by Linda Abu-Shalback, Associate Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine
APPLIANCE magazine traveled to Comunanza, Italy to report on Merloni's clothes washing facility.
Expanding To Meet Demand
While Merloni's Comunanza, Italy clothes washer facility shares its engineering, suppliers, and quality control with two other Merloni facilities, it distinguishes itself by the high-quality, high-end products its workers produce.
The Comunanza plant manufactures Ariston, Indesit, and Scholtes brand clothes washers with stainless steel tubs and higher-end spin speeds of up to 1,600 RPM. All of the manufactured machines that operate faster than 600 RPM feature digital controls for consumer ease-of-use.
Although the plant, which was built in 1973, has undergone two expansions and now occupies 46,000 sq m, purchases of the popular machines sometimes exceed the plant's capacity, thus production is overflowed to Merloni's Bergamo, Italy facility. Comunanza itself plans to manufacture more than 1.1 million machines in 2003, which is double its 1993 production total.
The plant's employees are considered a key asset. The number of workers ranges from 750 to 1,000, depending on the season. Because the plant works so closely with Merloni's Bergamo and Teverola plants, it is important to have the same quality standards at all three facilities. In addition to sharing an engineering department and the same suppliers to accomplish this goal, when the plant started producing the Ariston washers in 1999, standardized training was incorporated.
"We saw that as a big opportunity, not only to increase productivity and reduce costs, but to work on quality and training," says Daniele Rossi, washing industrial system manager. Quality control, which was formerly done only at the end of the production line is now distributed to each line to provide for faster correction to problems. Quality control workers are trained in one plant, and the renewal of their qualifications is done by the quality assurance manager of another plant.
"That way we can be sure we have a benchmark for the data and that we have used exactly the same standard," Mr. Rossi says. The Comunanza plant also reduced the more beaurocratic organization to one where there is only a plant manager, production manager, line coordinators, and the workers. "We have to simplify and provide reduction of the complexity to focus our people on one specific goal," Mr. Rossi adds.
Another way the plant ensures standard quality is by programming the lines to automatically adjust when working on different washer models. "If there is a difference between one washing machine and another one, then it is only the station that is changing. More than 90 percent of the activities are the same, so we can train our people accordingly," Mr. Rossi says. "In this way you can reduce the training time and you can be sure the quality remains at a high level."
In the past few years, the Comunanza plant has also been working on reducing the number of plant injuries, as well as the number of worker absences due to illness. "We have increased the productivity, but with the worker in mind, we also improved the worker condition," Mr. Rossi says.
The plant, whose workers are an average age of 39 years, decreased the number of injuries per million hours worked from 109.16 in 1999 to 43.21 in 2001. Illness-related absences are at 5.24 percent, with a goal to reduce that to 4 percent this year. Mr. Rossi says this was accomplished by thorough maintenance of the plant's equipment, as well as changing employee behavior. Placing charts in the factory to communicate the absence and safety results for each week has also assisted in this endeavor. "We are proud that we have increased productivity, but at the same time improved the worker conditions," he says.
Although the Comunanza plant is based in Italy, its biggest and newest fans of both the Ariston and Indesit brands seem to be in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), particularly in Russia. The plant plans to export more than 200,000 units to the CIS by the end of 2002. "We have a good product, which is smaller, and in Russia the home is smaller, so the machines are selling well," says Mr. Rossi.
The company also is doing well in the UK, particularly with its Indesit brand, according to Mr. Rossi. The plant plans to export approximately 200,000 washers to the UK by the end of this year, and the washers are also very popular in other parts of Europe. "We are improving our share in all of Europe," he says, adding, "We are strong in Italy, obviously." The plant plans to ship more than 150,000 Ariston units throughout the country in 2002. The plant also ships outside of the European region with current plans to ship more than 40,000 models to the far east and overseas, and 3,000 models to Argentina.
The facility expects 2002 production to be divided among its three brands, with almost 600,000 Ariston machines, more than 500,000 Indesit machines, and around 2,000 shipments of Scholtes, which are only available as built-in products.
The Future of Comunanza
While the Comunanza plant works to meet at least its 1.1 million unit washer goal, the plant also plans to work on expanding possibilities. At the end of this year, the plant will again be reorganizing for a new Ariston platform. (The life cycle of products, before they are updated or changed, is approximately 2.5 years, according to Mr. Rossi.)
"This plant will remain a plant where we manage innovation," Mr. Rossi says.
He says he is confident that Comunanza's lines can continue to innovate and expand. "Because we are strong," he says. "We are strong and serious."
The assembly of washing machines at Comunanza involves several production lines.
Cabinet Line-This line has four presses which make the side and front panels of the machine. The panels are welded together in a robotic production line. The robots are able to recognize the model and can program themselves for the proper weld. Once the welding is done, the structure enters the wet-paint system, which determines the color of the machine based on the model programmed by management software.
Drum Line-This line starts with a coil that is punched into the drum's shape. There is also a section for workers to perform quality control checks. When finished, the drums go directly to the washing assembly line via an automated elevator.
Tub Line-A robotic machine shapes a steel band into a circle and welds the bottom. A steel plate is attached to the tub and the attachment is sealed. The line takes 10 sec to make the inner tub. It is moved via conveyor to the final assembly line.
Washing Assembly Line-A line coordinator programs the assembly line with information about the washing group it will be producing that day. The machines then adjust to make the correct models. The tub and drum are sealed together, and the entire washing assembly is moved via conveyor to the final assembly line.
Final Assembly Line-Workers attach the cabinet and washing assembly and add controls, a circuit board, and the washer door. Water leakage, knobs, and speed are tested. Problems are corrected and recorded, and all of the machines are issued serial numbers, which consumers can use to track a machine's history for up to 5 years. The back of the machine and the top are attached.
Packaging Line-Packaging is done manually and transferred to the finished prroduct warehouse. The company is considering installing packaging machinery in 2003.