Reliability and Lean Programs Power Energizer Battery Plant

Paul V. Arnold, Noria Corporation

Global lean enterprise director
Steve Hockridge (left) and lean coordinator
Dana Billings have seen the benefits of
bringing together lean and reliability.

There are three types of manufacturing companies that implement lean:

  1. Those that do it in name only to satisfy or attract investors. Lean is confined to buzzword status in annual reports and ads.

  2. Those that do it on the surface. They construct a few U-shaped cells, paint the walls and throw out some clutter, then exclaim, “That’s it; we’re lean.” Lean is a “home improvement” project for the plant.

  3. Those that do it right.

Few fall into that third category. A recent report from QAD Inc. found 80 percent of surveyed companies said they currently have “a lean initiative,” but only 1 percent had documented lean practices in place. Not enough plant and corporate leaders take lean manufacturing beyond the surface level.

Not enough go deeper and view it as a valuable tool for the improvement of machinery reliability and the enhancement of total asset capability and performance. Robust and efficient mechanical assets are a precondition that lays the groundwork for foundational elements of lean such as flow and flexibility.

Recognizing reliability as a key part of a lean transformation allows companies to better achieve goals that hit the bottom line – reduced inventory, costs, throughput time and work in progress, and increased quality, uptime and productivity.

Energizer, the world’s largest battery manufacturing company, can count itself in that 1 percent of firms doing lean the right way. Within a short amount of time, it has achieved incredible results through focused activities that push the envelope on people, process and production performance.

Every day, Energizer seeks to improve by bringing together lean and reliability. Just like love and marriage, its people know that you can’t have one without the other.

“We have some very lofty lean-related goals for the company, but we cannot and will not achieve them unless we have reliable equipment,” says Steve Hockridge, Energizer’s global lean enterprise director. “You can’t improve labor productivity or achieve lead-time reductions or reduce inventory without it.

You can’t increase the speed at which you flow product to the customer if you have to account for equipment reliability issues that force you to carry buffer inventory. The only way to do all of that is by improving the reliability of your equipment to the point where it’s always ready whenever you need it.”

Joe Tisone, the company’s vice president of global operations, concurs.

“In our business, speed and flexibility are key elements to success,” he says. “You can’t be fast or flexible with unreliable processes. If the machines don’t go, we won’t have flow. Therefore, we view lean from a total business perspective.”

This story will share some of the lean techniques that have made Energizer’s plant in Maryville, Mo., efficient and proactive from a machinery maintenance and mechanical reliability perspective. It will also serve to hold this organization and its people up as role models of flexibility, agility, ability, creativity and team-based solutions.


Unlike some manufacturers, Energizer didn’t make the leap to lean as a result of a burning platform. The company, whose history begins in 1886, was on solid financial footing at the dawn of the 21st century. After spinning off from Ralston Purina, its revenues, profitability and market share grew. But that didn’t mean it was satisfied or complacent.

Predictive maintenance analyst Clyde Henry turned the plant’s oil
drum repository into a clean, color-coded lubricant management center.

“If you don’t change, you’ll be left behind,” says Tisone.

Key customers such as Wal-Mart and Target continued to expect and demand more. Energizer’s longstanding competitors in the U.S., and emerging ones from Asia, exerted market pressure.

At the plant level, Energizer facilities that were built in the early 1970s, such as Maryville, began to show some age. As a result, machinery downtime and reactive maintenance work increased.

“We have done some very positive things over the past 25 years to take cost out of our products, but we did it in a traditional way, with large batches and efficiencies of scale,” says Hockridge. “It may have been appropriate then, but the world changes and you have to adjust.”

Energizer’s journey into lean – and the unification of lean concepts to machinery reliability – began in Maryville . . . and somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

Dana Billings, the assistant plant manager for the Maryville site, became fascinated by the improvement principles employed by companies such as Toyota. Later that year, he began experimenting with 5-S workplace organization activities and had some success.

“Dana kept nudging, pushing, prodding,” says Hockridge. “He’d cut out articles and feed this information to Joe Tisone. He’d send them with a note saying, ‘This is stuff we need to get into.’”

Tisone read the articles on an airplane trip to visit an Energizer plant in Singapore.

Each nail machine now features see-through doors,
interior lighting and an external lubrication system.

“If you’re flying to Singapore, you have plenty of time for reading,” says Billings.

The information struck a chord with Tisone. He proceeded to read books on the subject, attend seminars and visit “lean” plants. He traveled to all 22 Energizer sites around the globe and introduced lean to plant employees.

As the initiative gained momentum and structure, Hockridge was selected to oversee its implementation on a global basis and coordinators were named to drive lean at the individual plant level. Billings became the lean coordinator for the Maryville site.

These leaders helped shift lean from an “interesting and intriguing” concept (the kind that, through 5-S, was making introductory, surface-level improvements at Maryville) to a holistic approach capable of producing wide and deep benefits.


Reliability’s role in Energizer’s emerging lean program was not an afterthought. As lean was taking shape at the corporate level, Maryville introduced ACW. This three-letter acronym, short for autonomous care workshop, changed the way the plant and its more than 500 employees looked at production, maintenance and dancing.

ACW began one month before the company’s official lean kickoff. The first ACW took place in one of the plant’s molding areas.

“The business was good, and we pushed the machinery hard,” says Hockridge. “We wanted to do an event in this area to really bring these machines back.”

The ACW format is a blend of kaizen, Reliability-Centered Maintenance, technical education, root cause failure analysis and Total Productive Maintenance.

Operator Vicki Cady and mechanic Steve Piveral go over their
preventive maintenance assignments in the nail production area.

During a weeklong event, several maintenance mechanics team up with operators from a production area to jointly construct a game plan to achieve high levels of reliability for equipment in that area.

Mechanics open a piece of equipment and talk to operators about its contents and how these components work, individually and as part of a system. They explain (and, in some cases, show) the signs of and reasons for component wear and failure. They also instruct on proper practices that prolong component life and ensure equipment health. During the process, operators convey their insights and experiences on this equipment to the mechanics.

Together, they then identify defects in a machine, troubleshoot the root causes, and create mechanical and process fixes that greatly reduce the chance of failure. They examine current, recommended and rationalized preventive maintenance requirements and determine the best overall PM strategy.

Afterward, a plan is constructed to realize improved equipment health. PM checklists and standard work instructions are built. From this point on, reliability on a day-to-day basis becomes a joint venture between mechanics and operators.

“There used to be very tight boundaries between what maintenance did and what production did,” says global maintenance manager Joe Plagens. “We wanted to create more of a partnership – a relationship and linkage – between these two organizations. What lean helps us do is have a setup where the operator takes on more of an ownership role of their equipment. They take on responsibilities to ensure its upkeep.”

This isn’t about sticking operators with a “to do” list. This is about shared responsibilities and a shift in asset care strategy from reactive to planned and proactive. It is time-based and “orchestrated” to maximize cooperation and task completion and minimize downtime.

The plant’s nail production area (a brass nail is a component of batteries) provides a perfect example.

Each week, mechanic Steve Piveral and operator Vicki Cady jointly schedule the PM activities for the area’s 15 machines. At the predetermined time, they meet to go over the standard work instructions for the operator tasks and the mechanic tasks. The instructions are sequenced, step-by-step, for efficiency.

“The dance steps are orchestrated. Who is going to do what and when?” says Billings. “In that choreographed activity called PM, it becomes a partnership. ‘You need to do this so I can do that.’ It becomes a whole new way of performing the maintenance dance.”

On this day, Piveral’s activities (generally more technical in nature) are scheduled to take 10 minutes to complete and Cady’s (cleaning, oiling and greasing) are slated for 90 minutes. When Piveral completes his tasks, he goes to a file of planned work orders for that machine. He finds the job or jobs that fit in the remaining time. Piveral and Cady complete the work, and get the machine running again.

“I feel like I’m more involved and more of a part of things,” says Cady. “I know how to do the lighter maintenance tasks. I think what I do helps the machine stay in better condition and perform better.”

Piveral also sees the positives.

“I used to do 30 hours of PMs each week in this area. Now I have 10 minutes on each machine (15 machines) in three weeks. That’s 150 minutes in three weeks as opposed to 90 hours in three weeks,” he says. “The hidden value in all of that is now I can do that planned work I could never get around to before.”

This concept is widespread at the plant and instrumental in the push toward planned, proactive work. Four years ago, 20 percent of work orders were for planned maintenance; today, that figure is 60 percent and growing.

“Unplanned maintenance costs us four times more than planned maintenance, so I guess that makes my job four times more important than it was originally,” says predictive analyst Rick Staley.


Maryville employees believe they see the plant, and its machines, differently as a result of lean and reliability activities.

“We have bright engineering minds here, and engineers can think in very complex and elaborate terms,” says Billings. “Much of what we have is specialized equipment. So, with our background, we like to design or purchase machines that do 15 things before they spit out a part.

Lean, on the other hand, teaches you to look at things in very simplistic terms. You want to simplify every facet of maintenance, production, quality, etc. It’s been a transition for us, but I think we are seeing the light.”

Complexity greatly increases the chance of waste (excessive motion, inventory, conveyance, etc.). It also increases the risk of unreliability (based on its sheer number of capabilities and components) and extended downtime.

Engineers, mechanics and operators now re-examine individual machines, cells and entire production processes and look for simple, reduced-waste solutions.

“It’s all about separating the value-added steps from the non-value-added,” says Hockridge. “Let’s keep the value-added steps. But why do we have excessive equipment that loads the product into the process this way, or why do we have all of this extra conveyance for this process? It’s waste. The plant used that thinking in one area and removed 30 pieces of equipment.

The end product is the same. But the process is simpler and more reliable, and the quality is better. When you take out that much equipment, you increase your chance of reliable performance. Also, how many PMs disappeared at the same time? We’re focusing on the stuff that matters.”

This isn’t an isolated example. Billings and Plagens noted a handful of projects that each eliminated more than 30 pieces of equipment.

Hockridge says this shows the importance of uniting lean and reliability.

“Don’t blindly start doing reliability or TPM first, because you know what? You may find that a piece of equipment isn’t necessary,” he says. “You need to integrate the strategies — lean and reliability.”

By raising the reliability of the essential, value-added processes, and dumping the waste, the dream result is being able to physically link processes together (as opposed to having disparate processes that lead to excess inventory, motion, work in progress and transportation).

“You can link unreliable processes together, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” says Billings. “If you link four processes together that are each 80 percent efficient, 80 times 80 times 80 times 80 does not equal 80.”

The overall process is instead 41 percent efficient, and an emergency waiting to happen. Raising the reliability of those four individual processes to, say, 95 percent increases the system’s total efficiency to a more acceptable 81.5 percent.

“Anytime you have unplanned maintenance, you’re affecting the whole plant, not just the area where you are. But as we head toward flow, that makes it even more important,” says Staley. “When you start linking processes together, a breakdown has a larger impact.”


The Maryville plant has sought out waste in non-mechanical forms, as well. To eliminate waiting, motion and transportation and increase wrench time, the plant turned to the lean concept of kitting in the past two years.

Instead of a mechanic making back-and-forth trips to the tool crib to get the parts, tools and materials needed to complete a work order (that walking distance adds up in a half-million-square-foot plant), that worker receives everything he or she needs to do the task in one convenient package.

“In doing spaghetti charts (following movement through a process), the breakthrough comes when you break through the paper because you traced over it so many times,” says Billings.

MRO tool crib attendants such as Deb Hayes and Donna Wilson receive a planned work order from the maintenance planner. The attendant goes through the crib and compiles everything that is needed and then stages it all in a tote, tub or (if the job is large) on a cart.

When the job is ready, the planner is notified. The job is then scheduled. The mechanic who receives the work order goes to the crib once to receive the kit and then heads to the job site.

Plagens says concepts such as kitting have been instrumental in doubling wrench time over the past three years.

Waste reduction comes in many forms. Like many lean companies, Energizer is a heavy proponent of kaizen (continuous improvement) events. The battery maker has completed more than 800 weeklong kaizens which have contributed to more than $10 million in cost savings.

It also is promoting small-k, short for small kaizen. These are simple, direct waste-elimination activities conducted by one or two workers. An Energizer plant in Indonesia is currently cranking out 500 documented small-k activities every month.


Lean tools such as small-k serve to unlock the creativity of plant-floor workers.

“Creativity is such a cornerstone and one that was masked by our traditional approach to things,” says Billings. “When people realized that it’s OK to think differently, that really opened the floodgates.”

Adds Plagens, “The creativity to fix reoccurring problems is all in their hands. We want to generally increase the reliability on a machine or group of machines. What that group comes up with to get us there is up to them.”

These ideas solve problems, increase reliability and make people’s jobs easier.

A glowing example is tucked in one corner of the building. This area was previously a repository for filled oil drums. These drums were stacked, waiting to be tapped and their contents used to lubricate machines.

Few formal practices were in place at the time to store the drums or to tap and transport the oil to the floor. No filtering techniques were employed. The result was excess inventory, non-pure lubricants and an elevated risk of contamination.

Predictive maintenance analyst Clyde Henry developed the lean and reliable solution. He talked with vendors and viewed tons of catalogs. Drums of obsolete oil were removed, and excess drums of usable oil were transferred back to the supplier.

Henry sketched and resketched models until he came up with the correct layout that would cleanly, safely and efficiently house the correct lubricants and related equipment. The repository became the lubricant management center. “We want good, clean oil products going into our equipment,” says Henry.

“We want to start from the inside out, making sure everything is clean and filtered, with no moisture or dirt, so that we can say that piece of equipment is running on 100 percent pure, clean oil.

“We are now filtering the oil to 3 microns. We are filtering the water out before it goes into the equipment. We are putting oil in proper containers for our PM mechanics. We have a color-code system that is pretty fool-proof.

We have color-coded our lubricant to the containers and to the machinery component itself. If it’s coded as yellow, it goes into our gearboxes, which also are marked in yellow. It’s been a lot of work, but we’ve come a long way in a year’s time and really cleaned up this area.”

Color-coding is just one of the visibility techniques used throughout the plant to heighten communication and eliminate miscommunication. Inspection points are numbered. Individual machine components are labeled. Gauges are taped to show proper and improper levels. Operators place tags on individual machine components to pinpoint problems (red tags) and opportunities for improvement (green tags).

Global maintenance manager Joe Plagens and tool crib
attendant Deb Hayes examine a kitting project.

Visibility tools send messages to mechanics and operators, but they can also work simply to increase visibility.

The nail production area provides a perfect case in point. Each of the 15 machines is box-shaped, approximately 4 feet tall and stationed on the concrete floor. Originally, each of the machine’s four sides was solid sheet metal.

You can’t see through metal, so emerging problems such as an oil leak weren’t noticed until the puddle meandered out from under the machine. If you needed to check or add oil to the lubrication system, the machine had to be shut down, locked out and a metal guard removed. The inside was dark, so a flashlight was always needed.

The solutions were creative and plentiful. Mechanics installed Plexiglas doors on two sides of the machine. These allow mechanics and operators instant access to the interior. Permanent lighting was installed inside to provide visibility.

Specially sized absorbent sheets were placed inside to not only catch oil drips but to visually convey that information to the operator or mechanic. And, the lubrication system was moved to the outside of the machine, so no shutdowns or lockouts are needed. Lubricant can be added on the fly.

“We can experiment,” says Piveral. “Sometimes the idea doesn’t work, but it’s no big deal. We just put it back to the way things were. That’s all part of it. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong, and if you were wrong, what did we learn from it. When it works, it’s tremendous. You know you had a hand in ensuring the reliability and performance of the machine.”


Some manufacturing companies dabble with lean or fool themselves (and others) into believing that they are on the path. But there are other companies that are truly doing it the right way and making meaningful changes that allow their plants and their people to better face today’s challenges and those of the future.

Are you in the 80 percent category or the 1 percent category? It’s obvious where Energizer stands.

“We’ve reduced the number of mechanics who fight fires or work reactively on the floor and increased the number who are focused on planned, predictive, preventive and proactive work,” says Staley. “We’re using our resources in a different way and a lean way.”

Adds Tisone, “Looking back three years, where we were in all of our plants and where we are today, it’s 180 degrees different in terms of the ownership and the improvements we’ve made in all processes. We have made great strides, but we have a long way to go. Lean is a journey; it’s not a destination. There’s never an end.”

Like Energizer’s battery-powered bunny, it just keeps going and going.

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