2016 Top Plant: A focus on people and culture

While much of the U.S. automotive industry was struggling to survive the aftermath of the most recent recession, MFC Netform, the 2016 Plant Engineering Top Plant winner, held its own.


Courtesy: CFE MediaExceptional manufacturing companies are more than just production cells or CNC machines-they are people who form a can-do culture. Strategic management philosophies, customer focus and employee empowerment make MFC Netform in Shelby Township, Mich., the 2016 Plant Engineering Top Plant. MFC Netform was established in 2003 as a subsidiary of Metal Forming & Coining, a Tier 1 press-based cold forming company located in Maumee, Ohio.

MFC Netform manufactures metal components typically used in powertrain applications and supplies them to OEMs and Tier 1 automotive companies. Initially, consideration was given to adding these processes to the Maumee location. However the differences in all areas of production and support requirements created the need to establish a new facility.

These automotive components are made in high-volume, highly automated production cells, passing from machine to machine without manual interaction. "But the technology is a secondary tool," said Tim Cripsey, who led the start-up from day one and is executive vice president of MFC Netform. "What makes us successful is our people and how we trust our customer focus and our employee focus."

There are many traditional reasons why MFC Netform is a Top Plant: High technology processes, a strong customer focus, state-of-the-art operating system, strong manufacturing and maintenance activities and strategic product and process positioning. "There are only two real reasons in my opinion: The people and the culture," Cripsey said.

People make the difference

MFC Netform came up with a methodology unofficially called the Netform Way, which is more about attitude than a manufacturing approach. "It is how we approach our work and how we treat and work with other people," Cripsey said. "It's what makes us go that bit further in everything we do, what makes us never satisfied with the status quo and makes us an improving, rather than stagnant, entity.

Making powertrain parts in Michigan

MFC Netform focuses on flowforming and machining. Flowforming is a cold metal forming process in which a preformed metal blank is pressed against a hardened mandrel using CNC equipment to ensure that part profiles and dimensions are accurate. Secondary processes include milling, broaching, turning, drilling, staking and deburring.

This photo shows an overview of MFC Netform, located in Shelby Township, Mich. The facility manufactures advanced powertrain components for the automotive industry. Courtesy: MFC NetformThe Shelby Township facility is relatively new. It began operation in 2003, and added three major machining and forming lines in 2012. "The parts start in the cell as either a cold forging, hot forging or a stamping," Cripsey said. "Using cold formed preforms manufactured in the Maumee facility gives us an advantage over our competitors, as it is a unique process that has weight and strength advantages. That said, we are not tied to that process-we will use whatever preform makes the most technical and fiscal sense." "The parts pass, without being touched-apart from inspection-through the entire line. At the end of the line, the parts have been washed and deburred."

Typical cells have from five to 10 CNC, flowforming, or broaching, machines that produce several hundred thousand parts per year working three shifts. And it takes no more than two operators to run an entire cell. "Operators do setups, continuous improvement, equipment checks, load and unload parts and do visual inspections," said Cripsey. "We use robots extensively for part loading and unloading, or for holding parts for deburring. We also make sure our cells are not dedicated pieces of equipment. We have to remain flexible in terms of what we can make here."

Being involved in customers' product designs prior to the first round of prototypes is a key strategy for MFC Netform. "We can sometimes redesign customers' products from two pieces to one, from three pieces to two and in doing so, we can save them money and complexity in their product designs," Cripsey said. "A good supplier is involved early in the design process, because as soon as they test that one prototype as a two-piece, it's too late for us to offer a one piece because they have already tested it. We will also suggest alternate solutions for customer problems-even ones that we do not offer. While customer's find it unusual at first, it goes a long way to gaining their trust."

Customers sometimes have difficulty controlling inventories, which can create scheduling challenges. "Schedule leveling is used to smooth out customer demand and reduce changeovers," said Dan Januszek, general manager, Operations at the Shelby Township plant. "Most orders are received electronically from our customers using standard electronic document interchange (EDI) systems. Some orders are entered manually but are managed in the same way."

Managing operations

According to Januszek, productivity and efficiency at MFC Netform have increased over the past five years. He attributes the success of the plant's operational performance to the philosophy of employee engagement in all areas of the business, continually looking for opportunities for process and business improvements and the use of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. "The ERP system is the main factor behind our success," he said. "It promotes communication, control and integrates all departments, yet it does not force the company to work its way. We still control the business systems."

However, running a high-volume automotive component manufacturing facility does have its challenges. "The repetitive nature of the business can breed complacency, especially in the areas with manual involvement, such as visual inspection," said Januszek. "This can be overcome by auditing, training, job rotation and clearly-defined accountability for all areas of the business."

Another challenge is the availability of qualified, motivated employees. "There is a shortage of skilled manufacturing personnel that leads to the need for programs for developing the skills from within, along with the associated training implications," Januszek said.

his photo shows an aerial view of an automated production cell at MFC Netform that produces 275,000 flowformed/machined drums per year for a leading Tier 1 automotive supplier.The company does encourage promotion from within. "We offer an employee referral bonus and train on the job as well as through development opportunities," said Januszek. "We are developing people from within. Opportunities are posted internally first before going outside the plant. There are many operators in development positions that allow them to show their capabilities while learning new skills. Many of the management and production personnel have been promoted up through the company over time. We have a program called 'CAFÉ,' which is a formal tracking program for operator development. CAFÉ reflects Cross Training, Attendance, Flexibility and Engagement"

An example of promoting from within is Derek Lapp. Lapp started as a CNC operator and continued to develop his skills within the company. In his words, "I came here as a traditional CNC operator, and was given the opportunity for growth. Now, in my role a senior technical operator, I am involved in a broader range of activities, such as implementing continuous improvement ideas, addressing cell production issues and learning the art/science of flowforming, which in turn leads to greater fiscal and personal rewards"

MFC Netform uses a pull system to order perishable tooling. A preset finished goods level is used to pull production from the manufacturing cells. "The manufacturing lines are designed based on single-piece flow," said Januszek. "There is a formal continuous improvement program in place. Operators are engaged in all activities within the company. Our customer supply model-varying at short notice with large fluctuations-means we need to keep 1 to 2 weeks' safety stock. We use the safety stock level to pull production from the manufacturing cells at the required rate."

Cripsey said you are what you measure. The Shelby Township plant uses an OEE report from its ERP system for overall reporting and the supporting reports of scrap, downtime and root-cause issues. It also uses the ERP system's labor reporting metrics to track labor efficiency. Best practices are shared through various levels of management review. Daily, weekly and monthly meetings communicate performance and corrective actions. A formal review of lessons learned occurs during regularly scheduled advanced quality planning meetings.

Teams are used for a variety of activities, such as operational reporting, continuous improvement, personnel development and training, system/department activity training and event planning. "Empowering people makes teams effective," said Cripsey. "However, teams still need direction. Every team needs to have a goal, and it needs to have rules of engagement. Teams are critical to the success of the company. Currently, our teams have two directions: product/work area teams and shift teams. Both have advantages. Teams drive continuous improvement in all areas and are assigned ownership of activities/assets and areas."

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