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Below is an article from the May 2003 edition of MANUFACTURING
ENGINEERING profiling the changes that Remmele Engineering
Inc. (REI) has undergone over the past couple of years, as it moved
from a traditional machining job shop to a contract manufacturer.
TCA has assisted REI in this change process, beginning with a management
World Class (Lean) Bootcamp in March of 2002, followed immediately
by similar training sessions for the Plant Leadership teams. These
Plant teams developed an Implementation Plan, created Steering Teams
and appointed Lean Coordinators. Recognizing that the Kaizen is
the tool of choice to implement initial change, each plant selected
a project and the evolution began.
At the same time, the senior management group determined that changes
were needed in their approach to the marketplace. A “sales”
Kaizen determined that fundamental changes in organization, market
segmentation and how REI was perceived by its markets should be
reviewed. Additionally, REI independently conducted a Strategic
Planning process, focusing initially on marketing and sales. The
result of all of this work has led to many of the changes that you
will read about in the attached article.
During 2003, TCA has assisted REI with two plant consolidation
projects; bringing two plants into two others. A third macro plant
layout project was also completed. Collectively these projects have
positioned REI to take advantage of the changes that are resulting
from the evolution from a job shop to a contract manufacturer.
TCA views Remmele as an extremely successful “work in process”.
Rich Pogue, President of REI, and his leadership team are carefully
crafting plans to capitalize on their past successes, implementing
new technologies of Lean, Six Sigma and other World Class technologies
to leverage these successes into future growth and profitability.
TCA has been privileged to be able to assist REI in these efforts.
Remmele evolves from job shop to contract manufacturer
By Jim Destefani, Senior Editor
work runs the gamut from micro medical components
less than 0.080" long (left) to huge workpieces such as this
enclosure assembly for a ground-based radar system.
In marketing, a concept called the "wheel of retailing"
is fairly well known. According to the theory, retailers usually
begin at the bottom of the wheel with low prices, profits, and prestige,
and then gradually work their way up.
A similar concept--let's call it the "wheel of manufacturing"--might
also describe the situation facing many machining job shops in the
US. Companies that have survived for decades by producing machined
parts are now finding that they must take on a larger role to remain
competitive. That role can include pretty much the entire product
development cycle, from design through manufacturing and other value-adding
operations such as assembly.
Case in point: Remmele Engineering, a large and successful manufacturer
headquartered in New Brighton, MN. Remmele recognized years ago
that its customers were demanding more than just machined parts,
and is transitioning from being a job shop to being a partner able
to offer much broader support, according to company president Richard
Mazak FMS used to produce fluid management parts is among equipment
being relocated to Remmele's Micro Machining operation in Big Lake,
"Job shops live from RFQ to RFQ. Contract manufacturers do
more than just machine parts," Pogue explains. "We're
looking for ways to move up the supply chain and add more value.
We look for opportunities where the prime contractor is outsourcing
entire assemblies or sub-assemblies and having subcontractors manage
Founded in 1949, Remmele has always been near the leading edge
of manufacturing both in technology and business practices. The
company generates more than $80 million in sales and employs about
500 people in its Contract Manufacturing and Automation divisions.
The Automation Division develops, designs, and builds custom automated
equipment for applications requiring discrete assembly, web processing,
and/or packaging and filling. The Contract Manufacturing Division
produces components, assemblies and tooling ranging from 0.5-mm
medical device parts to aircraft, satellite, and radar components
several meters square. The common thread in all the Contract Manufacturing
Division work is the need for precision, whether the operations
are being performed on a 10-axis Swiss-style lathe or a machining
center with 100' (30 m) of X-axis travel.
among machines scheduled to be shuffled from one plant to another
are large Forest Liné high-velocity machining centers used
to produce monolithic aerospace components.
Along with the transition from job shop to contract
manufacturer, Remmele is also re-making its manufacturing capabilities,
consolidating some of its six plants and moving from functional
to cellular manufacturing layouts in all its facilities.
"The most flexible type of supplier, I think, is the mom-and-pop
kind of job shop," Pogue says, explaining the multi-plant philosophy.
"Remmele's business model has been to be very responsive and
have personal relationships with customers. So having more locations
that specialize in certain areas enables us to react more like a
smaller shop rather than a big bureaucracy."
One of the plants absorbing equipment and personnel from another
facility is the company's Plant 30-the Micro Machining facility
in Big Lake, MN. "We are in the process of bringing our Repetitive
Batch operation into this plant," explains John Bowden, VP
and general manager. "But we're not bringing in any new equipment.
We're looking to improve utilization of the current equipment, and
to engineer ourselves to be able to run longer untended so we can
generate more hours off the same piece of equipment. Some of it
is fundamental-developing better, more robust processes that will
allow us to walk away from the work and let it run."
The Repetitive Batch operation makes parts that are slightly larger
than those produced in the clean, well-lit Micro Machining facility.
"In terms of part-size, that operation picks up where we leave
off--roughly about a 3" [76-mm] cube--and goes up to about
a 2' [0.6-m] cube," Bowden says. "Major markets for the
Repetitive Batch operation are aircraft turbine engines and fluid
management components such as hydraulic actuators, control housings,
The Micro Machining operation's bread and butter is producing parts
for the medical device industry, which accounts for more than 90%
of the work done at the facility, according to Bowden. A specialty
is titanium spinal implant components, which are machined on nine-
and 10-axis Swiss-style lathes. The screws and other components
are produced in a variety of sizes, which customers then place into
"kits" to allow the surgeon to select the needed sizes.
The plant also produces catheter-based devices only 0.5 mm in diameter
that are inserted into patients' blood vessels to provide imaging,
remove blockages, place stents, and perform other tasks. Inspecting
such small parts, which include both internal and external geometry,
requires some ingenuity. For surface finish measurement, for example,
Plant 30 personnel rely on interferometry. "Even using a common
profilometer can alter the finish of these very small parts, so
we have non-contact surface measurement," Bowden says. "The
white light interferometer basically bounces light off the part
surface, then digitally computes whatever parameter you're interested
in. It also gives you a pictorial topographic map of the surface."
Remmele's Plant 40 has produced hundreds of screens for the Aegis
ship radar system over the past 20 years. Each screen has more than
4500 pockets and thousands of other features.
Micro to Massive. Next door to Plant 30 is Plant 40, one
of the Contract Manufacturing Division facilities. The contrast
between the two plants is striking.
Plant 40 specializes in manufacturing large components and assemblies,
especially aluminum alloy parts for defense and aerospace applications.
"One of our core product competencies is radar structures for
ship and land-based systems," says plant general manager Jim
Frazer. Radar parts produced at the plant include screens, support
structures, and cold plates.
An example is the Aegis ship radar system. The large 6061 aluminum
alloy front plate features 4502 milled pockets, and pocket location
accuracy must be within 0.012" (0.3 mm) tir. The parts are
machined on a six-axis Mitsubishi HMC with 100' (30.5 m) of X-axis
travel. A thermally controlled coolant system helps maintain accuracy
by keeping coolant near 70º throughout machining. The plant
has been producing these components at a rate of 12 - 20 per year
for the past twenty years.
On such long-term jobs, there is pressure for continuous process
improvement and cost reduction, Frazer says. The plant has seen
positive results from implementing selected lean manufacturing concepts.
"One of the big things we did with our 5S program was get
things labeled and addressed throughout the shop," Frazer says.
"Everything now has an address on it and can be located more
quickly. We put a lot of time into the program, and we got rid of
a lot of things that weren't standard, including tooling and fixturing
concepts. It's saved us a lot of time."
Another early lean implementation was development of cellular manufacturing
for radar support columns, which support the pocketed screen as
well as electronics. "There are 21 columns per ship-set,"
Frazer explains. "We used to run them in batches, 84 at a time.
The processes were laid out all across the shop, and we were moving
material back and forth. So we'd take 84 columns, move them into
inspection, move them to the riveting machine, inspect them again,
take them to the next setup, and so on. We had a lot of quality
Now, machined workpieces come into a work cell for hand drilling
and tapping, followed by washing. The same operator follows each
column all the way through the process, even through riveting, assembly,
and quality verification. "When it's all said and done, one
person has built the whole column," Frazer says. "We've
seen about a 30% reduction in defects, cycle time is improved, and
square footage to store the columns is reduced.
"It's been a real good change for us," he adds. "The
biggest thing is, it's changed our philosophy of how we manufacture.
You can see the difference from the old batch mode to more of a
How Remmele Manages Personnel
Remmele is a very selective employer, and it expects commitment
and involvement from its personnel at all levels.
The company recruits potential employees from two-year trade schools
and some from four-year schools, then puts them through a 3 1/2-year
apprenticeship program that includes both classroom work and hands-on
training. Many current employees, from shop-floor personnel to company
managers, have been through the program, which is expanding to encompass
engineering, marketing, and sales through co-op arrangements with
local colleges and universities.
And training doesn't stop there. Remmele pays for outside education
and sponsors in-house training in a variety of topics. Managers
have recently received training in lean manufacturing and strategic
planning. Shop floor personnel go to classes to learn new controls
or how to operate new inspection equipment. "Training starts
at the apprentice level and ends when the employee chooses,"
says Richard Pogue.
The net result of this careful selection and ongoing training is
flexible, knowledgeable employees who can perform a variety of tasks
and move to where they're needed, even from plant to plant. Employees
at all levels are expected to provide input on, for example, how
to improve work flow and processes in their area.
They also meet directly with customers and provide input on various
aspects of a job when appropriate. "On larger projects, manufacturing
engineers at the plant level, machinists, and quality personnel
are all involved in the process," says project manager Dean
Krueger, himself a graduate of Remmele's apprenticeship program.
"We have that kind of customer relationship on most of our
successful larger projects. You can't be an expert in every field;
that's why we often pull together a larger team."
Pogue sums up the company's personnel philosophy thusly: "I
think it's a lot harder to go find good work on a consistent basis
to grow your business than it is to find a machine to do the work.
A machine's a machine. It's people--operators who know how to do
it better, project engineers with superior knowledge--that make
How Remmele Manages Technology
Although Remmele plant managers have quite a bit of autonomy when
it comes to managing their businesses, one area where corporate
maintains some control is technology acquisition.
"Equipment acquisition is a corporate process that we originate
in the plant," explains John Bowden. "It's really changed
in the past few years. To get started in a business like this, you
have to take some risks, go out and buy a piece of equipment and
hope you fill it up. We're at the point now where we need to have
things pretty well thought-out in terms of utilization."
According to Richard Pogue, the company tries to match depreciation
with capital expenditures. "You need to look at what you're
trying to make, and then try to match the equipment to that,"
he says. "So we look at the application. Other important factors
are the local distributor, and financial stability of the supplier."
Project manager Dean Krueger says cross-functional teams including
marketing personnel, project managers, general managers, and sometimes
sales reps try to forecast where future sales will come from, then
capitalize accordingly. "Is it four-axis work, five-axis work,
superalloy, aluminum?" he asks. "Once we've figured that
out, we solicit bids on equipment that will support that type of
machining." The company uses guidelines published by AMT--The
Association for Manufacturing Technology to justify capital equipment
Other technology areas, including computer systems and tooling,
also will be coming under more corporate control in the near future.
Remmele is in the process of selecting vendors for a new computer
integrated manufacturing system that will put all engineers, programmers,
and other personnel on common software platforms. "I think
we recognize that having a common system is a powerful tool that
allows you to maximize the flexibility of your workforce,"
"Cutting tool management will be one supplier, CAM systems
will be another, and DNC will be another," Pogue explains.
"We currently have about 14 different CAD/CAM systems and several
different DNC systems, and we'd like to reduce those numbers."
Another part of the new computer system will be a central tool
library that will allow plants to draw needed tools from any Remmele
facility. Accompanying this is a rationalization of tool suppliers.
"We currently have 27 tooling suppliers," Pogue says.
"We'd like to have two suppliers for standard cutting tools."
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