Piston Plant Takes Proactive Approach to Reliability and OEE

Karl Schmidt Unisia: Best of All Worlds

Paul V. Arnold, Noria Corporation


Dick Cole, the vice president of operations for Karl Schmidt Unisia, calls the company's plant in Marinette, Wis., "the most diverse piston facility in the world."

He offers a variety of reasons for that.

Diverse products and customers: Karl Schmidt Unisia's 510,000-square-foot facility, located a few miles from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, produces a vast array of pistons (virtually any size, and a daily capacity approaching 75,000) for gasoline- and diesel-engine customers - OEMs and aftermarket companies in the automotive, agricultural, industrial, recreational and marine sectors. General Motors, Nissan, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Cummins, John Deere, International, Harley-Davidson and Mercury Marine are among the big names.

Diverse manufacturing capabilities: Its all-encompassing foundry operation includes induction melting furnaces, automated casting cells and manual-molding casting cells, plus in-house heat-treat and solution annealing, chip drying, weld hardening and prototyping. Its full-range machining and finishing operation includes automated transfer machining lines and complete machining/finishing cells, plus in-house tin-plating, anodizing, screen-print coating, module assembly and prototyping.

Diverse heritage: Karl Schmidt Unisia is an American-headquartered joint venture of Germany's Kolbenschmidt Pierburg AG and Japan's Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd. "Japanese quality, German precision and American ingenuity - we have the best of all worlds," says Cole.

But just as important, this facility is a model of diversity for the manner in which it approaches maintenance and reliability. Operators and technicians, hourly and salary employees, veterans and new hires - the best of all worlds - work together as a team to drive productivity, cost-competitiveness and customer service. This is witnessed through:

  • 1) the composition of the plant's Total Productive Maintenance program;

  • 2) the placement of its Continuous Improvement program under the direction of the technical services department (a.k.a. maintenance);

  • 3) the focus and success of an Early Equipment Management System; and,

  • 4) the use of the metric "overall equipment effectiveness," or OEE.

"It's the people. It's the mind-set. It's the culture," says Cole. "We look at maintenance not as 'a necessary evil,' but as a capacity-enhancer and as mission-critical to our success."

Since 2002, a nearly 25 percent increase in OEE, 41 percent reduction in maintenance costs and 3-plus percent reduction in reactive maintenance work have coincided with a greater than 15 percent increase in sales dollars. Taking 2001 into account, sales dollars are up nearly 50 percent.

"Reliability has never been more important to us and to our customers," says Scott Haulotte, the manager of technical services and Continuous Improvement at the Marinette plant. "It translates to repeatability, capability, running lean. It means trust and delivery to the customer."


Karl Schmidt Unisia's plant in Marinette, Wis., manufactures pistons in a wide range of sizes for gasoline- and diesel-engine customers.


The foundry portion of the plant melts up to seven different types of aluminum alloys. Each of the company's piston products requires a specific alloy. The temperature of the aluminum varies by product, but it's within a range of 700 to 800 degrees Celsius.

At most U.S. plants, Total Productive Maintenance is cut and dried. Operators wipe down their machine and ensure it has enough oil. At Karl Schmidt Unisia's Marinette plant, the process is more involved and - there's that word again - diverse.

Here, TPM starts with daily standardized CIL (Clean, Inspect and Lubricate) activities that are spelled out on laminated placards. Each machine has its own special list of instructions. Every line item on the checklist is tied to an item number (i.e. 2), item type (lubrication), equipment criteria (Waylube oiler), task/desired condition (fill with Waylube 68 to required level) and frequency level (each shift). The top portion of the sheet displays color pictures of the machine's front, back and sides. Key components that relate to items on the CIL sheet are noted with numbers and arrows. So, the No. 2 on this placard points out that the Waylube oiler is found on the back side of the machine, on the far left, just below the Waylube pressure gauge.

Other notes on CIL:

  • Cleaning is an element of the plant's rigorous and audited 5-S process. It's meant not only for aesthetics, but to help a machine perform to its maximum capabilities. It also aims to uncover potential or emerging issues (oil leaks, belt wear, overheating) before they lead to downtime or safety hazards.

  • Operators handle all of the lubrication and fluid management functions (oil, grease, coolant) for their machine or machines, unless prohibited by specific safety (removal of special guarding) or maintenance rules (special tooling required). "We used to have designated maintenance people running around lubing machines," says Haulotte. "Today, we have none."

  • Operators are encouraged to use their knowledge, experience and senses (sight, smell, sound and feel) during inspections to identify potential or emerging issues. They tag the component in question and write a detailed work order. "There isn't a business manager sitting behind his desk or a maintenance person out servicing a machine that knows the problems any better than the people who are working a particular machine," says Haulotte, who before leading technical services was a manufacturing team leader at the facility.



Scott Haulotte, the plant's Continuous Improvement and technical services manager, says "reliability has never been more important to us and to our customers."

What happens next also differentiates this Karl Schmidt Unisia plant from others in or out of the auto sector.

At most plants, a maintenance technician takes control after problem identification, and the operator's involvement in machine maintenance and reliability ends. That's not the case here.

At this 24/7, non-union piston plant, employee roles and responsibilities are not rigid. That fluidity allows motivated operators to get deeply involved with maintenance activities. As a result of strong interest and abilities, they raise their hand and are able to make an incredible impact.

"If an operator or semi-skilled person says they can handle it, give them an opportunity," says Mark Greenlund, the business team leader for the medium-duty product line. "A few years ago, we took a foundry line down. One of the casting machines had a bad hydraulic cylinder. Right away, our maintenance guys walked over and said, 'We'll take care of it,' and the operator said, 'I can do this.' We asked, 'You know how to take care of this hydraulic cylinder?' The operator said, 'You wouldn't believe what I do outside of work. I can handle this. This is a piece of cake.' We let him do it. Maintenance people were 15 feet away in case there was a problem. But that's the talent some people have."

Haulotte notes that prior to such operator-led maintenance activities, a member of technical services will do a full inspection and safety check (lockout/tagout). That person can also do a post-activity check and remove lockout/tagout devices.

Operators also can get involved during shutdowns for monthly and yearly preventive maintenance work.

"When we schedule an annual PM activity - we try to visit everything at least once a year - we have planning meetings with the production group," says foundry maintenance supervisor Jeff Welty. "On the maintenance side, we get a commitment from operators to help with performing the PM work. We give them important assignments that they are capable of doing. It's ongoing training for them, and it's a big help to us."

As a result of shifting maintenance assignments, Haulotte says operators now perform 30 percent of all PM tasks. He says the goal is to get that figure to 70 percent.

Technical services returns the favor by making life easier for operators. They examine production areas and, based on operator feedback, move gauges, buttons, pedals, Zerk fittings, etc., to make them more accessible, visible and ergonomic. They add inspection panels, cut-outs and lighting that allow operators to more quickly and easily perform component/process checks.

"I think we're getting better information off the floor," says Welty. "That allows us to plan better, get parts ahead of time, know what we're up against. There are fewer surprises because the operators are more knowledgeable about the equipment. You can ask them specific questions about how the equipment is running. You can do your detective work and get a real good feel. They have developed more technical jargon. They know what the component is, what it does and why it's important."

Welty believes the active involvement of operators has triggered a domino effect.

"This has given us the opportunity to make improvements that we would not have had time for otherwise," he says. "It gives us a chance to do more root cause analysis activities. It allows us to create solutions and fixes that span a full battery of machines. You take what was learned on one and carry it over to the others. I think the biggest thing is that it frees up more time for us to actually improve things rather than just fight fires all the time. Unless you can free up that time somewhere in the process, you can never get over the hump and prevent problems."


A facet of Karl Schmidt Unisia's Early Equipment Management System focuses on taking existing plant machinery and rebuilding it "better than it ever was before."

With operators taking on more of the routine, scalable maintenance tasks, the technical services department has indeed shifted its focus to more proactive, strategic, diverse endeavors. Paramount in this new problem-solving/prevention mode is its direction of the plant's Continuous Improvement program. CI is a methodology synonymous with kaizen and Toyota-spawned lean manufacturing.

How many maintenance leaders can truly say that they not only have a vision for the plant's future, but have the ability to navigate it toward that ideal state? Haulotte can.

Cole made the decision to put Continuous Improvement in technical services' basket based on his past experiences.

"That setup was effective at previously facilities that I worked at," says Cole, a former General Motors and Cummins employee. "You get great synergy by combining those responsibilities."

Haulotte didn't have to launch CI. Its roots at the plant go back to the early 1990s, when it was introduced as kaizen by company vice president Masaaki Watarai. Haulotte was entrusted to sustain it, tighten it and make it pertinent to today's changing, reliability-heavy plant environment.

"We changed a few things, defined a few others, but this was the structure that we went to war with," he says.

Prominent concepts of the technical services-led lean plan have been:

Visual tools: The photo-filled CIL sheet, described earlier, is one example of Haulotte's strong belief in visuals. Others are color-coding of all lubrication containers to avoid misapplication and cross-contamination; andon lights and alarms to provide operators and technicians with alerts when production machinery begins to exhibit non-desired characteristics; an increased amount of gauges to provide operators with a snapshot of asset health; and communication centers that display plant performance through a variety of key metrics and compares those figures to KSU-planned, industry-based or customer-required levels.

Agile/mobile tools: These attack some of the "deadly wastes" identified in the Toyota Production System. Examples that have saved technical services time, motion and money are PM carts and sump trucks.

The specially designed carts - essentially a full-service workbench on wheels - are used by technicians for advanced PM activities. They house all of the job's necessary tools and supplies, and can be outfitted to hold a ladder, vice, drill press or other items.

A sump truck is used in conjunction with a large PM job. A few hours before the PM, a technician uses a vacuum device called a sump sucker to remove all of the coolant from the machine(s). The coolant is deposited into a large tank mounted on the back of a powered mobile vehicle. The fluid is then driven to another area of the plant to undergo a recycling process.

"It eliminates taking multiple trips with a smaller tank, and it eliminates having to move a heavy tank by hand," says Haulotte.

Efficiencies through data: Haulotte says the department has made concerted efforts to improve the information stored in its computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system, and utilize a larger percentage of its functionality. This has led to PM rationalization activities. "In many cases, we've learned that we don't have to change the oil as often," says Welty.

Enhanced use of data also led to rationalization and standardization projects in the centralized storeroom, which reduced inventory and spending on maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) materials.

Formalized sharing of best-practice information also has led to a substantial drop in contamination (dirt, debris, etc.) issues.

Waste-identification activities: Chokotei analysis is just one of the tools. This activity is a low-tech approach to track short-time, large-quantity machine stoppages and identify the subsequent production losses. One recent analysis identified a surprisingly high miss-loading condition for pistons on three machines. With the condition and root cause identified, steps were taken to fix it.

The proactive, strategic, lean mind-set continues with the plant's Early Equipment Management System, or EEMS. It is one of the most powerful ways that Karl Schmidt Unisia achieves reliability through diversity.

EEMS has two elements, each of them powered by a cross-functional team.

One element is specification for new equipment design. When a new machine is needed, a team of purchasing, engineering, quality and technical services representatives works together to identify all of the required functions, components, programs and options. The needs are built into a machine acceptance criteria.

"We want certain components on that machine, for a number of reasons. For instance, we want Allen-Bradley controls and Vickers valves," says Haulotte. "Our specifications are based on experience, service and support, access to spare parts, and/or standardization of parts we already have on the storeroom shelves."

The requirements to vendors also include three copies of the machine manual and a suggested spare parts list. A sub-team of plant engineering, technical services and MRO stores personnel review the spare parts list. Based on history, failure rates, etc., the group may make modifications.

"There's an extensive checklist of things that we go through to ensure that when that machine comes in, it will: 1) achieve the quality level that we need for the program; 2) achieve the capacity by being reliable; 3) have components that we can easily access or replace with existing stock; and 4) be from an accessible company with a good response and service record," says Haulotte.

The other element of EEMS focuses on taking existing plant machinery and rebuilding it "better than it ever was before." Original design flaws related to maintainability, operability and safety are removed and replaced by new technologies and solutions. A rebuild project takes into account the input of operators, engineers, buyers and technicians. A single technician, though, serves as the project leader.

"We can't always buy new equipment," says Haulotte. "If there isn't a technological advance that we can gain from buying new, we have to look at refurbishing our own."

The size and scope of these projects vary.

"Some of the machines are so big, they barely fit through the doors of the rebuild area," says technician Jerry Dean, a 30-year veteran who has served as the leader for several projects. "We replace everything that needs to be replaced with components that are state of the art. Mechanically, we inspect it and perfect it. We add guarding and make it safer. We cut our own material. We drill our own holes. We do whatever it takes to deliver a like-new product that is maintenance- and operations-friendly."

More than 25 rebuild projects are completed in a given year. These have saved the company a tremendous amount of money vs. buying new and have uncovered hidden capacity.

"The more that you bring your own technology into the organization, the more that you rebuild your own equipment, the more that you enhance your own equipment, the better you are going to be," says Cole.

On any given day, the Marinette plant may have visitors from the corporate offices in Germany and Japan; from KSU sister plants in Mexico, Brazil, France, China, India and the Czech Republic; and from customer sites in the U.S. and around the globe.

In discussions with these guests, or in talks between various functional organizations of the plant, an understanding of this facility's health and capabilities is crystal clear. Everyone speaks the same language - the language of OEE.

"Everybody understands the OEE metric very well here," says Greenlund. "It drives our plant."

Adds Haulotte, "Every production manager, every supervisor, every engineer looks at that number because that tells us where we're at."

OEE is a mathematical metric that tracks sources of operating loss. It is produced by multiplying equipment availability (expressed as a percentage of the equipment's real-world optimum capability) by performance [a.k.a yield] (percentage of the optimal) by quality (percentage of the optimal). OEE figures are calculated for individual machines, work cells, linked processes, business units and as a plant composite, and can be analyzed on the macro or micro level.

"Having it broken down and being able to see all three parameters that go into that, you can really focus on what's driving some of the issues and where you may have some opportunities," says Greenlund. "If performance is off this month, why is that? If performance is fine but the machine wasn't available, why was it not available?"

Says Haulotte, "You start looking at the source of the loss or waste. I can address things now before there is downtime."

He adds that at this site, production owns the OEE metric. "Production collects and inputs the OEE data," he says. "We're used as a resource."

When the plant first began to track the metric in 2002, its overall OEE was 51.4 percent. The figure increased to 55 percent in 2003, 68 percent in 2004 and 72.2 percent in 2005. The final 2006 figure is projected to be 75 percent. The goal for 2007 will be between 77 and 78 percent.

"Every percent of OEE improvement is worth an additional week and a half of capacity to us," says Haulotte. "That's the impact and that's what keeps us scrapping for every percentage point."

With every year, though, it becomes tougher and tougher to make those gains. Much of the low-hanging fruit is gone, and Haulotte notes that industry experts pin 85 percent OEE as the benchmark for "world-class" plant performance.

"It seems like that 10 percent should be relatively easy to get, but it's very difficult," he says. "Knowing how hard we've worked and that we're still 10 percent away from world class is a big challenge. So, we will push on in 2007. We have OEE measurements for every single line, cell, machine. We will target our top areas. We will couple that with the business requirements. What piston programs are going to be growing? Which ones will be phased out? We will attack those top two or three assets to generate the improvement."

Increased capacity, availability, performance and quality are important to the present and future of this Karl Schmidt Unisia plant. For the past year, sales have soared, especially for its diesel products. Customers are pulling heavy, making a low-fat supply chain even tauter. These paying - and demanding - customers have time-sensitive needs, and can't be saddled with reliability "surprises" from a Tier 1 supplier.

"With that type of hand-to-mouth delivery system, you had better have a line that's reliable," says Greenlund. "Increased reliability means increased peace of mind for the customer. It means fewer calls from me telling them that the piston supply is going to get tight."

Plant leaders such as Haulotte are very pleased with the progress that has been made.

"We are, I believe, a success story," says Haulotte. "We are showing that you can succeed, even in a high-labor-cost country, if you work hard, think smart and come together."

However, the plant and the company refuse to be lulled into satisfaction.

"The bar is indeed higher," says Cole. "There are high expectations and unrelenting pressure. The expectations today around cost are huge. For quotes, our industry rounds off in pennies. Other industries, like aerospace and healthcare, round off in dollars. It's tight."

So, they proceed by drawing upon the business' diverse roots.

"The Japanese philosophy is indeed one of continuous improvement, always looking ahead," says Haulotte. "When I was a front-line supervisor in the Nissan area, we had a .05 percent scrap rate, the best ever in the company. We had 26 pieces of scrap for the entire year. I thought that was as close to perfection as you're ever going to get. When it came time to plan for the next year, Mr. Watarai gave me a new scrap goal: .03. Frankly, I was shocked, but the mentality was to always improve.

"The other part comes from our German owners. Their saying is, 'You did a good job, but …' A degree of credit is given, however the 'but' is a way of expressing that 'we can always do better; don't be satisfied with where you are at; let's take what we're doing today and push it to the next level.'"

With operators and technicians, hourly and salary employees, veterans and new hires - the best of all worlds - providing that push, Karl Schmidt Unisia can say, with some measure of reliability, that progress is imminent.

Subscribe to Machinery Lubrication

About the Author