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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

American Teamwork: Ground-Up Innovation From the Manufacturing Floor

July 12, 2011

It’s well documented that successful companies—especially large ones—encourage their employees to think outside the proverbial box and contribute to improving the efficiency of the manufacturing process. Great ideas are not just born in the research lab but also on the factory floor.

GE has long challenged employees at its American manufacturing plants to contribute ideas – a modern variation of the simple suggestion box – solving day-to-day problems by promoting teamwork among its 100,000-plus industrial staffers, and innovation from the ground up.

In that spirit, at GE Transportation’s 2,000-employee Erie, Pa., plant, a handrail assembly project team took a fresh look at the injury-prone process of manufacturing handrails for locomotives. They eliminated more than a mile of weld-wire, and the grinding and hammering of 25-pound sledgehammers along with it.

“Rather than trying to address the mountain of issues associated with the complex assembly process, the team re-imagined the entire design,” Rick Hersey, one of the team members, explained.

The new process uses slipcovers and bolts to connect siderails and handrails, reducing cycle time by more than 70 percent while reducing noise, physical strain and difficulty. Not only did the new process improve workplace safety, but it also paid for itself—in just 10 days. (The team even won a cost savings award at the recent International Ergo Cup Competition at the 2011 Applied Ergonomics Conference—or “the Super Bowl of ergonomics,” as team manager Mike Formaini calls it.)
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