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issue: July 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

Operations Management
Achieving Operational Excellence

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by Jill Russell, Assistant Editor

Initially integrated into Whirlpool Corporation’s production facilities, a software-based operating efficiency program soon found its way into several of the appliance company’s operations.

In order to help manage and improve plant production, Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.-based Whirlpool Corporation purchased a software suite from Lighthammer Software Development Corp. (Exton, PA, U.S.) for a few, select facilities. Just recently, however, Whirlpool announced that it has selected the software supplier’s Manufacturing Performance Improvement (MPI) composite application to help deliver real-time insight into all of its North American facilities. According to the company, plans are also being made to implement the software suite into its European and Asian operations later this year.

“Our relationship is simple,” says Kenny Klein, process manager, Factory Systems for Whirlpool. “Lighthammer is committed to providing us with the functionality we need to provide seamless and efficient plant-to-enterprise integration.”

Software Specifics

Through its Operational Excellence software platform, the supplier provides users with the ability to manage production quality, performance, and scheduling, among other functions.

The software, designed to manage customized applications tailored to a company’s specific needs, originally was only used for Whirlpool’s manufacturing capabilities, but now covers a wide spectrum across the appliance maker’s facilities and has been integrated into quality and human resources departments. Whirlpool is using the Illuminator™ Manufacturing Intelligence product, part of Lighthammer’s Collaborative Manufacturing Suite, which offers a variety of application tools with Whirlpool’s current server to track and adjust manufacturing applications.

The software suite also provides monitoring of the manufacturer’s Operational Equipment Excellence (OEE) and downtime information, tracks material data, provides scrap material reports, and displays manpower information at the shop level. Comparable as the “Microsoft Office” of the appliance industry, the software offers a variety of applications that are utilized for a company’s different needs. “It is a set of tools and a platform for rapidly developing and deploying manufacturing operational excellence applications,” explains Russell Fadel, CEO of Lighthammer. “This includes performance management, continuous management, and operational synchronization.” Similar to a word processing program, the software can perform a variety of administrative functions specific to each user’s needs and goals.

Whirlpool is currently using the Illuminator product with a Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 to monitor its manufacturing applications.

“Often the input portion of an application is written in Visual Basic 6.0 Service Pack 3 or above, and Illuminator is the tool for retrieving and displaying the data,” explains Chuck Schimmell, senior analyst, Factory Systems for Whirlpool. “Charts and graphs are often the preferred method for visual display, but the data is also displayed in a standard grid format, with the option of exporting the data to a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file format. The latest version of Illuminator allows for a simple right click of the grid or chart for the retrieval of data to a CSV format.”

Lighthammer Software Development Corp.'s Manufacturing Performance Improvement (MPI) software application helps track materials and production. Screen shots from the supplier's software illustrate how Whirlpool monitors plant performance across its facilities, via an Intranet and manages materials with a work order analysis. The software helps manage and analyze areas for opportunities to increase operational excellence.

CLICK the images above to see large graphics.

Evolving Applications

According to Whirlpool, the Illuminator program has so far been used as the principal way to record and store production, quality, and supply chain data between its software to its plant databases. “Primary use of the tool to data,” Mr. Klein tells APPLIANCE, “has centered around capturing and reporting quality, equipment uptime, and scheduling to improve asset effectiveness and drive continuous improvement initiatives.”

For example, Whirlpool has been able to give a plant assembler a bill of materials, which indicates the differences in the order of materials required to correctly build a product based on what was previously being built. “You don’t want the assembler to have to figure out which of the 20 refrigerators have an ice maker and which do not,” Mr. Fadel tells APPLIANCE. “We electronically compare the previous bill to the current one and then only show the major components that are different.”

In addition to providing a data management system, the software has also allowed Whirlpool to make more informed decisions. “Illuminator has provided us the ability to leverage a wide range of data sources in delivering a common and integrated view for our business partners,” Mr. Klein explains. “The flexibility of the tool and the common integrated view allows us to quickly deliver and leverage applications across multiple locations while delivering a substantial return-on-investment to the business.”

The software has also helped to improve Whirlpool’s production processes. “The Lighthammer software provides us with the flexibility to interact with Whirlpool’s [production] data in a more standard Web-based format,” explains Jim Shimp, senior director of Global Supply Chain Applications for Whirlpool. “This applies to the collection of data using Web-based input screens, the display of data using the graphical widgets in Illuminator, the ability to query data, look for conditions, and take other actions; the ability to integrate with e-mail systems; and the ability to communicate with SAP to enable our transformation [of the software] into our strategic application,” he says.

“Lighthammer’s product serves as the ‘last mile’ in connecting plant data to business data systems, without building interfaces with other tools,” Mr. Shimp continues. “What stands out about the product is not what it does out of box, but what it enables us at Whirlpool to do in order to add strategic value for our business.”

One of the goals in using the software was to provide real-time monitoring of first-pass quality, notes Mr. Fadel. By implementing the software to manage quality assessment, Whirlpool has been able to identify production problems and implement new strategies for improvement. “For the OEE presentation of data, for example, the Consumer Centered Manufacturing (CCM) team is utilizing the displays available to focus on specific problems encountered, as it relates to equipment on the shop floor,” says Mr. Schimmell. “Members of the team use the graphical displays to help drive Total Process Management (TPM) events, which are implemented, at the shop floor level.”

Mr. Fadel explains: “For example, if you are producing refrigerators, at the end of the line there is quality assessment. If you find that when you produce 1,000 refrigerators, 38 of them fail inspection because of loose screws, 21 fail because the door handle is on backwards, and seven fail for another reason, it gives you visibility into where your biggest opportunities for improvement are for quality.”

In addition to providing manufacturing functions, the supplier’s software has also been integrated into other departments such as Quality Management and Human Resources. For example, employee training and manufacturing absentee reporting is being tracked in the human resources department, and customer assurance laboratory data is being kept in the Quality department. In addition to this, Whirlpool has also utilized the software to connect data between its facilities across North America.

“We have standardized our database at each North American facility so that an Intranet display developed for one manufacturing facility can easily be distributed to all other facilities without change for the leveraging of resources,” says Mr. Schimmell. “A standard look and feel for each business section is being utilized for a more pleasant and appealing view of the data.”

Productive Partnership

In addition to initially providing software, Lighthammer also provides training and on-going support to companies utilizing the technology. “Specifically for Whirlpool, we provide the software, training, and telephonic support services to their internal applications development group,” Mr. Fadel tells APPLIANCE. “We will also go out and do on-site support for them when they are building new types of applications. We help them understand the best way to use it, but then they take over the ongoing development of the product.”

This, according to Mr. Shimp, is what provided the basis of Whirlpool’s ongoing relationship with the supplier. “This started the working relationship that has since led us to communicate with SAP using the tool, give input to other development improvements, and develop Lighthammer application functions that have saved significant dollars and improved plant productivity.”

Whirlpool views the relationship with Lighthammer as ongoing and plans to continuously work with the supplier to improve upon and meet new demands as they are encountered. Mr. Klein says, “Illuminator has provided us with a tool set that gives us the best of both worlds. One in which we can continue to manage and deliver value within our current application landscape as well as provide us with a path of transition to migrate to our global strategy.”

Mr. Schimmell agrees: “The Illuminator software has accelerated the development and deployment of our applications to help drive operational excellence and when applicable, real-time performance management, providing for the capability of a global sustainable competitive advantage. The specific uses in the future however, will be driven by our customers’ needs. The sky is the limit.”


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