EASTER SEALS MIDDLE GEORGIA | Lean, Workforce Development
Easter Seals Middle Georgia is a Dublin, Ga. vocational rehabilitation facility affiliated with Easter Seals, a non-profit organization that has been helping individuals with disabilities and specials needs, and their families, for more than 90 years.
Easter Seals Middle Georgia operates five manufacturing facilities. Since receiving a large federal contract in 1990, the organization has partnered with numerous central Georgia manufacturers in contracting opportunities. Easter Seals Middle Georgia now employs approximately 300 persons with disabilities in providing services to these local manufacturers.
A large number of the 300 employees work on a contract with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, fabricating a foam fire-suppressant material into approximately 2,000 customized sizes and configurations. The different configurations fit like puzzle pieces into the fuel tanks of military aircraft, to prevent them from catching fire if hit by a bullet, struck by lightning, or ignited by static electricity. Each plane carries up to six internal and external tanks, each utilizing more than 100 foam pieces.
Each tank on a particular aircraft comes with a set of specific drawings. The pieces are fabricated based on the specifications, packaged as a set, and shipped back to Warner Robins.
The training time for individuals with disabilities averaged between six months and one year, significantly longer than for workers in other manufacturing facilities. Wayne Peebles, the organization’s CEO, and Chris Council, its operations manager, wanted to reduce that training time. Understanding the complexity of having 2,000 customized pieces, they realized they needed to make processes and the experiences for employees as straightforward as possible. For help, Peebles and Council reached out to Alan Barfoot, Central Georgia region manager for the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech. Peebles and Council were very familiar with the training and services of GaMEP, as their current and previous board presidents were GaMEP staff members.
Barfoot and Danny Duggar, a GaMEP project manager, reviewed the Easter Seals Middle Georgia plant and made recommendations around reorganizing the facility, revamping the layout and material flow to address the issues, and conducting training and benchmarking with other manufacturing facilities to enable continued learning and improvements.
Barfoot and Duggar witnessed raw material being moved as many as ten times a day to the back of the facility, roughly 110 feet away, when ready for manufacturing. The finished goods were then loaded into carts and pushed to another area of the facility for inspection, approximately 60 feet from where they were completed. This occurred up to 40 times a day, based on cart size and configurations of material. Duggar suggested reconfiguring the assembly line and moving the staging area, so that raw materials would go straight to staging, which is directly in line with the first step in the process. They also recommended moving the product finishing area next to the inspection and packaging area, which was moved next to shipping. These changes decreased distance walked by 77 percent and allowed the team to move from carts that did not hold much material to pallets, minimizing the handling of raw materials by 50 percent.
Employees were also putting rejected material into a holding area, where the material would sit for as much as four hours before being noticed. Duggar recommended establishing a visual aid to alert employees to these issues. The facility has since placed a strobe light at the holding area, and an employee turns the light on when new rejected material is placed there, cutting the wait time from four hours to 15 minutes. In addition, by better monitoring the waste, employees have been able to segregate materials as they come through, reuse damaged materials for other purposes and utilize tags that document pertinent information on rejected pieces. In doing so, Easter Seals Middle Georgia has reduced the material sent to the landfill by 20 percent.
By working with the GaMEP, Easter Seals Middle Georgia was able to connect with other manufacturers in Central Georgia that utilize lean concepts. They are now working with these facilities to network, benchmark, and learn ways to continue improving the facility.
As a next step, the CEO of Easter Seals Middle Georgia is leading his team to obtain ISO 9001 certification.
Based on the training Easter Seals Middle Georgia received, the following improvements have been made:
- Decreased distance walked to pull material by 77 percent - from 110 feet to 25 feet.
- Reduced the handling of raw materials by 50 percent.
- Adjusted the flow of materials to reduce distance from finished goods to inspection by 100 percent.
- Implemented visual controls to reduce wait time by 94 percent - from 4 hours to 15 minutes.
- By segregating and repurposing materials, reduced material sent to landfills by 20 percent.
- Implemented a process to train staff members who had never worked in manufacturing plants.
“Without Georgia Tech, Easter Seals Middle Georgia would not have been able to afford the type and quality of training that we received,” Peebles said.