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issue: November 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

Carrier Corporation - A Special Report
Leadership in Tennessee


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by Diane Ritchey, Editor

Carrier's Collierville, TN, U.S. facility continues to strive for advanced technology, top quality products, and continuous improvements, all while taking on new product lines.


Jim Ferguson, manager of Materials and Supply for North America Residential.
About 20 min south of Memphis, TN, U.S. lies the expanding suburb of Collierville, home to Carrier Corporation's residential ducted air-conditioning and heat pump manufacturing facility, one of six HVAC equipment manufacturing sites operated by Carrier in the U.S.

Built in 1967, the ISO 9001-registered facility rests on 110 acres, of which 40 acres are currently occupied. Two adjoining buildings house plant administration and the University of Memphis Carrier Center at Collierville. A 500,000-sq-ft distribution center is located 17 miles from the main plant. With more than 2,000 employees, the Collierville plant is the largest manufacturing employer in the greater-Memphis area.

The plant manufactures Carrier Corporation brands (Carrier, Bryant, and Payne) and more recently, International Comfort Products (ICP) branded (Arcoaire, Comfortmaker, Heil, KeepRite, Kenmore, and Tempstar) split-system central air-conditioners and heat pumps in the 1.5- to 10-ton capacity ranges. Carrier-brand packaged terminal air-conditioners are also produced here. The 2- to 2.5-ton range is the largest part of Collierville's manufacturing volume. The factory produces a split-system every 8 sec.

The ACE Way

Like all of Carrier and parent-company United Technologies Corporation's (UTC) facilities, Collierville employs ACE, or Achieving Competitive Excellence, to control quality, customer required ship date and employee safety, in addition to other objectives such as warranty tracking. The Collierville facility is currently a Silver-level ACE facility, with future goals toward reaching the highly prized Gold level. "One of our 'must-do's' is ACE," notes Rick Sanfrey, general manager at Collierville, "because it emphasizes safety and quality, among other things. As our President, Geraud Darnis tells us, 'ACE is not an option at Carrier.'"

The ten ACE tools employed at Collierville focus on employee responsibility and preventive and corrective measures to maintain the high quality standards that Carrier expects.

The ACE attitude - one of perfection and quality - is evident throughout the Collierville plant, even at a time when the plant is undergoing many changes. Says Jim Ferguson, manager of Materials and Supply, North America Residential, "When I look down an aisle, I want to see clean lines, I want to see an organized facility. I want people to quickly track the way a unit is produced. Of course, a big challenge is always giving workers positive feedback, because they respond well to that. We find that because our end products (residential condensing units) are highly visible in that they are placed outside the home, our employees place extra emphasis on quality. So, our employees take pride in their work and when they see a new unit installed, and they can instantly recognize if it was manufactured in 'their' factory."

Mr. Ferguson says that he stresses that, especially with a large and in some cases relatively new staff, it's important that each line begins production on time each day. "It gives people the mentality, that 'I have to get to work because if the line starts and I don't have my part there, then everyone suffers,'" he says.

"Finally and most importantly," Mr. Ferguson emphasizes, "I want satisfied customers. We are applying ACE techniques in-house to reduce our manufacturing costs and to make our people more efficient. We're also taking that effort to our suppliers. We can't hold that knowledge base in-house and expect our suppliers to get better. We have to be willing to go to their place and tell them how they can improve. But at the end of the day, a 100-percent satisfied customer is our ultimate goal."

To assist with that effort and to empower employees, a status board at a kiosk inside the facility provides information on each manufacturing line, in particular, how well it is running compared to previous days, months, and years. The information is relayed to all managers, but most importantly, it is visible to all factory employees. "Teams work better if they are informed," Mr. Ferguson says. "They'll do a better job if they know how they are doing."

The system also tracks critical defects, or how many times a defective product or component is found. "By providing real-time feedback to a factory associate, we're giving them an opportunity for improvement while the mistake is still fresh," Mr. Ferguson adds, so things like this don't end up being a warranty problem. I guarantee that if we don't correct it, the customer will find it. And that's unacceptable to us."

Carrier and ICP Together


Rick Sanfrey, general manager at the Collierville, TN, U.S. plant.
Like its Indianapolis, IN, U.S. counterpart, the Collierville facility faced a challenge earlier this year when production of ICP brands was integrated into the facility, a result of Carrier's acquisition of ICP in 1999. More than 600 employees were hired to work on the new ICP product lines and to absorb the 50-percent additional production capacity.

To date, Collierville has five Carrier/Bryant/Payne manufacturing lines and three ICP manufacturing lines that produce nearly 2,000 air-conditioner units per shift. Although all eight lines are housed in the same building, manufacturing techniques are different, as the diverse product lines require.

One difference, for example, is with the appearance of the products. Six powder coating booth stations with manual application are used to apply the powder coating for all Carrier-branded products, to achieve a distinct and recognizable appearance, whereas pre-painted sheet metal is used for all ICP-branded products. "With powder coating, all the edges are coated, and everything is smooth," he says. "It is such a nice finish, and it provides a distinguished look, which is something that we want for the Carrier products. When you look at a Carrier product that was made even years ago compared to the competition, they don't use this high-level paint quality. It distinguishes us from everyone else."

The ICP manufacturing side also has more engineering personnel, but only because it is still undergoing implementation into the facility. "The engineers on the ICP lines are helping during our learning curve," Mr. Ferguson notes. "First and most importantly, we have to make sure that we ship our customers a high-quality product."

No overhead conveyors are needed on the ICP lines because of the pre-painted sheet metal. "I like to stay away from overheads if we can," Mr. Ferguson says, "to avoid possible maintenance problems. It also takes away from flexibility. For example, if you have to make a product change, you've already got all that inventory in the air, and what you do with it?" As the Carrier manufacturing lines use powder coating, though, overhead conveyors are necessary.

Because ICP production began only 10 months, ago, the Carrier manufacturing side, Mr. Ferguson says, is more mature. "The work crew has been here longer, for example. And some of the processes used on the Carrier side are more mature as well. Not better, but something as simple as the conveyor sequencing, for example, is more mature," he explains.

Still, that's not stopping Mr. Ferguson and his employees from paying close attention to quality and to maintaining the ACE system. Each unit produced at Collierville undergoes almost 30 tests, including run tests such as current, compressor, leak, vacuum decay, and airflow, and a shipping label will not print for a unit if it does not pass all of the tests conducted on it. With so many tests required and all of them manual operations, one of the areas that Mr. Ferguson says he wants to improve is obtaining and keeping skilled employees. He says that it's difficult to find people that can comprehend and master some of the more difficult tasks on the lines. To help reduce that problem, the facility recently converted to Windows-based testing systems versus the DOS-based systems previously used. The new systems are said to be less complicated, with fewer steps for the operator to complete. "We ran DOS-based systems probably for 10 years," Mr. Ferguson notes. "This new system provides us with more capabilities and gives more help to the operator. It also is more user-friendly, in that people are used to the Windows architecture. We are trying to get to the point where it is a personal instructor and where it can tell the operator what to do if something is wrong with the unit being tested."

A crucial factor in the manufacture of an air-conditioning unit is the skill of the brazer, so Collierville maintains an onsite brazing college that provides training and certification, as well as periodic re-testing and re-certification. "We give them all of the skills they need to be certified and to do the job right," Mr. Ferguson notes. Also in an effort to assist its factory associates in continual changes, Carrier has invested in an on-site education center, where training sessions specifically relate to Carrier occur during the day. In partnership with local colleges and universities, continuing education classes take place in the evening.

Another way to ensure quality, Mr. Ferguson notes, is the facility's database system that keeps data on each unit manufactured, from the compressor serial number to the ambient temperature in the factory at the time the unit was manufactured. "We've implemented a system that is as friendly and as easy-to-use as possible for operators to do the testing without necessarily having some technical knowledge base. If the operator can read and hook up a unit properly, the system tells the operator that the unit passed, and all they have to do is disconnect the system and move it."

And for its suppliers, as with Indianapolis, the Collierville facility has strict regulations. A supplier quality group at Collierville establishes quality control plans with suppliers and ensures that goals are met. "It is a pretty exclusive group," Mr. Ferguson says of the facility's current supplier base, "but we have to be that way. We wouldn't accept anything less."

Because of Collierville's diverse product range, Mr. Ferguson admits there is not much automation, although he sees that changing. "We have a lot of manual operations, such as put the screw in the hole, apply a tag and a label, but our future will include more robotic assembly and perhaps robotic brazing. Our new product platforms may play well in future automation plans," he says.

Another future goal for the Collierville facility is seamless transition of material flow. "As the material flows in, I want it consumed," Mr. Ferguson tells APPLIANCE. "The challenge is getting our suppliers to a point where they can keep up with us and understand that we can't afford to have a defective part. That hurts our production time."

Community Involvement

In addition to an employee scholarship program, the Collierville facility is involved with the Habitat for Humanity program, where it is donating all of the heating and cooling equipment for six homes in the Memphis area. Equipment has also been donated to a local Alzheimer's Center. "Myself and members of my staff also serve on various local boards," Mr. Ferguson notes. "There's a lot of community involvement here. Living in a small town, you have to be involved."

 

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