At Gros-Ite Industries, brainstorming isn’t just a matter of putting heads together for better manufacturing processes — it’s an all-out blitz of concept, images and solutions. Lorie Russo explains how.
There’s been a revolution at Gros-Ite Industries, a division of EDAC Technologies Corporation. Employees have overthrown the old manufacturing system, and instituted a new wave of continuous-improvement programs known as kaizen. The change has propelled the 54-year-old firm into the forefront of businesses focused on design engineering. Founded in 1946 in Hartford, Conn., by Wayne Gross and Robert Hite as Gros-Ite Design Company, Gros-Ite originally specialized in design engineering services. It has expanded its product offering to include precision machine spindles, precision aerospace components and specialized tools and equipment. The hallmark of its manufacturing capability is its competence in producing very large parts with exacting care.
The difference between then and now is part of a larger story of how businesses that continue to flourish often are those that adopt streamlined manufacturing techniques. Several years ago, Gros-Ite turned itself around by institutionalizing lean manufacturing concepts, known as kaizen, as the centerpiece of achieving benchmark quality, service and value. Kaizen is reflected throughout the corporation through the People Achieving Customer Excellence (PACE) program, which empowers every employee to become an agent for change. The goals are flexible and easy to work with. The result, says Vice President of Sales Joe Sartori, has been the development of a world-class working environment. Gros-Ite continually raises the bar in achieving excellence and embracing “goodness in behavior.” Kaizen training, according to Sartori, is an ongoing, evolving segment of Gros-Ite’s program.
Streamlining the Process
“Kaizen comes from Japan. It was developed by W. Edwards Deming, a former professor at MIT,” explains Sartori, a former student of Deming’s. “He traveled around to U.S. companies with a streamlined system of manufacturing, but no one wanted it so he headed off to Japan.” For Gros-Ite, the kaizen concept was borne out of work the company had been doing for Pratt & Whitney, which had launched a program called Achieving Customer Excellence (ACE). “It’s (kaizen) really a shortening of the manufacturing processes,” Sartori says. “It turned things around for us and has made a vast improvement.”
Kaizen has had an impact on streamlining the manufacturing processes in every business unit at Gros-Ite. In the Precision Engineered Business Unit – where Gros-Ite designs, manufactures and repairs spindles – a team center grouping of machines eliminates inventory backups and pinpoints defects instantly. Gros-Ite assembles all spindles in a Class 10,000 clean room, where extreme control of humidity, temperature and particulates ensures unsurpassed spindle life cycle. All new and repaired spindles are precisely tested and documented for vibration, temperature and dimensional characteristics prior to shipment.
Gros-Ite Engineered Solutions Division can deliver a competitively priced, on-time project from concept to production. Gros-Ite designs and builds jigs and fixtures, gauges, tools and tool holders, materials-handling devices and special machinery for the aerospace, jet engine overhaul and repair, medical, semiconductor, photographic and consumer products industries. Here, a kaizen shop floor idea resulted in a unique procedure of having the same technician both estimate and process the job to enhance personal responsibility and quality. In addition, a state-of-the-art Alpha CNC-controlled lathe is used to configure high-nickel alloy, handling the most difficult-to-machine materials with unrivaled precision. Another shop floor idea in this area resulted in the EDAC Route Sheet, in which the entire part-production process is planned beforehand, saving enormously on time and cost.
In the Precision Engineered Components unit, Gros-Ite builds many complex, zero-tolerance components for the aircraft jet engine and medical industries. Its precision assembly services include assembly of jet engine sinc rings and medical devices, aircraft welding and riveting, post-assembly machining and sutton barrel finishing. This unit’s CNC four- and five-axis equipment can machine components of 4 inches to 52 inches in diameter, and works with today’s most advanced alloys. Its MH80 five-axis machine can mill product of an unusually large 52-inch diameter. Kaizen was implemented in this area to reduce the hole-drilling operation from two steps to one using a countersink. Says Sartori, this new system dramatically cuts down on work time and cost.
The Precision Large Machining unit serves all major aircraft engine and land-based turbine manufacturers. The Large Turning Division produces low-pressure turbine cases, fan cases, hubs, rings and disks; it specializes in difficult-to-finish machine alloys such as cobalt-base alloys, titanium, high-nickel alloys and stainless steels. This division’s four-axis Okuma LC50 provides the enormous power and rigidity required for working with superhard materials, such as turning a shroud for a jet engine, which demands extremely tight tolerances. This division also has the capability of turning and milling parts complete from 52 inches to 144 inches diameter.
Sartori also points out that EDAC’s machining operation, contrary to others, is uniquely clean, spacious, highly organized and brightly lit. Another kaizen brainstorming session resulted in the Mobile Setup Unit, which contains everything for setting up, measuring and documenting. Every EDAC machine has one; what was once a four-hour step now takes 10 minutes.
A Revolution in Growth
Encompassing the three divisions, Gros-Ite’s sales volume is approximately $36 million annually. With that kind of growth, it only stands to reason that the company should extend its reach into other profitable areas.
Right now, says Sartori, Gros-Ite has entered into a three-year, long-term agreement with Pratt & Whitney to manufacture aircraft quality parts. The company also is currently quoting big orders for Rolls Royce in Great Britain as well as orders from MTU, which has entered into a joint venture with Pratt & Whitney for the new PWA 6000 jet engine. Gros-Ite is also planning a 2002 production for the F-119 fighter, another Pratt & Whitney program.
But Gros-Ite isn’t stopping there. The company also is aggressively pursuing Westinghouse and General Electric for the manufacture of land-based engines. These are jet engines that create electricity and can power up a whole town. In the new world of deregulation, these engines give small power companies an edge in what is to become a competitive business.
The trick, maintains Sartori, is to expand the customer base as well as capabilities. Above all, Gros-Ite does everything in peak form, ensuring that all measures have been taken to manufacture a superior product. The company continues to relentlessly strive for faster, less expensive, leaner and more precise manufacturing processes. Quality, in the Gros-Ite way of thinking, begins and ends with every individual.