implementing the new team-based structure at their facilities that was outlined in the 2011 contract negotiations between Ford and the UAW.
To gain approval, plants must go through a mapping process where they review their equipment and their lines, identify teams, decide what makeup of skills should be on those teams and develop a communications training plan to clarify expectations to all plant employees. Then, leaders from Ford and the UAW meet to discuss whether the proposal is appropriate and meets the standard.
“We see a lot of opportunity from engaging teams in a structured way and driving responsibility to the right level where plant employees can actually manage their own part of the business and make improvements beyond just being a passenger on the ship,” said Adrian Price, director, global Ford Production System (FPS). “Now they’re in control of the process, taking on more responsibility and driving improvements that are going to help us.”
Sharonville Transmission Plant
Unlike the three other facilities that are just preparing to embark on a brand new journey, the Sharonville Transmission Plant has been working on a team development process for several years.
“The team-based work structure we were using was very similar to the new Global FPS team structure and as we proceeded through the mapping process, we found improvements we could make to both our team structure and to our team development process,” said Tom Thieman, plant manager, Sharonville Transmission Plant. “We feel it gives us a competitive advantage.”
According to Thieman, that competitive advantage comes from enabling plant employees to assume greater responsibility for the operation of the business.
“What you’re trying to do is tap into the knowledge and the continuous improvement opportunity that is available from having the folks who actually run the machines and run the process on the plant floor be able to make the decisions at the most appropriate level and make them in the timely fashion that they need to be made,” he said. “And that makes the plant floor run significantly better.”
Thieman says his plant has already experienced the advantages of having an employee-based team structure in place.
“There’s no question that in the process of doing this over the years we’ve seen the benefit in terms of productivity, quality and safety,” he said. “We’ve also seen a significant improvement in general employee morale. People take a lot more pride in their work when they make the decisions and own it.”
Both Thieman and Dave Mason, the UAW Chairperson at Sharonville, agree that the strong partnership between Ford and the UAW is an essential component of the process.
“We’ve been talking about teams throughout the company for a long time. The success here was because of the unity,” said Mason. “If you don’t go into it together, it will be easy to splinter it apart.”
At the end of the day, Thieman says the results are well worth the effort.
“Nothing is more satisfying in your professional life than watching your people succeed by their own hand,” he said. “And that’s what this really is about – giving the opportunity to everybody in the organization to be able to add to the success of the plant through their work teams and through their work processes.”
Rawsonville, Woodhaven Stamping and Buffalo Stamping Plants
The Rawsonville, Woodhaven Stamping and Buffalo Stamping Plants are not as far along in the implementation of the team structure as Sharonville. They will likely have teams in place by the end of the first quarter in 2013. But plant managers and UAW representatives at all the facilities are excited about moving forward with the process.
“I’ve always been one that has lived by a motto that you need an ego that permits you to believe that somebody else in the organization knows something,” said OJ Alvarado, plant manager, Rawsonville Plant. “And when I think about that in terms of teams and a team leader, they know their business better than anybody. They live it. They breathe it every single day. The same applies to the process coaches (salaried personnel formerly referred to as supervisors). I believe that they can take us to the next level.”
Andy Herbert, plant manager, Woodhaven Stamping Plant, says the changes about to take place at his facility are absolutely essential.
“It’s imperative to run the business,” he said. “The team members on the floor know much more about running the business than we do, and sometimes it’s just a matter of getting the information from them. Increasing the number of team leaders and decreasing the number of people they’re managing will encourage more closeness among the teams and increase the sharing of knowledge.”
Dave Buzo, plant manager, Buffalo Stamping Plant, says he believes the addition of team leaders and the empowerment of the hourly work force will enable his facility to increase its yields and improve safety and quality. He says he believes the new team structure will enable Buffalo to reach its goal of over 500 hits per hour (a hit being every time the stamp press goes up and down).
“That’s the target that we have to reach in order for us to take in new work. We’re far from that at this point so we need drastic improvements and the implementation of teams will help us achieve those goals,” he said. “We’re going to get people to use their minds as well as their bodies. We need to get levels of bureaucracy out of their way so that they can do what they know how to do.”
Pat Radtke, UAW Chairman, Buffalo Stamping Plant, says the implementation of the new team structure will increase job security at the plant.
“It already has,” he said. “We’re just in the beginning stages of the process and we’ve already called people back to work to backfill for training to support the team structure. And as we get better as a business and more efficient and effective as a business that’s going to give us an opportunity to insource more work from third-party suppliers or new model work. It’s a perpetual machine. Once you get it started and get it working, it can only get better and better and better.”