Baxter: Lean Success at North Cove

April 1, 2005
Lean manufacturing efforts have revitalized the 1-L IV Solutions Team at Baxter's North Carolina facility.
TEAM OF THE YEAR AWARD FINALIST, LARGE-SCALE PROJECTS: BAXTER HEALTHCARE CORP.'S NORTH COVE 1-L IV SOLUTIONS TEAMOver the last several years, Baxter Healthcare Corporation's Marion, N.C. "North Cove" plant began a focused effort toward Lean Manufacturing. In the beginning, not all North Cove workers were sold on the new approach. This included the members of the 1-liter IV Solutions team. "We thought it might be just another buzzword," says Terry Foxx, the team's manufacturing manager.Comprising a large portion of the plant's total volume, the 1-liter IV solutions line was one of two product codes selected for value stream mapping and Lean-driven changes, and thus became critical to the plant's overall Lean efforts. The core 1-L IV value stream team includes 11 cross-functional members from plastics, filling, packaging and sterilization manufacturing departments, as well as the release department, quality labs, the replenishment center and various support functions.Sixteen months after the launch of the team-driven reform, the entire work area is singing the praises of Lean, and, as Foxx puts it, "singing from the same hymnbook." In other words, North Cove's Lean initiative — drawing upon tools and concepts like 6-S, cellular flow, pull systems and value stream mapping — has not only eliminated waste and increased productivity, but it has also brought everyone involved in the process, from leaders to line operators, together working toward the same goal: optimizing the product value stream. Among the achievements so far:
  • Cycle time for production and release has improved 74%.

  • Productivity improvements have increased the number of daily direct ship loads by 175%.

  • Solution container scrap on the fill line has been reduced by 50% per month.

  • In-process inventory has been greatly reduced — 33% between filling and sterilization and 62% between sterilization and packaging. Approximately 35% fewer product carriers are now needed.
Silos and BottlenecksPrior to Lean implementation, the plant operated in departmentalized groups and push production systems, in which upstream operations had minimal linkage or visibility to downstream operations. Not surprisingly, there were capacity constraints and missed opportunities for improved performance. "Upstream processes would not stop production even though downstream was having trouble," says Beverly Smith, a project superintendent. "They would just continue to produce until all product carriers were consumed.""We were all supposed to make our departments efficient, regardless of the downstream impact it had on the next department or the customer," says Jennifer Buchanan, quality associate for the release department.Lean principles were an ideal solution. At first, line operators and other employees balked, thinking job cuts were imminent. Once they understood that the purpose of Lean is to eliminate waste, not jobs, they grew more comfortable with the idea. Lean implementation in this work area has allowed employees the time to focus on other activities, such as 6-S improvement and participation in various safety teams.Team members also voiced concerns that departments would not be rewarded for performance as they had been previously, or that the plant would have trouble meeting customer requirements, according to Andrea Williamson, a manufacturing superintendent on the team. "Once they realized that their jobs would be easier, that they could be more productive, and that throughput would not be affected, shop floor employees came on board," she says.Proceeding with CautionDue to their scope, Lean initiatives require a top-down approach. Anticipating some resistance, the North Cove management team, led by plant manager Tim Lawrence, who had worked in the automotive industry, proceeded with caution. They started by creating value stream maps for key manufacturing and support products, and then designated core teams to implement the changes identified in the value stream Future State maps. The 1-liter IV Solutions value stream team joined 40 other plant leaders offsite at a weeklong "Lean Bootcamp," which, Foxx says, convinced the team's leaders of the merits of Lean. Other strategic planning sessions and benchmarking efforts followed.The team leaders then put together their own training materials, and took their message to the shop floor. "This group met with every hourly employee on every shift to go over our plan," says Foxx.Foxx and the others led team exercises they had learned at the Lean Bootcamp. One was a game in which two groups of five employees sat in rows. Each person was asked to perform a specific function (e.g., draw a picture) that represented one step in the manufacturing process. The first group operated in a pull mode, the second a push. The second team quickly experienced inventory buildups and slowdowns.The exercise hit home with operators, just as it had with team leaders previously, says Beverly Smith. One of the opportunities identified in the current push system was to eliminate wasteful product carrier movements. The filling operation would fill as many carriers as were available, and then send them to a staging area for sterilization. Sterilization, when it was ready, would pick up the product, sterilize it, and deliver it to a staging area for packing, and so on, all the way down to packaging. With little communication between steps, inventory buildups and bottlenecks were commonplace. It wasn't unusual for the line to have excess carriers awaiting sterilization, says manufacturing superintendent Mike Banner. The new pull system meant that product wasn't moved until the next downstream operation "triggered" it. Almost immediately, product moves along the value stream decreased by 46%. That was all the evidence that line operators and other employees needed to buy in to Lean.Foxx remembers when the first few equipment and process changes were made. "Within three to five days, people were coming by and asking, 'When are you going to implement changes in our area?' " he recalls. "Other operators saw that [the Lean initiative] would make their jobs a whole lot easier."Kanban, which depend upon clear and visual communication between departments in order to coordinate and regulate work flow, were set up between packing and sterilization, sterilization and filling, and filling and plastics in order to ensure that pull signals were clearly communicated. The kanban helped to reduce inventory buildups and bottlenecks, but they also forced employees from different departments to work more closely together, giving workers across departments a better sense of each other's roles, responsibilities and daily struggles.Simplicity and EfficiencyAnother key facet of the efforts was the establishment of other simple visual controls. "We used to have an electronic system that everyone in the facility had access to through their desktop," recalls Buchanan. "This system was used on a very inconsistent basis. Today, there's a main information board in the release department chronicling what batches of product are in process, where they are in the process, and how old they are." The value stream team meets in front of the board every morning. The board's beauty is its simplicity. "Anyone can read that board," says Smith. "It's really been a key in terms of flowing products and improving performance for the value stream."These days, there's a different mood along the 1-liter IV Solutions value stream, which has been one of the most unexpected benefits. The entire team can visualize how the value stream is flowing and where the bottlenecks are. Departments also have a better understanding of how they impact the performance of every downstream department in the value stream. As a result, recent pulse surveys of the plant population have demonstrated improved employee morale and engagement.