Bridgestone/Firestone has spent the last two years learning how to manage a very complicated situation-and teaching its employees how to deal with it.
Following the recall of 14.4 million Firestone Wilderness AT, ATX and ATX II tires in 2000/2001, the firm has tried to establish a creative environment for its employees to solve problems and foster continuous learning, according to John McQuade, BFS vice president of manufacturing operations.
Mr. McQuade spoke about the firm's continuous progress since the recall in a presentation at the International Tire Exhibition and Conference, held in Akron Sept. 10-12.
``And in the past we could have done better,'' he said. ``We have seven tire plants with seven mixing operations with engineering, technology, production and quality assurance, now all working together to make things right.''
``Making it right'' always has been John Lampe's key phrase, Mr. McQuade said. Mr. Lampe, chairman, president and CEO of Bridgestone/Firestone Americas Holdings Inc., took the helm at the firm in December 2001.
``In a corporate culture, mission statements always used to seem empty,'' Mr. McQuade said. ``But then 51,000 people had to pull together to get things back on track.''
The company's ``making it right'' campaign has included restructuring its business, standardization and education initiatives.
``We have enacted an early warning system to identify anomalies, to try to make that right, and we are improving our process control and quality assurance,'' Mr. McQuade said.
Taking extra measures to improve operations led the firm to claim honors like the Shingo Award, which was first implemented by Toyota Production Systems. The industrial excellence award recognizes companies and factories that use lean manufacturing, such as BFS's Aiken County, S.C., plant.
``What we did in Aiken is a great example of what we are doing to make things right, process by process, plant by plant,'' Mr. McQuade said.
The firm broke ground on the 1.8-million-sq.-ft. Aiken County factory in August 1997 and produced its first test tire 12 months later-the fastest plant start-up in tire industry history, according to BFS. Since 2002, the company has had a 53-percent reduction in waste, a 38-percent decrease in scrap and a 39-percent drop in cost per thousand pounds of rubber.
Mr. McQuade said one of the biggest challenges the tire maker has had is making improvements to its shop floor.
``We process 2 million pounds of materials in our mixing labs, and we asked our employees about what improvements could be made and they found 114 things, production-wise and on the floor, that needed to be executed,'' he said.
The company made the workplace more visible and reinforced knowledge with reminders and signs, he said, ``so that we can do the job right every time.''
It also laid out color-coded photos in its plants-with equipment identified-to help resolve safety issues, Mr. McQuade said. ``And Toyota took a copy of BFS's ideas to improve their `already great operations,''' he said.
BFS won General Motors Corp.'s Supplier of the Year award in 2002 and is the only manufacturer to clinch the honor consecutively for the last seven years, Mr. McQuade said.
``Through all of this we were able to return a profit and we have strengthened through adversity,'' he said. ``We have 51,000 people working together, succeeding, who will continue to succeed.''