by Linda Abu-Shalback, Associate Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine
APPLIANCE traveled to Melano, Italy to report on Merloni's second oldest plant.
Merloni Elettrodomestici's Melano, Italy refrigerator plant is the company's second oldest plant, but that hasn't stopped it from developing its own fresh, new mission.
In 1999, the Melano plant produced 600,000 refrigerators, but following that growth and production peak, the company has changed from a mission of high-volume, low-variety production to a wider-range, smaller-volume refrigerator production. In 2002, the plant plans to produce only 500,000 wide-ranging appliances, according to Giulio Braca, plant manager.
"Two years ago, the goal was to produce more, and quality wasn't as important," Mr. Braca says, adding, "Today our mission is to achieve the highest quality refrigerator."
While all the plants have a goal for a "quality leap", a Merloni-wide initiative to improve product and manufacturing quality, Mr. Braca says for the Melano facility it is a "double-leap."
Recent improvements have included a new thermoforming machine to make three different doors simultaneously. The new machines pick up the plastic, take it to a warming oven, shape it, and cut it. The former machines required that a worker manually pick up the plastic and manually cut it. The new machines can also produce in 3 hr what the old machines produced in an entire day.
The plant is also planning to add powder coating operations by the end of this year. For colored refrigerator models, pre-painted iron is currently used and since the plant uses wet paint, it only actually produces white models. Switching to powder will allow the plant to paint other colors efficiently, while maintaining quality levels, according to Mr. Braca. "It is important to paint more color models due to recent trends," he says.
But equipment is not the most challenging hurdle in changing a mission statement, Mr. Braca notes. "We have made a lot of investments and done a lot of renovation, but the most difficult thing to achieve is to change the philosophy and the commitment of the management and the workers."
To improve management's commitment, Mr. Braca says the factory's line management meets every day to analyze the quality results from the previous day. For workers, the company displays the previous day's production results and shows the lines' defects and what can be done to solve the problems. Management also stops the lines for a few minutes as needed to talk to the workers about the plant's goals and problems that need solving.
The extra efforts seem to be paying off, according to Mr. Braca. The company selects about 3 percent of the refrigerators produced daily for functionality and electrical tests. At the end of 2001, the tests showed a 45 quality rating out of a possible 100. In April of this year, the company had already reached its 80-rating goal for the year. This improvement has caused the management to adjust the plant's goal to being as close to a 100 rating as possible.
"We want excellence in quality, so our objective is not just an 80 rating, but to be the best," Mr. Braca says.
A Range of Refrigerators
The Melano facility is one of six Merloni plants that manufacture refrigerators. Melano produces medium- and high-end Ariston and Indesit freestanding refrigerators. According to Mr. Braca, the production is 55 percent Indesit and 45 percent Ariston, but this can change slightly from month to month. He noted that production includes 95 percent 60-cm (23.6 in) refrigerators, and 5 percent 70 cm (27.56 in). The plant also produces both combi refrigerators with the refrigerator on top and freezer on the bottom and double-door refrigerators with the freezer on top.
Mr. Braca says one of the factory's accomplishments he is most proud of was the factory's speedy launch of the Ariston products. The factory began to work on the Ariston production renovations in June 2000, and was able to launch the products in April 2001. "So in less than 1 year, we have done all the investment, all the renovation in the plant, and all the training for the workers," he says.
He reiterates that the factory was able to increase its quality while making these changes.
"So to improve our quality standard at the same time we're changing our range has been a great result," he says.
The Melano facility has helped Merloni to establish some strong relationships with its machinery suppliers. In 2000, the plant purchased two packaging machines from French manufacturer Thimon. Since then, Merloni plants in Italy and Portugal purchased four more machines from the company.
Another example of Melano's cultivation of its suppliers is exhibited in its work with Italy's QS Group S.p.A.
In 2000, Mr. Braca says the plant had "done a lot of investment with QS Group." QS had replaced Melano's 14 foaming machines with more modern versions, and the plant also asked for its assistance in other areas. A sheet plant machine was revised by QS to produce doors that were properly shaped for the refrigerator lines. The revision also increased the machinery length from 30-50 m (114.8-164 ft).
Perhaps most notable, however, was Melano's willingness to allow QS to build thermoforming machinery for the plant, which had never been built before. "They [QS Group] wanted to enlarge their business and that gave them the chance to do it," Mr. Braca says.
While the thermoforming machine may have taken a little longer to build as QS Group became acquainted with thermoforming, the machinery has been running at Melano since December 2000. In addition to helping expand QS Group's business, Mr. Braca says that since there is not much competition in thermoforming machinery, the partnership also helped Melano avoid expensive costs, due to a "monopoly" in the industry.
The Future of Melano
Mr. Braca, who has been with Merloni since 1999, says he is particularly proud of the accomplishments the Melano factory has made in the past few years. "Today, I can say that Melano is a factory completely different from the factory it was two years ago," he says.
And while the future of the Melano plant depends on Merloni's future plans as a whole, Mr. Braca does have his own wishes for the plant. "I hope that the future for Melano is to grow our volume, because our products have a good performance on the market," he says.
Melano Manufacturing Departments
From beginning to end, Melano's manufacturing departments work together to provide a "quality leap" in the production of its refrigerators.
Plastic Material Processing-Starting with the processing of raw material granules, the plastic material processing department produces 70 percent of the semi-finished parts required for refrigerator production. This is divided into three sections:
Extrusion-Two automated lines process raw material granules into sheets of plastic, varying in thicknesses, depending on the model.
Thermoforming-Thermoforming machines produce the inner doors and refrigerator and freezer compartments.
Injection Molding-The area has 15 injection molding machines that make the refrigerator accessories.
Sheet Plate Processing-Starting from coils or pre-cut sheet plates, the department produces the doors, lids, side panels, and tops of the refrigerators.
Door Foaming-Doors are foamed for insulation purposes. This area has four machines, and 4-hr worth of materials are stocked in case of a malfunction.
Cabinet Pre-assembly-This department produces the foamed refrigerator cabinet. A pre-assembly area for combi models has two manual lines. A separate line is used for double-door models with an automated line and a manual line.
Assembly and Testing-This manual operation includes five production lines which complete the refrigerators with the assembly of the doors, lids, and internal accessories. An elevator delivers the units from assembly to pre-assembly. First, front operations are performed, including mounting accessories and the freezer. Next, the units are turned around for the back operations, including installation of refrigerants, compressors, cables, and closing circuitry.
Testing of the refrigerator includes operational, finish, and electrical safety tests. These operations are monitored and controlled with barcodes glued on the refrigerator and a computerized monitoring system. Testing takes 1.5 hr for double-door refrigerators and 3 hr for combi models.
Packaging-If a unit passes testing, it is sent to packaging. If not, it is sent to repair, resent to testing, and then to packaging. A 1999 switch from cardboard packaging to film has reduced the plant's packaging costs by almost 1 euro (U.S. $0.98) per refrigerator, according to Mr. Braca. The packaged refrigerators are then sent to the finished product warehouse for shipping through an overhead tunnel.