2006 TOTY Finalist Profiles: Wyeth Italy Continuous Improvement Pilot Projects, Aprilia, Italy

April 6, 2006
This article chronicles THREE teams involved in continuous improvement pilot projects at Wyeth's Aprilia, Italy, facility.

Success of the Samurai

A Wyeth team dramatically cut changeover time, improved OEE and became a model for other teams to emulate.

Editor's Note: To read the introduction to all five Team of the Year Finalists' stories and access links to the other teams' profiles, click here.

When the Italian Ministry of Health upgraded packaging and labeling requirements for its nation’s drug manufacturers, it caused problems in the packaging lines for Polase, Wyeth Italy’s popular nutritional sports drink. The new regulations mandated clear separation between primary and secondary packaging operations, and that leaflets and more detailed information for consumers be included with each package.

In the wake of the changes, the Polase line had seen Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) decline for several years, to a low point of 27% in 2003. Following the construction of a new warehouse area at the facility, packaging materials were stored even further away from the packaging lines than previously.

The Samurai team was formed, and began to brainstorm solutions. At first, there seemed only two ways to meet demand: increase the workload of the two shifts, including Saturday hours, or start up a third shift.

The team sought — and found — a third option that would increase OEE in two steps: first they would tag any piece of equipment that had been responsible for either minor or major work stoppages. Operators and supervisors spent a day or more tagging equipment with explanations of problems and potential solutions. Once they’d finished, solutions were analyzed and prioritized so they could be addressed one by one.

The second step was to apply the single-minute exchange of dies (SMED) methodology to reduce changeover time between batches — which stood at an unacceptable 20% of available equipment time.

Within just a few months, OEE jumped back up to 54%. Changeovers that once took 90 minutes had now been reduced to less than 30. “The target was 45 minutes, but it is now around 25,” notes Fornaro, the team sponsor. Both the Tagging and SMED successes had a direct impact on cycle time, cost savings and customer service.

Operators saw clear opportunities for improvement in their daily jobs, and were eager to volunteer for the team. Francesca Moschella, for instance, went immediately to Fornaro when she heard about the new team. “I work on the line, and I want to be part of who decides what’s going to happen on the line,” she told him.

“They were pushy volunteers,” Fornaro jokes.

Once change began to take root, the Samurai’s enthusiasm grew. The operators on the line, some of whom had been at their positions for 20 years, clearly saw the improvement. “We were no longer just doing things as they happened, but we were deciding how to do things in the best possible way,” says operator Christina Dalla Bona.

Team member Mariano Di Giorgio enjoyed the analytical aspect of the project. “These are processes that we’ve been doing for a long time, and we could see in detail what the problem was and how to do it in a more rational way.”

The success has rubbed off on other teams within the Aprilia facility, who are asking the Samurai for advice, particularly in relation to SMED and changeover time reduction.

Paperless Procedures for a “New Generation”

Computerizing set-up procedures is just one of the New Generation team’s achievements.

A blister packaging line at Wyeth’s Aprilia facility had been in operation since 1987, and it showed. Minor and major work stoppages were all too frequent, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) was low, and operator morale was poor. “People were not happy to be delegated to that line,” says Giovanni Fornaro, the plant’s manufacturing manager.

A 10-member “New Generation” team of production operators, line supervisors, shift supervisors and engineers was assigned to fix the problems. As a first step, New Generation tackled the work stoppages. It applied the technique of Tagging to identify problem areas on the line and address them according to priority. The team did this successfully — OEE rose from 17% to 35% in a short period of time — as the first phase of the line-improvement project, but there was more work to be done. Set-up time for different product runs was still more than 20% of OEE.

For phase two of the project, the team decided to rewrite operating procedures to optimize set-up activities, focusing on improved collaboration between set-up mechanics and line operators. “Before, there was always a clear border between the activities of the mechanics and operators,” says operator Mirko Maggi. “One started working when the other one finished.” All set-up work was performed when the equipment was shut down.

Using the single-minute exchange of dies (SMED) methodology and Pareto analysis, New Generation analyzed the activities and divided them as either external, those done while machines are running, and internal, those that require equipment to be stopped. In some cases, they sought to transform internal activities into external ones. For instance, changing the tooling of equipment used for stamping lot and expiration dates on the blister packs had always been done in an “internal” fashion. The team decided to create a new station along the line where new stamp settings could be prepared before they were needed. During set-up, the new stamp could be quickly installed.   

The new practices required line operators to perform some of the functions that had been the domain of setup mechanics. Things did not go smoothly when the new collaborative procedures were implemented. “We had some problems because we were invading the other’s territory,” says Alessandro Attenni, another operator. “Mechanics had always held their knowledge very tightly and did not share very much.”

But once positive results were seen, operators and mechanics assumed a more positive stance. In just a few months, set-up time was reduced 50%, leading to improved cycle times and cost savings.

But New Generations had greater ambitions. It went beyond its defined mission and decided that the new operating procedures should be paperless. In the past, set-up procedures were kept in books that were so cumbersome that they were rarely updated, and loosely followed. “Many things were just left up to the memory of the mechanics,” notes Maggi.

Once procedures had been updated, various team members began to input set-up information and accompanying illustrations and photos into Microsoft PowerPoint. They included embedded links to specific details and key measures and drawings of equipment and processes. It took one person approximately one week to input data and design the changeover procedure description for one product. That translated into a year’s worth of work to computerize procedures for all of the plant’s 50 over-the-counter products.

Now, operators and mechanics access set-up procedures by digital monitors along the line. They are free to suggest comments on how to improve or clarify the files, which are being continuously updated. And thanks to New Generation, operators and mechanics are one happy family. “There’s knowledge flow between them now,” notes Attenni. “Everyone understands each other better.”

Waste Watchers

The Fighters are young, but are learning while piloting Lean for Wyeth Aprilia’s Centrum packaging lines.

Wyeth Aprilia packages Centrum vitamin supplements for the European markets and South Africa. Four lines have been up and running only since 2001, and in many ways are still maturing. Operators on the line are fairly green as well, averaging just 27 years of age, but this has helped the diffusion and implementation of Lean manufacturing techniques.

The first target for improvement on the lines was reduction of wasted packaging materials. The lines averaged 3.7% excess usage of materials. That is, for every 1,000 bottles of Centrum placed in cartons, 37 were rejected. This far exceeded Wyeth’s standard of 2%, and resulted in 3,000 to 4,000 Euros in extra costs per month, vitamin packaging manager Alessio Musicco estimates.
"It was important to change," Musicco says. "The lines had just been finished, and we needed to reduce the amount of rejected materials right away while maintaining the same high standard of quality."

Musicco and shift supervisors selected enthusiastic volunteers to round out a team to take on the waste issue. They called themselves “The Fighters.” “They recognized the problem, because they saw the materials being rejected on their lines each day,” says Riccardo Soncin, shift supervisor and team leader. “They were very interested in solving the problem.”

The Fighters made use of a tagging approach to identify and prioritize problem areas on the packaging lines. With 18 machines on each line, there were plenty of tags to apply. And because of the relative inexperience of the operators, it was evident that some of the waste was due to the lack of right-first-time tuning of the machines after frequent changeovers and start-up sequences, a result of the variety of packaging types that were needed for different markets.

Calling attention to the issue of waste encouraged operators to exercise more care in their work and led to immediate improvements in waste reduction. Training was also important. Each operator was given at least 60 hours of training in the classroom and on the job, which also paid off.

Through Pareto analysis and the Tagging exercise, the team identified the cartoning machine — especially the mechanism that closes the cartons once the Centrum bottles have been placed inside — as the primary cause of wasted materials.

“Setting up the machine was not easy,” says Soncin. “It required a lot of fine-tuning.”

“We recognized that maintenance of the machine needed improvement,” says operator Andrea Palombi. As a result, the team decided to increase scheduled inspections and lubrications, in order to maintain the original condition of the equipment, and to apply an autonomous maintenance approach. They paid particular attention to the cartoning equipment to make sure that it was in optimal condition and was set up properly.

Following the training and improved maintenance, the amount of lost materials on the line fell significantly. The 2% target was quickly realized, and monthly results were actually better than the target.

“The most difficult thing was to get people on the line to change their [mindset] and to take more care in handling materials,” says senior foreman Simone Congedo. “At first, their focus was just on the quality of production, and not on materials and the waste generated during operations. They didn’t know the value of what they were rejecting.”

Working on a successful project was important to the career development of the younger team members, says Palombi. "I have had the opportunity to apply what I learned to other packaging lines, and to train new people who were not on the team," he says. "It's been good for all of us to have this kind of opportunity. This is a young department, but we've spent many hours to improve and grow."

For their efforts, the Fighters have been given "Honorable Mention" recognition in 2004 and 2005 by Wyeth's Global Recognition Program, and have received MP3 players and been invited to dinner with the plant management as further reward. "The ownership that the team members have for what they do has really been developed," says Soncin. "They take more interest in OEE, waste, quality and efficiency."

About the Author

Paul Thomas | Managing Editor