AstraZeneca’s Culture of Empowerment

Cross-functional teams are achieving the remarkable at Astra-Zeneca’s sites in Newark, Del.; Westborough, Mass.; and elsewhere.

By Agnes Shanley, Editor in Chief

Editor’s Note: VP of Manufacturing Ron Matthews and his team are establishing a closer connection between operations staff and the patients their products reach. They’re also training them to find and utilize opportunities for improvement.

This is an excerpt from an article that will appear in November/December’s issue of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing.

If you teach someone to fish . . .

When AstraZeneca was formed five years ago, the company decided that it needed to change the way it had approached quality and operational excellence. Instead of diving head first into Six Sigma, or deploying small armies of Green and Black Belts, manufacturing management decided to train operations and quality staff to apply DMAIC principles every day, to measure and improve performance through cross-functional “continuous improvement” (CI) teams.

Two years ago, at Westborough, Mass., cross-functional CI teams involving QA, engineering and operations applied DMAIC principles to solve a major capacity crunch for a key product. Even though Pull Manufacturing had not yet been implemented at the site, the teams uncovered wasteful processes, effectively adding 20 million extra units of capacity per year. “A capital investment of less than $100,000 led to $60 million to $70 million in revenue gains — without adding staff,” says Ron Matthews, vice president of manufacturing and supply chain management.

Workgroups have been restructured so that supervisors are very close to the work itself, and teams focus on specific operations. “We’ve engaged operators so that they become owners of the process,” says Matthews. “They feel empowered, have more energy and confidence.”

This approach is now carrying over into hiring and recruitment. For example, a new blister packaging line in Newark, Del., involved a novel, much faster process that demanded a new approach to staffing. “Before, we would have looked at seniority and asked for volunteers,” Matthews says. “This time, we went through a selection process and interviews for the operators. We needed to ensure that each person had the skills and competencies required for the team.”

OEE and operator ownership

While Pull and DMAIC address work processes, equipment-focused OEE has been critical in allowing the company to squeeze every drop of capacity out of its operating lines. In 2003, for example, on one Newark bottling line, OEE was improved by 10%, adding one million bottles per year of capacity without spending a penny on new equipment.

OEE took a while to gain operations’ full support, admits John Callahan, senior packaging manager on that line. He already had over 20 years of industry experience and had led many teams when Newark’s engineering team introduced him to OEE and DMAIC in 2002. Initially, he recalls, “it looked like it would involve a great deal of effort, and I wasn’t sure of the benefit or how performance would be improved.”

In 2003, engineering established a pilot program on a bottling line, which led to successes, including the 10% gain in OEE. However, Callahan says, operators still didn’t feel that they fully “owned” the process, but that it belonged instead to engineering.

Callahan realized that this would limit the program’s effectiveness. “You can’t push down programs like this,” he says. “Operators must see the idea as theirown, and they need to be trained to use the tools.”

Last year, ownership of the OEE program shifted to the operators and Callahan became the team leader. Targets of 65% OEE were set for three new lines coming in. Callahan now realized that leadership would make or break the project. “We needed to walk the talk, or the entire effort would fail,” he says.

Servant leaders, NASCAR changeovers

Callahan’s visibility on the plant floor is now a given. Even when he spends more than half a day in meetings, the rest of each day is spent interacting with the operators. This close contact and communication has allowed operators to initiate improvements. For example, when leadership set a goal of 40% OEE improvement on some lines, changeovers became a key obstacle. “We needed to take a pit-stop mentality, but at the same time had to ensure quality and eliminate rejects,” Callahan says.

Something as basic as cleaning product carts was a time and resource drain. Operators had to hose off and then blow-dry wheels, but they couldn’t get the dryer between the wheels easily. Then an operator came up with the idea of fitting each cart with a knitting ring, whose gap could accommodate an air hose and easily blow between the wheels. Each ring cost only $2, but saved a substantial amount of time.

Through these and other improvements, the packaging team was able to reduce daily startup time from 120 to 30 minutes, and the improvements continue to come. Training and empowerment are key, Callahan says. “Energized people can make improvements that you didn’t think were possible,” he says.

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