PFM has brought stability and predictability to Gasbarre’s operations.
Gasbarre Products Inc., headquartered in Dubois, Pennsylvania, designs, manufactures and services a complete line of powder compaction and sizing presses for the powder metallurgy industry. Founded in 1973, Gasbarre has earned a worldwide reputation as a full-services supplier to the powder metallurgy, particulate materials, and thermal processing industries. With over 200 employees in seven locations, Gasbarre stands alone in its ability to offer equipment and services for all applications related to powder compaction and thermal processing. Gasbarre has been a LillyWorks customer with Protected Flow Manufacturing (PFM) integrated into their existing ERP since October of 2020.
When Heath Jenkins joined Gasbarre as division President in 2018, he sought to increase efficiency, roll out lean processes, and establish continuous improvement programs. The company was struggling to meet on-time deliveries as a result of complex scheduling challenges. Constantly shifting priorities led to long meetings with multiple participants, consuming valuable time and creating even further delays on the shop floor.
*”We quickly realized that we couldn’t start with the symptom, we needed to start with the root problem – how we were scheduling”*
— Heath Jenkins, President, Gasbarre Products, Inc.
“We were just building waste upon waste in the process,” said Jenkins. “There’s a great deal of variability in our operations, and that constantly led to situations where we had to adjust the schedule. We have different volumes going through the shop, ranging from one piece to a hundred pieces. There are a variety of parts and end-users. And we’ve got a lot of variation in velocity as well.” Jenkins described the kinds of unforeseen situations that used to wreak havoc on shop floor scheduling and productivity. When a press went down, the team would have to scramble to get it back up and running. Customers would call and ask for orders to be expedited. Materials would arrive late, which had a domino effect on production. “The fact that we can have all this happening at the same time really complicates scheduling,” he said. “We have a contract machining arm where the typical lead time is 4-6 weeks. We have those unexpected circumstances that come up as well. Then you throw in a requirement for capital equipment where the lead-time is measured in months; six months to a year is not unusual at all. Those kinds of things make scheduling incredibly challenging.” Heath added, “In the past, rush orders for customer emergency parts would take precedence, injecting instability into our system and at times negatively impacting the larger, longer lead-time capital equipment orders.” Heath knew that in order to rein in the chaos, increase efficiency, and improve on-time deliveries; he needed to make changes to the way the company scheduled its work orders.
Protected Flow Manufacturing: A Single Priority System for Everyone
Gasbarre hired a consultant to help them map out their existing processes. “It looked like a spaghetti diagram,” Heath said, “it was crazy.” They looked for opportunities to fix the specific parts of their process, but the team quickly realized that they couldn’t start by addressing symptoms; they needed to attack the root problem. They needed to approach scheduling in a fundamentally different way. Gasbarre tried using Microsoft Excel for scheduling, but it was too cumbersome and didn’t give them what they needed. Then they began to explore other options. As they did, they realized there were other improvements that they wanted to make to their operations as well. “We needed a single priority system,” Heath said, “we also knew we wanted to use video monitors to present real-time information to workers on the shop floor. ” They began to build out a list of requirements for the software that could help them solve their scheduling problems once for all.
The reality before PFM was that when we got an order, regardless of what it was for, as soon as we had the traveler ready – boom – it went out there into the shop.
Heath and his team discovered PFM at an ERP user conference. “After that initial introduction we reached out to LillyWorks and had a demo”, Heath said. “PFM was exactly what we needed”. Gasbarre made the decision to move forward with PFM and went live in just under six weeks. Heath describes the process as “almost seamless.” PFM has brought stability and predictability to Gasbarre’s operations. That has made the company vastly more efficient and better able to respond to change. Heath explains: “The reality before PFM was that when we got an order, regardless of what it was for, as soon as we had the traveler ready – boom – it went out there into the shop.
I love the analogy of when you’re getting on the freeway in the city, you’re feeling good about life, the wind is whipping in your hair and you crest that hill and suddenly you see nothing but brake lights. That’s what our system was. It was a lot of WIP. A lot of looking for parts. A lot of people doing things out of order because you’d have a due date situation where this job is due before this other one, but the other one has to go out for outside service. So in reality we should have been doing this other one first before working on the one that was due sooner. PFM helped clear a lot of that up and automate it and that’s been pretty cool.”
The fact that now there’s no disagreement on what to work on next is the basis to address our root cause issue.
Heath provided some hard numbers to further explain the value their new software has provided: “With PFM, we’re able to trust the system. PFM has helped us reach a year-to-date on-time delivery average of 94%. Before PFM, we were at 73%, and there were some weeks when we were as low as 40% or 50%. The stability and predictability PFM has brought to us is invaluable.” PFM’s threat-level prioritization feature has been pivotal because it enables each resource to see their next ten priorities at all times, and that information is updated in real-time, Instead of struggling to decide what’s next, workers can simply start at the top of their list and work down. It’s clear, it’s simple, and there’s no disagreement as to what should be worked on next. Another key concept in PFM is the ‘release point’, which calls for holding a work order until the scheduling system determines it should be next in line for production. That has prompted a shift in thinking.
Now, instead of maximizing utilization by keeping people and machines busy at all times, the company focuses on maximizing throughput. They are working smarter, not harder. The company has dramatically increased efficiency and reduced work-in-progress (WIP). “We no longer have 40 parts on the shelf at a given work center,” says Heath, “now there are just 10 or 15. It has reduced the clutter and decreased the probability that we end up spending our time on the wrong jobs”.
We have confidence in the numbers we see in PFM regarding when the customer is going to get their parts
PFM has helped Gasbarre manage the unexpected. “If everything were perfectly predictable,” Heath explained, “work would be so much easier. But there’s always that variation. PFM has helped us to reduce what we call ‘special causes of variation’. Somebody calls in sick, the delivery company doesn’t drop off your material or doesn’t show up at all, you could go on and on with dozens of examples. But there are those things that we’ve got to control – like which parts get worked on when, in what order, and when do we send something out – these are the things we can and must control and PFM allows us to do that effectively. As soon as I can control the weather and people getting sick, I’ll be really happy!”
Continuous Improvement: Controlling those things that we’ve got to control.
Jenkins is urging people at the company to think globally, not locally. That means working with the sales team to optimize lead times. It means scheduling jobs for maximum throughput, rather than simply rushing jobs into production. PFM is critical to that new way of thinking. It enables the team at Gasbarre to look at operations from a holistic perspective.
We need to avoid doing things that are locally efficient to the detriment of the larger goal.
Now Jenkins is looking for ways to make operations even more efficient. “We’re making it a point now to look for staff who are flexible, that have the capability to move from work center to work center.”
“We want to hire people that are cross-trained to run different machines. That will help us to be even more flexible and to reduce WIP even further. We’re thinking about creating a ‘fast lane’ so that if a customer really needs something fast and is willing to pay for it, we can accommodate that in our schedule. We’re excited about the future, and with PFM we can see the path to achieve our objectives.”
Heath summed up his thoughts on PFM: “Having a stable system that you trust is so important. Without that stability you can tweak any number of things but you’re not going to fix it. It’s not sustainable when the system is unstable. That predictability and stability is one of the most important things PFM has brought to Gasbarre.”