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issue: May 2007 APPLIANCE European Edition

Getting Better with Age

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APPLIANCE Staff Feature

In operation for more than 4 decades, the Electrolux washing machine factory in Alcalá, Spain, has not rested on laurels, but instead focuses on continuous improvement.

On Location: APPLIANCE magazine traveled to Alcalá, Spain, to visit Electrolux’s Laundry Factory.

Open since 1965, the Alcalá de Henares factory started out producing refrigerators and washing machines for the Spanish appliance company Ibelsa. “In 1980, the factory was integrated into Zanussi Group, which came to belong to the Electrolux Group in 1984,” explains José María Serrano, plant manager. “Gradually, the factory turned over production of other appliances to other factories, in order to specialize only in front-load washing machines, which has been the focus since 1989.”

That was just one of the many changes the plant has seen over the last 42 years. In fact, it seems the plant’s strategy of adapting to market developments has been one of its secrets to success. From productivity and quality to saving costs, this manufacturing factory has proven that experience can certainly breed wisdom.

Pictured are the robots used to weld the washing machine tubs. The addition of automation and robots is one step Electrolux is taking to reduce human error and increase product quality.

On the Line

Over the last 5 years, the company has invested in the renovation of its products and industrial processes. “Some of the most important goals have been robotization, generalization of the welded tubs and automating the final testing of the washing machines to reduce human error,” says Luis Bona, plant engineering manager.

Two basic washing machines platforms, called RIM and NAHIA, are manufactured in Alcalá. Laundry appliances made there are marketed throughout southwest Europe, Scandinavian countries, Russia, and Asian markets such as Malaysia and Vietnam.

“RIM is the platform for a 5-kg washer that can be produced with electromechanical, hybrid and electronic controls,” explains Angel Abad, product engineering manager. “NAHIA units are 6-kilo washing machines that offer electronic control, with spin-dry speeds of 800, 1,000, 1,200, and 1,400 rpm. Even at 6 kg, they still offer higher efficiencies with an A+ energy rating. The cabinet size itself remains the same size as the 5 kilo; we just increase the size of the tub.”

Employees working on the assembly line are an integral part of making the EMS system successful.

On the floor of the factory, the company produces the cabinet, drum and tub. “The cabinet moves through metal sheet forming, assembly and painting and then goes on to the assembly lines. The drum we produce from coils of stainless steel and then it moves on to forming and assembly, and is then joined to the tub,” explains Serrano. “The rear of the drum is produced from a synthetic, stain-proof and rust-proof material called Carboran. It joins the drum, then moves to the assembly lines with the other components.”

As evidenced in its production processes, this appliance producer is focused on eliminating waste whenever possible. In the painting cabinet area, for example, the cabinets move through a bath of paint and into another area of the factory. The paint that drips off into this collection area is then filtered, and the company reuses the paint. The cabinet then gets a final coat of paint to even it out.

The plant uses a warehouse to store tubs so that it can keep up with the assembly line. “We need to work in four shifts in the injection area, and we are working weekends. We need to warehouse all the tubs so [that on] Monday morning we have a lot of stock, and the rest of the week we are reducing that stock,” says Bona.

Due to production demands, the assembly area operates on two shifts per day,

5 days a week. In the injection molding area of the factory, work is scheduled in four shifts to keep up with assembly.

The Alcalá plant has several information points in different factory zones to provide internal communication to operators about the EMS system.

Continuous Improvement

The most recent change at the factory was the implementation of the Electrolux Manufacturing System (EMS). Electrolux says it is important to understand that EMS is not a project or initiative, but a permanent commitment that encompasses all employees and includes continuous improvement methodology.

“EMS is a global manufacturing strategy based on best practices learned from within Electrolux and from excellent companies in other competitive businesses, and proven in pilot projects,” explains Gorka Loredo, plant engineering assistant. “The implementation of EMS in Europe and America was conducted through two pilot plants, and Alcalá was the pilot plant for Europe.”

From June to September 2005, the plant carried out its first Master class, an improvement project focused on a specific area. “A multifunctional team is trained in the EMS principles, and all that knowledge is then applied to optimize the performance of the selected process,” Loredo explains.

In order to focus on standardization and sustainability, Loredo says EMS must rely on three fundamental elements—culture change, stability and process improvement. “The company creates stability by standardizing methods in manufacturing that are fundamental for continuously challenging our way of working [while helping] to change our culture to achieve excellence in quality, cost and delivery performance,” says Loredo.

The organization of EMS at the plant level has a pyramid shape, and at the base are the team members that organize the teams and conduct daily meetings. They are also responsible for EMS implementation in their work area and training team members to sustain continuous improvements. The leaders use Team Info Boards to keep the team members up-to-date.

The middle two groups in the pyramid are the middle management supervisor/team leader and the plant managers. These groups help drive the local change program. They train and support change teams, especially the team leaders. They ensure EMS global standards are used and track and contribute to program progress.

The pyramid then moves up to the plant manager. This person is in charge of planning and leading/coordinating the actual implementation of the system. The manager controls and reports regularly on the EMS progress in the plant and to the core team.

Electrolux’s Alcalá factory tests 100 percent of its products for functionality.

Taking Action

One of the company’s current focuses is on productivity. In order to improve on productivity, each line in the assembly area is divided in sectors to be changed through different EMS projects. The seven different areas are the cabinet, washing group, electric installation, aesthetics, electric connections, functional/statistical, and finishing. EMS improvement projects have already been made in all areas except for electric connections and finishing, which will be complete this year.

Next there are internal logistics actions. Ongoing work in this area includes the optimization of material flow, including use of a Kanban cards system. “Supermarket” areas set up near the assembly line allow employees to obtain necessary items.

Quality control is another area of importance, where the focus is identifying defects such as dented or scratched cabinets, missing components, components that are poorly assembled, and aesthetic supplier defects.

The factory is also working on methods to reduce scrap by 30 percent by 2008 in the RIM drum line. The main areas where scrap is found are the manufacturing of front, rear flange and drum wrapping and missing components in the assembly area. Electrolux has already taken action through deeper analysis of the different causes, and as of press time, the first results of the analyses were expected in March.

The final aspect of the company’s productivity actions is training. Team leader training already began for the first group of future team leaders. The first five team leaders have been taught the basic tools of EMS, and they are now focused on implementing these tools.

“Thanks to EMS, we have achieved productivity improvement in the washing group, cabinet preparation, functional controls, and statistical controls,” Loredo tells APPLIANCE. “Some of these areas have already reached a productivity improvement of 66 percent.”

By 2008, Electrolux hopes to reduce total inventory by more than 30 percent in Alcalá. It also plans on improving productivity by more than 20 percent.


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