Lorenzo Spoerry talks to Dean Thornewell about operational excellence, lean thinking, and the importance of investing in your workforce.
Driving up to the gates of Joy Mining Machinery’s Worcester plant, the first thing you’ll see is a 39-tonne roof support: a massive hydraulic-powered arm rising from the ground like a prehistoric bird’s claw. Hundreds of meters underground, in places as far away as Australia and China, similar structures hold up thousands of tonnes of dirt and rock, allowing men and machinery to safely pass through tunnels to extract the coal needed to power the world’s towns and cities.
Inside the plant’s reception area, large glossy photographs of coal miners at work hang on the walls, their blackened clothes and faces contrasting sharply with the clinical tidiness of the plant itself. Behind the posing miners, the roof supports are lined up one after the other so that only one side of the cave is exposed to the rotating disks chipping away at a black coal wall.
Walking through the assembly facility itself along the delineated pathways, it is hard not to be struck by the extreme level of organisation. In every room, a Joy Business Systems performance board hangs on the wall. It details potential problems and solutions. Each “potential problem” is marked with a small yellow sticker and a white space is allocated to noting down the proposed solution. A red sticker or “potential show-stopper” indicates problems which might interfere with the assembly to such an extent that the part might be assembled late, or incorrectly. A green sticker means that the production process is operating as it should.
Yellow banisters delineate each work station. Inside these, light blue is the prevalent colour theme, with barrels, table-tops and containers for spare parts-all arranged in identical rows are marked by number codes. These are an integral part of the 6s programme that the company undertook in 2005. Part of the purpose of this carefully colour-coded production line is to create that all-important first impression with customers: uniformity of both process and presentation is key to ensuring that the correct image is conveyed.
In the inner cylinder manufacturing facility, before and after pictures with supporting graphs hang on the walls showing the improvements that have been made as a result of Joy Mining Operational Excellence programme. “Op Ex is what we live and die by,” explains Dean Thornewell, Joy Mining’s operations director. “We’re completely focussed on having a process whereby we’re continuously improving.” A chart on the wall shows reductions in the distance that each piece has to travel. In the large cylinder manufacturing area, each part now has to travel 82% less than it previously did.
Each cell in the assembly factory is clearly demarked by lines on the floor. Row upon row of identical work stations are fitted with the same shadow trays and the same tools.
A wooden shadow panel on the wall indicates where each tool needs to go. A large broom is quickly replaced in the space which has been allocated for it. Over the last two years, the company has moved away from a batch-building process to a single piece flow incorporating lean thinking techniques. Output has doubled in these areas, although the workforce has remained constant. “We’ve worked really hard to implement successful process improvement teams. The guys have redesigned their own work area and adopted some basic process improvement techniques like process mapping.
This is especially true in the machine shop, the valve assembly area and the solenoid cell area,” says Thornewell.
Operating under the banner of operational excellence, Joy Mining Machinery’s Worcester plant will soon finish off the second phase of its efficiency improvement plans.
Phase one, which was completed in the beginning of 2009, saw a 30% increase in productivity. “Phase two will be completed at the end of the first quarter of 2011, and we’re expecting it to give us a similar productivity improvement,” explains Thornewell.
The operations director has an approach to efficiency that stems from a very common-sense mentality. “I’m very much a believer that you have to have a clean working environment. That’s where it starts for me. If you can read the instructions correctly you know what you’ve got to do.
You also have to have the right tools, and not hunt around to find them. You have that, and you’re two-thirds of the way to doing the job properly. Beyond applying those few basic principles, all you need is an extremely robust quality control process.” Every operator in Joy’s Mining Machinery’s Worcester plant is trained to check the quality of his process as he works, and the company has people in every area whose responsibilities include watching that they do just that. At the end, the quality of every part is checked one more time. “We don’t just check the quality at the end but build it in as we go through the manufacturing process,” explains Thornewell. “Like a lot of companies we’ve worked extremely hard to adopt the processes of the car industry.” Radical changes to one’s working environment are sometimes difficult to accept, but Joy has tried hard to ensure that every member of the workforce is brought on board. Thornewell explains: “When you bring in a new line of thinking, you have to expect that some people will be nervous about making changes.
What you need to do is understand the reasons for their reticence. My experience has been that 95 per cent of people will make the change – either because they want to, or because they understand that the business itself is changing. We’ve involved a great deal of people in our operational excellence programmes. We were extremely lucky that some influential people within the organisation were so focussed and enthusiastic about the programmes, and they were able to act as changed agents for the rest of the organisation. That becomes infectious, and more and more people are brought on board.” The managing director was involved in making a presentation to the group at the end of the exercise, and many of Joy’s senior leaders assiduously checked progress and unblocked existing problems. “Because of the high levels of focus from all levels in the business: from the shop floor through to our managing director and vice-president, we were really able to gain the traction and get people’s support and involvement. That meant that everybody in the business played a part and everybody felt responsible for moving the business forward” says Thornewell.
In 2006, the company embarked on a 5S and, shortly afterwards, a 6S programme. “The facility as a whole really embraced the 6S idea, particularly its safety aspects. Each month all areas – approximately 50 – are audited by our in-house teams to a critical standard. It not only gives that all-important first visual impression, it is supported by real substance in various strategies to move the needle and take even more cost out of the Worcester operation,” explains Thornewell.
Joseph Joy, the founder of Joy Mining, was born in 1883 in a mining town in Cumberland, Maryland. He started working at the local coal mine when has was 12. By the age of 20, he had, after studying for a correspondence course in mechanical engineering, produced his first sketch for a unique digging and loading device. He began marketing his idea to potential investors, and, in 1930, founded the company that bears his name. Today, Joy Mining manufactures everything from longwall shearers to roof supports, face conveyors, stageloaders, continuous miners, batch haulage vehicles, continuous haulage systems and bolting products.
The Worcester site is predominantly an assembly facility for Powered Roof Supports (PRS), which can be broken down into three distinct sub-assemblies.
The fabrication of the canopy, base, rear shield and other ancillary fabrications are fed through steel usually sourced from Corus Dalzell and Motherwell. Around 5000 tonnes of steel are required for a single contract. Approximately half the fabrication takes place in the UK, with the other half in Eastern Europe.
The double telescopic leg, which supports the walls and roofs of the mines, consists of inner and outer cylinders and an inner member. Fabricated steel legs have traditionally been used as a lower-cost alternative, but should customer specifications require it, forged steel legs can also be used. The forged solutions are currently sourced predominantly through the UK supply chain and the machining of the outer and inner cylinder remaining with Joy Mining Machinery because of the criticality of its operations. The hydraulic operation is done through a hand-held keyboard device located on each PRS.
Worcester’s powered roof support products are usually sold to other Joy facilities around the world, and these are then shipped out to the end customer.
The design process is done entirely inhouse in conjunction with the customer.
Prototypes are also built and tested on site. With demand for coal picking up in China, Australia the United States and elsewhere, Joy believe there are significant opportunities for companies in the sector to invest in the future. To that end, Joy’s Worcester plant has spent some considerable sums on the latest machinery: over £2.5m worth in the past 2 years alone, with purchases worth another £3.5m expected to arrive in the near future.
Roof supports are held up with three cylinder: an inner cylinder, an outer cylinder and an inner member. With investments already in place for the manufacture of the inner cylinders, it seemed a natural step forward to begin manufacturing the outer cylinders. It is hoped that this will establish the Worcester plant as a centre of excellence for roof support leg cylinder machining.
Thornewell explains the thinking behind the purchases: “These roof support legs are components that need to be replaced on a fairly regular basis. These investments give us an excellent basis to meet both the original equipment supply needs as well as the service market supply needs. The objective is to grow the business.” To that end, the company has consolidated a significant amount of space in the factory.
These machines are at the heart of coal mining operations throughout the world. Using Finite Element Analysis and Design Failure Mode and Effect Analysis, Joy looks at potential failure mode, and weighs the severity and the probability of occurrence. Joy’s reputation in the mining industry is enviable through the use of stress-prone transverse welds, high strength steels and automated welding. Working on the basis that simplistic classical methods were no longer appropriate, Joy has sought to improve the life expectancy of its machinery through improvements in its bearing material.
The company has embarked on a training programme, bringing in agencies from outside the business and training its team in-house.
Those team members then conduct process improvement training and lean thinking training right down to the shop floor operators.
“We as an organisation support our team and help them through that training programme, to the extent that they’ll receive nationally-recognised NVQ qualifications,” explains Thornewell.
“They can send off the work that they’ve done on the shop floor back to the examining board. That serves to improve the business and also to develop our workforce as individuals. It’s a real win-win situation because everyone is motivated to achieve.”
“All of our management group have been through lean training in a very detailed way. That includes line managers and supervisors on the shop floor who run the day-to-day activities, our team leaders as well as the people who assemble the roof supports and who operate machines. They’re all being trained in different levels of lean thinking and lean techniques.” The Worcester plant has machine shops, fabrication shops and assembly areas. The day-to-day tasks include cutting, grinding and the welding of metals to produce large fabricated items. Large gear boxes – some going up to 1000 horsepower and more – and sprockets for use on conveyors to pull chains are all assembled here. They also put together roof supports in four large fabrications, as well as machined cylinders that make up the leg cylinders. Roof support canopies can weigh up to 15 or 20 tonnes.
Alongside its performance improvement projects, Joy Mining has developed a stringent, uniform tracking system to efficiently measure improvements. “There are, broadly speaking, three headings that we measure: cost, quality and performance,” explains Thornewell. “Within that, we measure our quality in-process, we measure the right-first-time at the end of the line and we measure the quality output during the manufacturing process as well.”
From the cost side, the company measures its performance to plan and against the budget for a particular job.
“Then we measure the difference and say: ‘That job has been improved by 5% or 10%,’ and look very closely at the aspects of process improvement that we’ve undertaken” explains Thornewell.
Beyond that, the cost of the consumables, of the labour and of the tooling are all measured. The organisation prides itself on being proactive in looking at cost from every single perspective in an effort to reduce it as much as possible and has made considerable improvements in this regard. In the fiscal year 2008- 2009, the company saved 7% through the elimination of waste and through improved efficiency, and are on target to achieve savings of another 9%.
Managers were assigned to measure the exact distances that materials had to travel along the assembly line and diagrams were drawn up to suggest new, more efficient ways of manufacturing and assembling products before work areas were re-layed. The cycle times for certain products have been minimised, the amount of stock on site has been reduced and new tools and machinery have been brought in.
Improving the supply chain
Alongside its improvements in operational excellence, the company has instituted a programme called Supply Chain Excellence. “We’ve been extremely focussed on working with our supply chain to improve our overall performance over the last 18 months,” says Thornewell. “Supply Chain Excellence focuses on working closely with suppliers to reduce component lead times so that we’re able to order parts and get them quicker – meaning that the company can manufacture them later and we don’t hold the stock on site. We’re also working very hard to reduce the cost on a gain-share basis so that both we as a company as well as our suppliers benefit.” The cohesion and interaction between the global strategic supply chain management and the local operational purchasing function is the essence of the company’s “matrix” structure. There is regular fortnightly communication between each sector of the business, with participation from every region. This is in addition to quarterly face-to-face conferences involving the supply chain.
In order the enable successful execution of the supply chain strategy, each region submits its monthly performance figures on the objectives set out at the beginning of each year.
The process of performance objective setting is done on an annual basis, with objectives determined and aligned to the global strategic direction, set at board level.
Objectives are set for each level of the organisation, with the content of the objectives carefully tailored to each region’s specific nuance. Monthly supply chain reviews are undertaken by the operations director.
Supplier awards are given out each year-one for the best performing supplier, and another for the most improved supplier (last year Wath Rubber and Plastics and Times of Wigan were the winners, respectively, of each award). Each supplier is assessed annually against its deliverables. Over the last 18 months Joy Mining Machinery UK operations have improved its supplier on-time delivery from an average of about 65% up to a peak of 95%. Working closely with the engineering department, value analysis and value engineering projects have been set up whereby individual components are looked at and the materials examined to establish whether or not the costs of its production can be reduced without compromising quality.
ERP systems by SAP are used throughout every stage of the process.
“We’ve worked closely with our suppliers to develop a system whereby they can see and use the supply end of our SAP system. They are able to log into the system directly from their factories and tell us about their deliveries and on what days they will be delivering to us. An important part of our improved on-time delivery is suppliers taking ownership and responsibility for advising us of their deliveries. That’s really helped.”
Joy Mining Machinery claims impressive retention rates. A modern, supportive working environment and the opportunity to work in sites throughout the world has kept its workforce motivated and interested, the company says. Engineers, senior managers and shop floor workers may be sent to work in Australia, China, the United States and elsewhere. Skilled people tend to stay within the business, mainly because of the range of job opportunities on offer, says Thornewell.
An uncertainty in the price of steel is one of the problems that the industry as a whole has had to contend with. Demand has peaked and troughed over the years. In the last nine months the price of steel has been very low. Shortly before that it was very high. “We have been affected by fluctuations in its price,” explains Thornewell, “but we’re working very hard with our suppliers to keep costs down.
We’ve got an advantage in that area because we tend to have extremely good relationships with them that are geared towards the long term. I think that prices have found something of a middling level at the moment.
Capacity has, in my opinion, levelled off to probably where the demand is, and steel manufacturers have cut their cloth accordingly. Demand for steel in China especially has slowed a little, and that has had ripple effects in the market.” As for the future, the company has big plans. A number of vital projects are kept under wraps for now, but there are hints as to where it may be headed. “We’re working on new products for mining lower seams.
High-volume projects are in the works,” Thornewell says. At present, the company is building a $20m service centre in Russia which will be project managed from the UK – a possible indicator as to where the company’s focus may be turning.