Georgia Tech Helps Company Meet Customer Needs

Lean manufacturing principles boost productivity and cut delivery time

When officials at one of the world's premier golf club manufacturers were looking for ways to improve their production process, they didn't realize that a new and better approach was already sitting in many PGA professionals' golf bags.

Albany, Ga.-based MacGregor Golf Co., which employs about 115 workers during peak production, has been producing golf clubs for more than a century. In recent years the process typically worked like this: New designs were created for the upcoming season, raw materials obtained, club parts manufactured to the new specifications and clubs were assembled in batches of 50. Customized clubs accounted for about 10 percent of the company's annual output.

The process left MacGregor with a substantial surplus inventory at the end of the year. The company couldn't discount the inventory without, in effect, competing with its own new designs the following season.

The burdensome and costly end-of-year surplus was a topic of conversation this past fall when manufacturing manager Scott Nix met with Art Ford, South Region manager of Georgia Tech's Enterprise Innovation Institute, and Ed Hardison, a quality/environmental/energy specialist from Tech's Albany, Ga., office to talk about Georgia Tech's services, including lean manufacturing assistance. The discussion was followed by a preliminary on-site assessment by Ford and John Stephens, a Georgia Tech lean-manufacturing specialist based in Eastman, Ga.

Following a presentation at the company on lean management, they recommended conducting a kaizen class - a fast and focused problem-solving exercise - to introduce lean-manufacturing concepts to a cross-section of MacGregor employees, according to Nix. "I sent about 25 people to the class - managers, people from different departments, and four or five team leads who went through the whole simulation process. The light went off in everybody's heads: Wow! This is a pretty cool way of doing it."

Next, Stephens devised the nuts and bolts of a lean manufacturing program for MacGregor, the heart of which is called a manufacturing cell. A cell is a system where everything needed to build a particular product - from raw materials to packaging - is contained in one compact area.

MacGregor started this past February with a cell to make wedges and irons, then added another for putters and metal woods. Plans for a third cell are on the drawing board.

"Products move from one operation to the next easily - you're just passing the product off as you make it, so basically you're making one at a time," explained Stephens. "There's no up-front picking or sorting of materials, so that labor is eliminated. There's no movement throughout the plant of batches of irons, as there was before."

Unlike a conventional assembly line, the cell is configured in a U shape, which brings tasks and workers closer together. "Consequently almost any person in the cell can help almost any other person in the cell because they're all that close," he added.

The cell accommodates the principle of lean manufacturing that an item is not produced until there is an order for it, according to Stephens.

"You should never have any finished goods sitting around," he explained. Lead times may dictate a need to store certain raw materials, "but you don't put the effort or labor or overhead into producing items and putting them into finished-goods stock."

The approach is similar to MacGregor's custom work for touring PGA professionals. Each club is produced individually, and a set is complete and shipped within two days.

One of the keys to rapid turnaround was that club heads were attached to shafts with an epoxy that cured in 15 minutes at room temperature. In MacGregor's standard procedure, heads were affixed with a glue that had to be cured in an oven for two hours. The epoxy method was adopted for all production.

"You could get custom clubs faster than you could get stock product, which didn't make any sense," Nix said. "We were already doing lean manufacturing, accidentally, on the custom side. John came in and helped us adapt our custom express philosophy over the whole plant. Now everything is made to order."

Also important is that the product quality for which MacGregor is famous has not been compromised by the cell manufacturing approach.

"There's a lot of care taken in the cell generally, and there's a lot of cleaning of the finished product before it gets to the last station of the cell, which is packing," Stephens said. "Clubs have to be blemish-free, they have to be perfect."

Results from the lean manufacturing process at MacGregor have been impressive, according to MacGregor Senior Vice President Joe Rocco. Productivity has increased 50 percent while labor savings of about 25 percent have come from both production and shipping, since clubs leave the cells packaged and labeled, he says.

"The biggest savings have come from the elimination of obsolete inventory," Rocco noted. "Energy costs have decreased because cure ovens are no longer necessary, and the entire manufacturing operation uses only one-fourth of its former space."

Customers are happier because an order is built and shipped within 48 hours, versus one week under the old system, he adds. "Rapid response time also provides us with the flexibility to meet increased demand for a particular product."

From a different standpoint, Stephens was impressed with MacGregor's flexibility too. "Although this was a big change for them, they were already in the mindset that change is good," he said. "They just moved ahead and implemented a lean approach."

For more information on lean enterprise services of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, please contact Tim Israel (404-894-2272); E-mail: (tim.israel@innovate.gatech.edu) or John Stephens (478-374-1493).

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Media Relations Contact: John Toon (404-894-6986); E-mail: (john.toon@innovate.gatech.edu).

Writer: Gary Goettling