shipping rate. In a nutshell, speeding up that timeframe was
the crux of the transformation. George’s team collaborated
with GE’s outdoor lighting sales staff to create a roadmap for
“We wanted to get it to two weeks or less, and 95 percent
on-time,” George says. “That became the driving goal: ‘How
do we take where we are and get there?’”
According to George, the simple answer was a three-part
formula: you need a customer order; you need to know which
of GE’s millions of SKUs to build and how many; and you
need the material on-hand. The team moved forward with
that framework and built it out. At a high level, it’s still how
the plant runs today.
On a granular level, the team overhauled three areas of
the plant’s manufacturing operations — order processing,
materials and production — and shortened the overall
cycle. With order processing, GE streamlined who needed
to be involved, making the customer order flow a straight
line instead of getting held up in different departments.
Exceptions to the straight-line process were treated as true
exceptions instead of as the rule. Instead of arbitrary order
scheduling, the plant installed a first-in, first-out queue.
On the material side, the plant adopted a supermarket
concept for the floor layout, making it so that all material
enters the plant on the north end and leaves on the south end.
When material comes in, it is inspected and then sorted into
the appropriate “supermarket” aisle on the north end, with
items sorted by commodity.
On the production side, the plant began using “
mini-markets” — assembly subsets of the supermarket that only
have the parts needed for a particular product line. A bin
system cut down on transactions in material requirements
planning (MRP). The plant’s new customer-centric assembly
process was based on order size instead of overall volume.
“We changed from, ‘How efficient were you today?’ to
on-time ship hits and misses,” George says. “It ended up
being a far more beneficial metric than we every realized
because every last employee can relate to the importance of
shipping on time.”
When it came to small orders — as small as single-digit orders — the plant made small work cells where an
employee assembles the entire light fixture from start-to-finish, instead of the traditional assembly line processes
where one employee handles one assembly task at a time.
So if the plant receives an order for three lighting fixtures,
the same employee is going to assemble all three entirely,
test them and get them shipped. Meanwhile, large orders
are handled by a more traditional assembly line. But a key
change was orders of all sizes were given equal priority,
Martin elaborated how the Hendersonville plant was
operating in a traditional batch-oriented manufacturing
process, using MRP. For a vertically integrated manufacturer,
MRP works well because the facility makes its own products
and can react to fast changes. But when that manufacturer
starts offloading processes to vendors and not making it
A look at the "Supermarket" section of the Hendersonville plant, which houses all its product materials.