Top Plant: Victaulic Forks facility: Connecting the pipes
When it comes to safety and manufacturing excellence, Victaulic is doing much more than connecting the dots.
When pipe joint manufacturer Victaulic set out to enhance its safety program, the company didn't realize its efforts would lead to an 87% reduction in OSHA recordable injuries over a seven-year period. Nor did it realize at the time those efforts in combination with notable best practices would culminate in prestigious OSHA recognition. And now, the Victaulic Forks facility in Easton, Pa., is a 2014 Plant Engineering Top Plant winner.
The company's Forks facility is named for Forks Township, a northern suburb of Easton. The campus is home to Victaulic's global headquarters and corporate office, as well as the manufacturing facility, which includes the ductile iron foundry, machine shop, and warehouse.
Victaulic invented the grooved-end pipe joining concept (see "Original invention"). The company makes mechanical couplings for joining pipes from ¾ in. to 12 ft in diameter. It also manufactures pipe fittings, such as tees and elbows, as well as butterfly and check valves.
Making ductile iron products
Manufacturing processes at Victaulic's Forks facility are straightforward. First, induction furnaces melt scrap iron and the necessary additives at 2,800 F according to recipes determined by the company's metallurgists. Next, the molten metal is poured into sand molds, which form parts that are machined and then assembled into Victaulic's products.
"Other than the alloys we use, such as carbon, magnesium, and silicon we use recycled metal we purchase from scrap recovery services for each furnace charge," said plant manager Tim Martin. "We also re-melt 100% of the sprue from our castings and ductile iron turnings from our machine shop."
To ensure quality, Victaulic monitors incoming materials. "We test at every step of the process to ensure we have the proper nodularity, chemistry, and microstructure," said Martin. "We test incoming scrap, we test when the metal is molten, during pouring, and as we cast."
Martin said that everybody on this team has put forth great effort to make the Forks facility run as smoothly, efficiently, and safely as possible. "When we look back and see where we were, we have taken great strides and made major accomplishments in a lot of areas," said Martin. "I am most proud of our safety efforts. We have driven our injuries down significantly-we're well below the industry standard. And we're extremely proud we earned the OSHA VPP merit award."
After three years of preparation, Victaulic Operations at the Forks facility achieved OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Merit designation in early 2014. VPP certification is evidence that a culture of continuous safety improvement exists because of strong employee engagement and ownership of production-related safety programs, procedures, and policies. Employees at every level of the organization are responsible for safety. They believe that all workplace injuries are avoidable and preventable. Victaulic's employees have been proactively involved in identifying and eliminating workplace hazards, resulting in an 87% reduction in recordable injury rates over the past seven years.
"We get our employees involved in their own personal safety," said Bill D'Amico, global director of environmental health and safety at Victaulic. "The employees demonstrated their knowledge-not only onour programs, but all aspects of our health and safety management system. And for their efforts, we were recognized for quite a few best practices. We are very thrilled with the results."
Among the best practices that OSHA identified are management's commitment to health and safety, the facilities excellence mapping (FEM) program, and the safety/5s housekeeping program. D'Amico said the OSHA evaluation team was impressed with the cleanliness of the facilities, which is a great point of pride for the Victaulic employees. "To us, pursuing VPP recognition was about taking credit for doing what we had already been doing," he said.
Victaulic's journey toward a strong safety culture began in 2006 when the company hired Chris Misiak as the director of operations and Martin as the plant manager. Misiak and Martin emphasized safety by making it the first topic and focal point in every Victaulic Operations meeting, posting safety information and communications, and particularly stressing the importance of safety metrics. The culture throughout the organization began to change from accepting that accidents were part of the manufacturing environment to realizing that injuries are preventable through employee awareness.
D'Amico also credits Victaulic's executive leadership for keeping the company's safety initiatives moving forward. "They provided the resources to allow safety to succeed," he said. "They also provided capital resources to eliminate a lot of the safety hazards inherent in foundry operations."
The union did its part to drive safety throughout its workforce. D'Amico said the union membership wants a safe working environment and understands that creating a strong safety culture requires a team effort up and down the organizational chain.
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Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.
There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.
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Read more: 2015 Salary Survey