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Ames Company in Woodland, California, has been manufacturing backflow prevention valves for the past 15 years. Ames' valves are unique because they are fabri­cated from steel, rather than cast iron. Over those 15 years the product has changed so that today Ames pro­duces a stainless steel valve that is the industry leader. Along the way we have tried a little bit of this and a little bit of that in order to make sure we had the right product on hand in the proper quantity to support cus­tomer demand. As you may imagine, the success of these programs were spotty at best.

A few years ago, our plant manager wound up in my office with a list of things he saw as impediments to managing the plant. A review of this list showed that a good portion of the issues concerned record-keeping, both the sheer amount of paper work and its accuraq'. We were able to categorize the concerns into four areas of focus:

1.        Procurement

2.        Scrap

3.        Labor reporting

4.        Assembly/shipping.


Approximately 80 percent of Ames' sales come from potable water backflow prevention devices. There are five series of valves, each consisting of several models. These valves are required to be serialized and individually tested. Test results are required to be recorded and they are monitored be several approval agencies (UL, EM, USSC). The remaining 20 percent of Ames sales come from OEM products, which do not require the same level of testing or record-keeping involved in the backflow product.


With help from senior management, a mission state­ment and corporate goals were developed and an action team, with members from key functional areas, was as­sembled. The plant manager, controller, MIS manager, and customer service manager were assigned as core team members. It was felt that a smaller core team would be more nimble. Other people would be moved on and off the team as the situation dictated. The same general plan of attack was used for each of the four categories identified above.

The first task was to decide what we needed to track and measure, in each of the four categories, to ensure we were meeting or moving toward the company's goals. This was more daunting than we first expected. A lot of tradi­tional measures were found to be inadequate for the task, and for the most part were eliminated. Some needed be retained because of legal or regulatory requirements.

Once we determined what was to be measured, how to collect the data became the next task. In general, it was felt that filling out forms was time-consuming, filled with errors, and easy to lose. We also knew that a great deal of the paperwork we were stuffing in file cabinets was being automatically tracked and stored by our ERP system. A rule of thumb was to use com­puterized data collection of some sort. We would then do away with the paperwork and see if it made any difference.

The final task was to determine how to sort and present that data so that management could determine how well we were meeting our goals, and if changes were required.

In this paper we will focus on the fourth area for improvement, assembly and shipping. A quick overview of the first three focus areas will help in understanding our approach.


We identified 22 forms and reports, and 8 people in­volved in the procurement process. After factoring in methods of the mode of transportation and the ven­dors' ability to deliver standardized containers, we de­veloped a two-track method for procurement. The first track was for vendors who could deliver standardized containers with their own transportation. By using dumb computer terminals attached to our mainframe, we reduced our paperwork from 22 items to 3, while requiring only 2 of our personnel. This was our pre­ferred method; however, a second method was neces­sary. Some of the material we procure does not fit in convenient containers because of size and weight. The second track, which uses the standard receiving pro­cess in our ERP system, was still able to reduce the form count to five and the personnel count to three. Differ­ent personnel are involved in each track. It is easier on our personnel if they have only one method to com­plete a task.

To Be Continued

For balance of this article, click on the below link:

Lean Manufacturing Articles and click on Series 12


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