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issue: April 2003 Whirlpool Special Section

Whirlpool Special Section
Tulsa, OK: New Attitudes

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APPLIANCE traveled to Tulsa, OK, U.S. to report on Whirlpool's range factory.

Being the newest Whirlpool Corporation facility in North America can be a demanding position. But with team spirit and consumer-oriented philosophies, the Tulsa, OK, U.S. range manufacturer is prepared to face any challenges that go along with that position.

New employees at the Tulsa plant begin as trainees and learn about putting together the ranges before being hired permanently. The Tulsa plant prides itself on its unique way of building its products. "We essentially start with the front frame and the oven cavity and sort of build the range from the inside out," says Jay Kiesel, director of Operations.

The plant's previous method had been to make the oven and then put the insulation around it. "The new way is much more design-friendly for assembly," he says. "We can adapt the features much more easily than we used to." (APPLIANCE magazine photo.)

In the early 1990s, the Tulsa free-standing range plant was destined to be a gas range facility in Mexico. The search for a site was opened when the decision was made to move manufacturing of electric ranges from Whirlpool's Findlay, OH, U.S. plant to allow that facility to focus on dishwashers. Since the market for electric ranges is smaller in Mexico than in the U.S., and since Oklahoma and the city of Tulsa gave Whirlpool a strong incentive package, Tulsa was chosen for the facility's site.

The 854,000-sq-ft facility found at 7301 Whirlpool Drive launched production of gas and electric ranges in March of 1996. Since then, the Tulsa facility has added the Kenmore brand and has become a pilot site for Whirlpool's Consumer Centered Manufacturing (CCM) initiative.

First and Foremost

Among the accomplishments of this facility is a list of firsts for Whirlpool Corporation, including the March 2001 integration of Ceran(R) cooktops

Tom Toth, division vice president, says the facility "probably took 72 hours out of the supply chain" when Ceran was integrated. "We went to them [the supplier] and said we can save cycle times and improve the quality by integrating it," he explains.

"That was a lean experiment for us. We brought it in, and it's been a great experience and the employees have done a really great job."

The use of a flat paint line at Tulsa is also a Whirlpool first, and according to Mr. Toth, was only the third one in the world. A flat blank (a coil cut to length) is coated with organic powder paint on both sides before it is even formed into side panels for the ranges. It essentially means the facility paints its own steel, instead of outsourcing it.

In addition to being cost-effective, the process also provides the facility with color flexibility, says John M. Harris, Jr., director of Finance, Planning & Control. "We don't have to stick with the color back at the steel mill or at the paint processors, then wait to get it here in inventory in a week," he says. "We can change color in just a few minutes."

Aside from its production firsts, the Tulsa facility has been the first to incorporate a Whirlpool Corporation initiative. CCM (Whirlpool Corporation's manufacturing strategy to reduce waste and cycle times, and focus on the customer) was first piloted in Tulsa in April 2000. It integrates the Whirlpool Production System (WPS) which is a pull system, driven by customer demand and based on simplification and flexibility. It also integrates Whirlpool's Build and Deliver to Demand (BDD), which is said to reduce order-to-delivery time and working capital. "We are able to get closer to the consumer and trade partner, and that aspect of the strategy is BDD," according to Mr. Toth.

He says the Tulsa facility, which has the flexibility of four assembly lines, is working toward a pull system versus operating on forecast demand. "Like any other industry right now, the crystal ball just isn't very clear for forecasting."

All of the sheet metal that falls off after parts are punched is caught and sent underground on this conveyor. To reduce waste, the off-fall is then sold to Sheffield Steel Corp. (Sand Springs, OK, U.S.). Reducing waste of resources and environmental friendliness is a very important part of the Tulsa plant's culture, according to Mr. Toth.

In addition to recycling the metal, the facility has its own waste water treatment plant, and emits a negligible amount of VOCs. "Whirlpool is a great corporate citizen, and this is not only a safe plant, but it is an environmentally friendly plant. And we take pride in that," he says. (APPLIANCE magazine photos.)

New Kid on the Block

Mr. Toth tells APPLIANCE that Whirlpool picked Tulsa as the pilot for CCM because of its status as a new facility, which allows it to implement change more easily. "We can turn on a dime and are not afraid to take risks or make mistakes. We're not afraid to grow," he says.

He adds that the biggest benefit of being the newest Whirlpool facility is that Tulsa management has been able to establish a culture of flexibility and of change from the beginning. "The people here know next year things will be different," he says.

Behind the Scenes

A top priority is a focus on quality. Throughout the Tulsa plant, banners can be found that read, "Customer satisfaction begins with me." When APPLIANCE magazine toured the facility, it was compliant to 1994 ISO 9000 standards. By the end of 2003, Whirlpool North America wants to transition to the 2000 specifications.

"We're very much trying to make sure this quality system is totally integrated in our business," he says. "It's part of the business fabric of what we're doing here."

He says the plant strives toward achieving customer satisfaction through five basic "pillars," including safety, the focus on quality, schedules to make sure the customer has what they want when they want it, and cost productivity. The fifth pillar, or "the glue that holds it all together," according to Mr. Toth, is a team-based approach.

Teamwork is an important part of the strategy at the plant, which is non-union. Mr. Toth said that he believes the facility has one of the leanest salaried work forces in North America. "We don't tell people what to do here. We lead, we motivate, we coach," he says.

"We expect accountability through the entire organization."

The facility employs about 1,500 people total, the majority of which are hourly employees. (The plant went to the Monday-Thursday production schedule in July 1998, to allow for weekend maintenance, a separate weekend assembly shift during high demand, and to give employees a much-appreciated extra day off on the weekends.)

Each work area of approximately 10-12 people is considered a team, and they work together to ensure quality in their area. The only three job classifications for hourly Tulsa employees are technician, process technician, and support technician. The simplification helps to foster the team-oriented spirit, according to Mr. Harris.

"It's very rare that anybody says, 'That's not my job.' Everybody does what it takes to be successful," he says.

Built for Growth

Mr. Toth hopes to leverage that weekend assembly capacity in the very near future. The facility currently manufactures Whirlpool, Roper, and Estate brands and supplies products to Sears, Roebuck, & Co. under the Kenmore brand. In 2002, Whirlpool Corporation announced plans to close a Canadian facility and migrate KitchenAid and Inglis brand ranges to the Tulsa plant during 2004.

Mr. Toth says the CCM initiative has helped enable the plant to increase capacity without investing a lot of money, which is one of the plant's proudest accomplishments. "We've figured out how to produce 30-40 percent more out of this facility without spending millions of dollars. Whirlpool is rewarding us by letting us use that capacity in the future," he says.

Another expansion involves the company's new factory distribution center (FDC). The 314,000-sq-ft addition was completed in December 2002. "The new FDC will allow the Tulsa plant to effectively service our customers with less inventory," says Mr. Toth.

And as the plant, which sits on less than 20 of its available 136 acres, plans for expansion, the strategy is to continue to focus on the motto, "Customer satisfaction begins with me."

"That is and always will be all of our jobs," says Mr. Harris. "And we've already made great strides."

Oven cavities, flues, and warming drawers are flow-coated to allow more consistent coloring in the corners of the parts. The facility also employs powder coating and porcelain enameling finishing methods.

APPLIANCE Magazine Whirlpool Special Section - April 2003



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