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issue: April 2003 Whirlpool Special Section

Whirlpool Special Section
Clyde, OH: Achieving Quality and Quantity

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APPLIANCE traveled to Clyde, OH, U.S. to tour one of Whirlpool Corporation's North American washing machine factories.

As the largest producer of washing machines in North America, Whirlpool Corporation's Clyde, OH plant has implemented several Customer Centered Manufacturing techniques to keep both productivity and quality high.

According to Whirlpool, the facility is the largest washing machine manufacturing plant in the world based on volume. Besides a smaller factory in Mexico, Clyde is the only producer of Whirlpool(R) washing machines in North America. Match that with the company's U.S. market share, and it's safe to say that the plant produces more than half of the washing machines sold in the U.S.

The facility manufactures washing machines for the Whirlpool, KitchenAid, Estate, Roper, and Kenmore brands (for Sears), as well as Whirlpool's Canadian brand Inglis. It also produces the appliances on an OEM basis for Crosley, Kirkland, and GE, and exports about 12-15 percent of its production outside of the U.S.

With that kind of volume, it's no wonder the Clyde campus spans across 2.3 million sq ft, a size equivalent to 55 American football fields. Manufacturing alone takes up 1.6 million sq ft, with the remaining square footage divided between two large distribution areas that house more than just washing machines.

In addition, according to company estimates, in the last 40 years, employment has increased 250 percent at the facility, reaching the current 3,300-person workforce, and production has increased an unbelievable 770 percent. Capacity has increased 60 percent in just the last 14 years.

These numbers are more about productivity gains than volume, notes Tom Grothouse, director, Assembly Operations/Quality Improvement at Clyde. "In terms of our capability, I would say we're very proud of the fact that we're high volume, obviously, but also that we're very flexible," says Mr. Grothouse. "We produce a high variety of products every day. We don't just make one model, turn the volume up, and let it run for a week; we're changing our schedule all the time to stay close to the customer demand preferences."

Since the region-wide move to Customer Centered Manufacturing (CCM) in 2001, the facility has made several changes in order to further improve its processes and "reduce waste." CCM includes implementing lean manufacturing, building product to replenish shipments versus forecast, and creating manufacturing flexibility to bring new products to the customer in half the traditional time required. Even so, Ralph Dirlam, Clyde's director, Support Operations, says that, generally, the plant's mission has been the same since Whirlpool purchased it in 1952. "It's what we've been doing for years and years - working on costs and quality," Mr. Dirlam says. "I found an old handbook from 1964, and one of the key phrases in it was, 'We are dedicated to reducing waste.' In 1964, people at this division were saying that. We take a different approach now, but we wouldn't have been successful for 50 years without that kind of attitude."

To date, the plant has manufactured more than 100 million Whirlpool products. Presently, it exclusively manufactures washing machines using three platforms - a 24- or 27-in wide direct-drive (automatic) washer model for the commercial and residential markets; the washer portion (24- and 27-in) of a stacked washer/dryer for the residential market; and the 27-in Calypso model for the residential market.

Humble Beginnings

When Whirlpool brand began the development of the Calypso washing machine, it decided to develop a more effective technique for establishing the concentricity between the side wall of the washer basket and the basket drive block mounting surface. After extensive research, Whirlpool's Advanced Manufacturing Development group from its R&E Center developed a proprietary technology that uses lasers. The new concentricity machine was so successful, the technology is now used on all Clyde-built washing machine models.

The Clyde facility has come a long way from its early days of manufacturing. From 1880-1952, the plant made a wide range of products, from Elmore automobiles and Clydesdale fire trucks to church furniture and porcelain signs. When Whirlpool purchased the facility in 1952 from Clyde Porcelain steel, it was a mere 250,000 sq ft. Two years later, it purchased an adjacent 170,000-sq-ft facility from Bendix Corp., a washing machine maker. With gradual expansions in every decade, the most recent in 1999, the factory slowly grew to its current size - 1.6 million sq ft.

The facility's production history literally outlines the evolution of laundry technology. In 1952, before the days of permanent press, the plant made ironers and wringer washers. While the ironers were manufactured for only 1 year, the wringer washer production continued until 1971. In 1954, the facility added belt-drive washers, which were manufactured until 1987. In 1980, today's direct-drive washers were added to the product line-up; and in 2000, the Whirlpool brand's well-known, high-efficiency Calypso(R) washer, one of the first designs to eliminate an agitator, started production.

To date, the plant has manufactured more than 100 million Whirlpool products. Presently, it exclusively manufactures washing machines using three platforms - a 24- or 27-in wide direct-drive (automatic) washer model for the commercial and residential markets; the washer portion (24- and 27-in) of a stacked washer/dryer for the residential market; and the 27-in Calypso model for the residential market.

A Clean Operation

Clyde is organized into component manufacturing centers. Each center is responsible for the cost, delivery, and quality of their component, he adds. "Essentially we have a number of small factories within a large factory," Mr. Drabik explains.

The plant works on three shifts a day, 5 days a week. Manufacturing processes include metal fabrication, injection molding, finishing, and assembly. Mr. Drabik explains that Clyde is vertically integrated and manufactures only components for which it has a clear core competency or cost advantage. Specifically, it produces stamped metal parts, fabricated/welded components, and large plastic parts. A global supply base provides components such as motors, small plastic parts, timers, sub-assemblies, and wire harnesses.

Assembly is divided into six lines, three of which are used to produce the high-volume, 24- and 27-in automatic washers. The u-shaped assembly lines are organized to build the appliance from the inside out in order to avoid "blind assembly," according to Mr. Dirlam. The washing machines, he says, have been designed for manufacturing, which has improved productivity and quality.

The line starts with the "heart" of the appliance, Mr. Dirlam says. The gear case is put on, followed by the motor. Next, the tub support is added, and the gear case is fastened to the tub support.

Next, the plastic tub and basket are united, followed by the addition of the balance ring, agitator, tub ring, console and electronics, and motor wiring. The final steps include water testing, the addition of the cabinet and top, hoses, literature and labels, and a final check.

The Calypso washer has its own assembly area. Utilizing lean manufacturing techniques to consolidate production processes and reduce inventory, Clyde engineers were able to construct the line within the existing facility. According to Mr. Drabik, the Calypso line's successful integration was achieved by using a cross-functional team of production operators, supervisors, design engineers, and procurement personnel from start to finish.

And while the Calypso washer area is fairly new, it too is undergoing constant CCM improvements. "It doesn't matter if the line has been here 20 years or 2 years, there is a continuous improvement process," says Mr. Dirlam.

The facility has implemented automated processes in certain areas of the plant. "We'll automate where it makes sense to automate and not just for the sake of putting in automation," adds Mr. Dirlam. "We don't want to just put in automation just to say we can automate. I think maybe back in the 1980s, that may have been a battle cry. But with some automation, it doesn't make sense if it's going to tie up, slow down, or shut down your assembly line. And you just don't stick in automation if there's a not a reliable technology for it or a reliable process."

Getting Lean

An assembly worker connects the necessary wiring to a washing machine motor before the unit moves to electrical safety testing.

One of the plant's current battle cries is to "get lean" as one part of the CCM strategy. According to Mr. Drabik, employees have been and continue to be a large part of the lean transformation. One way Clyde leverages employee ideas is by holding periodic "lean manufacturing events."

During a lean event, operators, supervisors, and engineers work together to improve productivity, safety, and quality. Most lean events last from 3-5 days. It's an intense focus on an operation with immediate improvements. Changes are made while production continues.

One of the first major CCM implementations was moving the console area to the main assembly lines. "We reduced the size of the lines and moved them closer to the main lines, which allows us to run with less inventory and improve the productivity," Mr. Drabik says.

Other recent system changes included moving tub dome welding to assembly in June 2002 and in-sourcing Calypso drive tube weld and machine weld in September 2002. The facility is currently working on consolidating the feature panel operations and rationalizing sub-assembly.

One of the most important aspects of CCM is that everyone is involved. Clyde's lean transformation extends beyond the production floor and even encompasses administrative areas such as accounting and human resources. "If you truly want to embrace lean principles, you have to be willing to make improvements elsewhere," Mr. Drabik says.

The Right Tools

As indicated in the name, the focus of CCM, Mr. Drabik notes, is the customer. Understanding the customer is crucial, he adds. One way to better understand customers is by holding customer panel discussions. "It's very powerful because you have a room full of people - operators from the line, management people, and customers - discussing the product that we build, the customers' experience with it, and what they like and don't like about it," says Mr. Drabik. "These insights are used to further improve customer satisfaction with our products."

Mr. Drabik believes that it is very important for plant workers to be well-informed about the division, as well as the corporation, as a whole. "Our employees want to know how we're going to stay competitive, how we're going to win in the marketplace. So we invest a great deal of time communicating with our employees about all aspects of our business," he explains.

Considerable time is spent demonstrating how strong brands create value for a company. "One of the demonstrations we've used is: here's a tennis shoe and here's a similar tennis shoe. This one sells for $30, and this one sells for $150. What's the difference? It's the brand," he explains.

A group of involved employees is possibly the best competitive advantage a manufacturer can have. "Frankly, (our competitors) can buy equipment from the same people we buy equipment from. I think the biggest thing that sets us apart from the competition is our people, and how we involve our people in the improvement process - those are the things they can't duplicate," Mr. Drabik says.

"The goals never change - quality, productivity, and innovation. The tools you use change. And, no matter what tool you use, you will always need employees involved in the process in order to succeed."

APPLIANCE Magazine Whirlpool Special Section - April 2003



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