by Dianna Brodine, managing editor
With four facilities, nearly 1,000 employees and highly recognizable brand names on its customer list, Revere Plastics Systems isn’t the typical small- to mid-sized processor featured in this magazine. A larger corporate structure, however, doesn’t keep the Clyde, Ohio-based manufacturer from experiencing the same challenges as others in the industry. In the last two decades, Revere Plastics has undergone ownership changes, diversified its customer base and realigned its production structures through training and interfacility communication. A focus on consistent processes has pointed the company in a new direction, to the benefit of employees and customers alike.
Committing to an identity
Revere Plastics has a complex history that began with the merging of two respected firms. Wollin Products and Plastics Engineered Components (PEC) merged to become Titan Plastics in 2001, with a private equity firm at the head. Through the next four years, quality concerns troubled the newly joined injection molding facilities, and growth was slower than expected. Steps were taken to effect a turnaround, including new management team members and facility restructuring to reduce costs, but the economic recession curtailed those efforts.
In the mid-2000s, the company was renamed and became Revere Plastics Systems. Company ownership changed again in the latter part of the decade, and another management team was tasked with leadership. Still, the slowly recovering economy – particularly as housing lagged in its rebound – kept a hold on Revere Plastics. It was time to try a new approach.
Glen Fish, current president of Revere Plastics Industries, is a mechanical engineer by degree and a problem-solver by trade. With a background in automotive, aerospace and defense, Fish had experience in revitalizing manufacturing facilities, and he believed the structure of automotive manufacturing could be applied in the consumer goods market with great success.
Building a turnaround
Phase 1: Aggressive focus on quality
In many ways, when looking to implement a new set of standards and procedures – especially with a new management team and employees who are potentially nervous about change – a focus on quality is the best place to begin. Production employees take pride in the work they produce, so creating structure that emphasizes improvements in product quality is a good way to get everyone on board. Metrics are easy to see and understand. Processes can be laid out in simple if/then steps. Results, once tallied, can be used to motivate employees and management alike to implement improvement standards and procedures in other areas. So, as a first step to building a better Revere Plastics, Fish asked his team to make an aggressive six-month push toward improved quality.
“At the Clyde facility, there had been so much change,” Fish explained. “The employees hadn’t had consistent structure or direction, and a focus on quality was going to give us both things.” One part, in particular, was a quality concern, and it became the “low-hanging fruit” that would provide a quick victory. Fish began holding daily meetings with the Clyde facility employees. A storyboard was wheeled onto the production floor to provide a visual reminder of the issue and the goals. Operators were pulled in to problem-solve, which had never happened before. Within a month, the quality issue had been solved.
“We celebrated,” said Fish.”I bought pizza for everyone, and we celebrated. They never had that before, and it made the team eager for more wins.”
Elevating the quality standards required both a change of culture and a form of training. “Engaging the hourly work force in finding the solution was key,” Fish explained. “We also were teaching the supervisors to be more data-driven and empowering them to make some decisions. The Clyde facility used to have staff meetings where supervisors went into a room and tried to figure out problems. I eliminated that meeting; instead, the general manager created a daily gemba walk so those working on the production floor can hear and participate in the problem solving. We ask the hourly employees to speak up and tell us what they want.”
Now in place for two years, the daily walk is an important part of the company culture, and quality standards are a matter of employee pride.
Phase 2: Diversification of customer base and product portfolio
The second step in Fish’s leadership of Revere Plastics Systems was a hard look at the company’s book of business. Focused primarily on the appliance market, Revere Plastics had a long-standing and successful relationship with Whirlpool, but diversification – smart diversification – needed to become a priority. A new facility had recently been built in Jeffersonville, Indiana, to accommodate incoming business in the appliance market, but a series of miscommunications left 30 presses and a new workforce underutilized. Although a small amount of lawn and power tool work remained from the days of PEC, no efforts had been made to expand the market, and one facility – possibly the facility with the most potential of the four Revere Plastics locations – was sitting in the middle of a major automotive market, but not developing any automotive customers.
“We created a business development position at the end of 2014,” said Fish. “By the end of the first quarter of 2015, we shipped some of the underutilized presses in Jeffersonville to other facilities to avoid buying new equipment. Labor and overhead resources were scaled back, and we’d returned some business to our customer that didn’t fit our core competencies.”
Fish then added five salespeople who focused initially on filling the open capacity in the Jeffersonville plant. In addition to appliance molding, the facility also has added automotive and outdoor power equipment production to its rotation. “There’s a shortage of capacity in that area on the automotive side, so we’ve struck a nerve that is creating opportunity for us,” he explained. “Once we felt the Jeffersonville facility was in a good place, we looked at opportunities in our other three facilities. We had infused the quality mantra and added more structure, such as daily key performance indicators. It was time to look at ways to expand.”
The Clyde facility remains predominantly filled with appliance work, although some automotive applications are rolling off the company’s 132 presses. With 600 employees at that facility alone, it is the largest in the Revere Plastics Group. The Revere Plastics facility in Canada is located in a region known for automotive production, but the organization has traditionally provided overflow work in small assemblies, along with home security and medical work. It’s small and profitable, but with open capacity that Fish soon hopes to fill as a supplier in the automotive market. The Poplar Bluff, Missouri, plant focuses on outdoor power equipment but also has some small appliance, automotive and medical work on its 47 presses.
“In all of these spaces where we have existing work, we’re asking where we can provide value and where our next frontier could be,” Fish explained. Revere Plastics purchased a 3D printer to assist its engineers with prototyping, and the company is focusing its efforts on bringing its own brand of value to new projects. “We created a product engineering group in the last 12 months that is leading the way in cost reduction engineering. It’s gaining us some traction in the outdoor power equipment market and with other appliance manufacturers. We want to gain a reputation for bringing value well beyond injection molding, and that includes both the engineering knowledge we can offer and the secondary services we provide on almost 90 percent of our projects.”
Phase 3: One RPS
Chaos can come with capacity maximization and new project onboarding, but Fish has a plan to address that, too. “One of the major things we’ve done is called One RPS,” he said. “Revere Plastics was a merger of two companies with different processes and systems, so we continue to commonize across all of our facilities.”
At the Clyde facility, a quarterly lean review is conducted with a lean sensei. Consultants come in one or two days each month to conduct additional lean reviews and training, and efforts have begun to increase communications across all four plants by making time for those of similar job titles at each facility to meet and share.
“Leadership wasn’t a strong point for us,” said Fish, “because it hadn’t been a focus. We put great people in place, but it was up to us to give them the resources they need. We hired a trainer to go to each facility every other month to teach time management, accountability and other leadership qualities to the management teams. Then, we asked him to include our team leaders and quality auditors. As were taking the next step in our lean journey, we’re rolling that leadership training out to the operators next year.
One RPS aims to make it simpler for four separate facilities to operate as one company. “We’ve stabilized the operations, added structured processes and put the right products to fit our identity into each plant,” said Fish. “We developed a mission, a vision and a five-year plan – all things that give us goals when we come to work.”
More movement on the horizon
Fish admits he sets high standards, and more changes are coming to Revere Plastics, both operationally and commercially. “There is no area where I think we’ve reached a peak yet,” he said. “For instance, our engineering talent is far above average, but we’re just tapping into that now, both from a product and a process standpoint.” Currently, the product engineering group is a support function for potential and existing customers, but it may eventually reach a point where its services are offered as a separate cost center.
Material flow is another area where Fish sees opportunity. “When you look at what we’re accomplishing in our facilities, I think the processes are starting to speak for themselves, but getting material to and from the machines can look somewhat chaotic,” he said. Beginning this year in both the Clyde and Poplar Bluff facilities, Revere Plastics is converting from forklifts to tuggers for material handling. Small totes will be utilized to move product instead of large bins, and the tuggers will travel the facility in a circular pattern on a more frequent basis, rather than having forklifts moving up and down aisles every few hours.
“At the Clyde facility, we are molding, welding and leak testing 20,000 parts for front and top load washers every day,” said Fish. “When we make this shift in material flow, it will improve our labor efficiency, improve our facility safety and clean up our plant. It’s a major culture change.”
These days, that’s par for the course at Revere Plastics.