2009 Top Plant: Siemens Industry Inc., Norwood, OH

Keith Lang has a clear view of everything that goes on today from his command center at Siemens Industry Inc.’s Norwood, OH plant. He also has a clear view of the plant’s history. As operations manager, Lang can monitor production and systems from his office. It’s the same office where, more than a century ago, George Bullock managed what was then the Bullock Electric Manufact...

By Jack Smith, Managing Editor December 16, 2009
Keith Lang has a clear view of everything that goes on today from his command center at Siemens Industry Inc.’s Norwood, OH plant. He also has a clear view of the plant’s history.

As operations manager, Lang can monitor production and systems from his office. It’s the same office where, more than a century ago, George Bullock managed what was then the Bullock Electric Manufacturing Co., Norwood’s first major manufacturer.

The four-year investment to expand and modernize the Siemens plant was completed two years ago. It was one more evolution for a manufacturing operation that has survived the impact of wars, work stoppages, economic collapse and even a flood since Bullock laid the first brick in 1897.

What has been built over that time is far more than electric motors and generators. “The people here are connected to this plant,” said Anne Cooney, president of the Drives Technologies division, Siemens Industry, Inc. “They’re not employees; they don’t come here just to do a job. They feel passionate about it. They own the customer; they own the results.”

Cooney said the changes and investment at Norwood go far beyond the physical plant. “I think the most significant change of anything we’ve done has been the engagement and the commitment of the workforce,” said Cooney. “When I walk customers through this factory, I am so unbelievably proud of the people who are working on their motors.”

Cooney said the employees know how important these motors are to the customers and how critical they are to the customers’ success. They are proud to put their names on the motors and they are proud of their work. “You get these employees talking about that, and it’s pretty, ‘Wow!’ ” she said.

Shortly after Cooney became president of the Drive Technologies Division at Siemens, an employee said to her, “You know, my grandfather worked here and I want my grandchildren to work here and we’re counting on you to make the right decisions so that I can have my grandchildren work here.”

2009 Top Plant: Siemens Industry

Norwood facility

In the middle of the Rust Belt about 20 minutes north of Cincinnati, the Siemens Industry large motor plant in Norwood designs and builds above-NEMA motors as well as traction motors. “We also have a pretty good business with parts, service and retrofits,” said Lang. The plant also rebuilds old motors and can make new motors from the original specs of the old ones.

The plant is capable of producing the complete line of Siemens’ large open-frame motors up to 18,000 hp, and 2- and 4-pole motors through 6,500 hp for variable speed drive applications. The Norwood facility is also known for producing motors that exceed the demanding standards established by the American Petroleum Institute such as API-541 and API-547.

The $35 million expansion project at Norwood was a significant investment by Siemens AG, its corporate parent. The goal was to create a state-of-the-art factory with increased capacity, capability and productivity. A newly designed material flow path and new processes were also proposed. Other goals included new equipment and technologies such as laser cutting, vacuum pressure impregnation and a redesigned test field.

Securing the investment that enabled the expansion did not happen over night. “We came up with a plan on how to improve this business — including the plant,” said William R. Finley, manager of Engineering & Technology. “We talked to customers and asked them what they want in a product, what they want of lead times and what they want from the factory. We came up with a factory game plan; we came up with a product game plan; and a sales game plan.”

The $35 million investment was tied to discussions surrounding Siemens’ position in the global motors market as well as the criticality of the above-NEMA motor products to its overall portfolio. The discussions then turned to deciding whether to fix the plant, move the plant or exit the market. “We’re not exiting; this is a core product in the business for us,” Cooney said.

Siemens decided to fix the plant. “We did a pretty quick analysis on the other alternatives,” said Cooney. “We made the decision; we decided to go ‘all in’ and commit to Norwood. And we’re going all in because of the skilled workforce here; because of the talent that resides in this building. We decided this is going to be the world class large motor factory in North America — in the world, actually.”

Cooney was in a good position to support the Norwood investment as well as do what’s best for Siemens because of her unique experience in manufacturing and management. “Having grown up in manufacturing — I’m a machinist by trade — and having been in management all the way up through the ranks. These kinds of decisions have a significance to me personally, and I recognize that it also has a permanent effect on the business,” said Cooney.

“Financially, long term, does it really make sense for you to just chase after the cheapest labor dollar, or does it make sense for you to get the most out of the labor dollars that you spend? And I say, ‘Get the most out of the labor dollars that you spend by using everybody’s thoughts, ideas, brainpower, energy and passion about being the best.’ And that’s what you see here.

“You lock arms with 400 people, and you head in any direction, you’re going to be a pretty formidable force,” Cooney added. “The challenge was to all head in the same direction — and lock arms.”

Building motors, building trust

This doesn’t come about without an atmosphere of trust. And that kind of trust takes time to build. The working relationship between Lang and Wayne Cupp, president, Local 765 of the International Union of Electronic Workers/Communications Workers of America, is evidence of that trust.

“Keith is very open with me,” said Cupp. “He brings me into his office and tells me about the challenges we’re facing in the next quarter or so. He asks me, ‘What’s your opinion? How should we do this?’ And he does listen to what I say — not that he agrees with everything. He lets my voice be heard.”

When Siemens promoted the manager of Human Resources to a different position, Lang asked Cupp for his input regarding a replacement for that position. “He actually allowed me to interview the candidates,” Cupp said. “I’ve been here 33 years and I’ve never seen that happen. We want someone who fits our goals, someone who can work with us to make sure we continue to be very successful.”

“We have a responsibility to our people,” Lang added. “Wayne and I have a responsibility at this location to do the best with every employee here. He and I get along so well, and have sort of the same style. We talk and we stay together and we truly have the best interest of every person here. And they know it.”

“I think that his staying in touch with the people out on the floor says a lot for Keith,” Cupp said. “He’s out on the floor; he talks to the people. I talk to my colleagues — other union presidents — they just find this to be remarkable.”

In Norwood, conflict and confrontation is replaced cooperation and trust. “It’s not us and them,” said Cupp. “It’s us against our competitors.”

Improved workflow, processes

Throughout the expansion, the Norwood plant overcame several roadblocks. “The market took off in 2004,” said Cooney. “We started to have one of the highest loads this factory has ever seen by the time we brought in the first wrecking crane. We knew the market was really strong, and I knew we were going to completely gut the whole factory — and had to keep it running. We never stopped.”

Cooney said there were many pieces of equipment that needed to be ripped out, moved and then replaced. “Testing stayed, but die casting and the balancer are one-of-a-kind pieces of equipment that are not replaceable. They are critical to the process. You can’t build a motor without a die cast machine or a balancer. We had to prepare ahead of time with extra materials from those pieces of equipment. We needed to make sure from the original manufacturer that they would guarantee that piece of equipment would be usable again after it was moved,” she said.

Before the investment, a motor actually traveled about six miles through the facility from beginning to end of its manufacturing process. “We’ve created a ‘U’-shaped process flow,” said Lang. “The material comes in; the rotors and the coils are made; the stators go through the VPI process; they come together in assembly; then into test; and out through shipping. The path has been reduced to approximately two miles. That’s a big improvement, and that’s a major piece of that investment.”

Lang said the Siemens team in Norwood took the coil area from a batch-and-queue system to a one-piece flow, and consequently reduced inventories by about 80% in that area. “We took the lead time for a set of coils from about seven or eight days down to about two shifts,” he said.

Siemens spent more than $10 million to upgrade the test department design, hardware and installation. The process was redesigned as well as the equipment. “We control everything (through) HMIs,” said Claude A. Turner, test facility supervisor. “All of the power is (controlled) through PLC interlocks. On every single cabinet that has a power supply, we actually have an interlock.”

While other departments could stockpile parts to keep production going during renovation, the test department could not. “It was really difficult for us,” Turner said. “In other areas, they would take a machine down — stop production on it — then they would move it, buy a new one, refurbish it or whatever. Then they would restart production. I couldn’t do that.

“I had to keep production going at our very busiest time — and improve the test group,” Turner added. “My goal was to have nobody say, ‘We couldn’t ship this motor because you were down.’ They would never let me have that excuse. So in our busiest time, we made the $10 million investment, and met production. I’m really proud of that.”

Part of the investment made in the test department includes load machines, which apply torque counter to the rotation of the motor being tested. The machines can provide loading up to 10,000 hp at speeds of 1,200, 1,600 and 3,600 rpm. According to Turner, the load machines use active front-end drives. “When we do a static load test, we’re actually recycling power,” he said.

“An easy way to say it is these slow down, and the motor that I connect to it is trying to hold its speed,” explained Turner. “We’re generating torque — backward torque. What’s important, when I’m testing 10,000 hp, I’m only paying for 1,000 hp. I had to meet with the local utility company. They were convinced I moved the meters. I had to show them the meters and prove we don’t need that much power from them.”

Lean, continuous improvement

The Norwood plant has a history of continuous improvement. However, with the most recent investment from Siemens corporate, the emphasis on continuous improvement and Lean manufacturing escalated considerably.

“Keith was hired to really focus on continuous improvement, Lean manufacturing, cycle time reduction — all the things that are going to constantly make us better than anybody else,” Cooney said. “I looked for someone who I know is passionate about Lean manufacturing, continuous improvement and quality. Keith’s background is just that. The whole concept of including the workforce and having no fixed solutions until you get peoples’ input. That’s Keith’s reputation.”

“About a year ago, we put a Lean intern program in place,” said Barry Hamilton, continuous improvement manager. “We take people off the shop floor. They come out of their job to work for a continuous improvement team for six to nine months, and then they rotate back into their jobs with the thought process of being able to train more people — expose more people to Lean thinking and continuous improvement.

“At that time, we had around 350 hourly employees here,” Hamilton said. “In the hourly meetings, we told people what the program was going to be about. We had 35 people — 10% of the work force signed up for it, which to me was amazing. We got the union committee and all the supervisors and managers together and asked them to select the two best people from this list of 35.

“Everybody wanted it to succeed. We took the two best and they worked out great. One guy is still on there; he’s going to be a permanent addition to that team. We’ve rotated through and we’re on our third set of people. It’s been a huge success,” Hamilton said.

Lang said the Norwood plant is now in Phase IV of the Siemens Production System, which he described as taking continuous improvement and Lean manufacturing to the next step. The management team meets from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day to discuss issues and solve problems from past due issues to ergonomics to process flows.

One example is the welding fixtures. “We’ve made fixtures to hold the motor in the right position to do the welding and the brazing,” Lang said. “The next design will be a fixture that, instead of a motor having to go into a ‘V’ just to be welded, it’s actually going to be sitting in place that all the way down the line.”

The stator department has 16 tables with lift capability, with the first eight stations being used as the winding sites. The setup work is done in the staging area. When all the coils are in the stators, they are moved to the connection site. When the Norwood team held its first kaizen meeting in the stator department, they made 30% productivity improvement one of its goals. Lang said the stator department has maintained 25%.

“When we had our kaizen event we wanted to treat our stator winders like surgeons,” said Mike Thomas, manager of the stator winding department. “When a surgeon walks into an operating room, he doesn’t move the carts around; he doesn’t go get his tools. He has everything right there so when he gets there, it’s go time. We wanted to have the same idea with the stator winders. When they start a job, it’s go time.”

Thomas said that stator winders are some of the most knowledgeable and experienced people in the plant. John Cox is a stator winder with 36 years experience. “When I came here, we didn’t have the roll tables, we didn’t have the lift tables,” said Cox. “Where we used to have to work on everything one way, we now have the tables that lift; it’s a lot easier than it used to be. Used to be, they were all in boxes, and to flip them you had to lift them. You don’t see that anymore.

“The way it used to be, it would take an hour or two in the morning to set a job up. Now we come in and it’s already set up,” Cox continued. “Now all we have to do is grab the job. What used to take us two hours, takes about two minutes. We just take it from there, bring it here, set it down, everything’s there. If we do have a problem, we go to the setup guy; he brings up what we need. Now this is more of a flow. It takes a lot of steps off of us.”

Lang said these changes have improved workflow, quality, first pass yield and ergonomics. “Minimize the positioning; minimize the touches; minimize the waste,” he said.

Leadership in tough times

The recent economic challenges were felt globally, not just in Norwood, OH. The plant had just completed a major renovation and now had to maintain its improvement path in the face of another adversity. How they managed has a lot to do with the company as well as the people.

“Siemens makes decisions for the long term,” said Cooney. “And as a result, we don’t often react to short-term — even one or two years is considered very short term — economic changes that other companies might. The investments we made here were very long term, and at the same time, we built in a significant amount of flexibility.

“We identified our core competencies,” Cooney continued. “We found what differentiates us in the market, and we’ve maintained that. But in key areas where we knew we might have bottlenecks — or the critical path — we have identified alternatives to offset some of the variations. That was all very well planned before we started the reconstruction. The material, the skills and the physical capital were all meant to fluctuate to the extent that they can.”

It takes a dedicated work force to execute this kind of flexibility. This dedication comes from the passion, enthusiasm and commitment of the people. Cooney attributes it to “the value of the people that you have on your team. If you really get their heart behind it, you can be pretty powerful in meeting the challenges that surface.

“That’s the one thing that I have always made sure of on my team — to treat people with respect and dignity,” Cooney added. “They all have something to contribute. Our job is to get the most out of that contribution.”

History of the Norwood plant

George Bullock purchased the Card Electric Motor & Dynamo Co. in 1985. He renamed it the Bullock Electric Manufacturing Co. in 1897 and moved it to Norwood, OH, becoming the city’s first industrial plant. Bullock completed the construction of the new facility on Forest Avenue in Norwood in 1898. When it opened, it employed around 300 workers.

Allis-Chalmers and Bullock Electric had collaborated many times on large engine generator set construction. This early-day partnership led to Allis-Chalmers’ increased involvement in the electrical industry. In 1904, it leased Bullock Electric Manufacturing Co. and eventually acquired full ownership, calling it the Bullock Works.

In 1970, Allis-Chalmers and Siemens AG entered into a license and technical agreement with the understanding that a jointly-owned company would eventually be formed. That formation was announced on July 11, 1977, marking the beginning of the U.S.-headquartered Siemens-Allis, Inc. Plants involved with the newly formed company were located throughout the U.S. — including the Bullock Works in Norwood.

The agreement between Allis-Chalmers and Siemens AG also included a Siemens purchase option. Siemens exercised that option in 1985 when it purchased Allis-Chalmers’ remaining interest in the company. This purchase marked the beginning of Siemens Energy & Automation.

Effective Oct. 1, 2009, Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc.; Siemens Transportation Systems, Inc.; Siemens Building Technologies, Inc.; and Siemens VAI Services, LLC merged. The resulting corporation is now Siemens Industry, Inc., which is the U.S. affiliate of Siemens’ global Industry sector business.

Strategic improvements in energy efficiency

The Siemens large motor plant in Norwood, OH included energy efficiency improvement strategies in its recent expansion, resulting in about $175,000 in annual cost-avoidance, according to Lang. Some of the major equipment and design enhancements include:

  • Change in plant workflow reduced the motor assembly path to 30% of its previous distance

  • Replaced HID lamps and fixtures with high-bay fluorescent lighting, resulting in a significant reduction in energy usage and costs, as well as an improved working environment

  • Excess power generated during motor testing is either used by the plant or put back into the utility grid. Testing now requires less than 10% of the energy it once needed, which translates to an annual cost savings of about $134,000 just for coupled-load testing — that’s an annual CO 2 emission savings of about 24.4 million pounds.