Moving minus the madness

Posted on Mar 1, 2014 :: Cover Story
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

Say your company is bursting at the seams and you need to expand your facilities, or you think it’s time to bring several facilities under one roof.  You’re about to face some major upheaval, and you can’t afford to interrupt production. What do you do?

Either way, it’s not something you want to do on the fly.

“I think our project plan is probably well over 200 to 250 pages long,” says Scott Kettler, general manager of Plexus Fox Cities, which consolidated three of its production facilities into a new building in Neenah. The company broke ground on the new facility June 2012, took ownership of the building in September, and moved its first production lines in October. The consolidation was complete in February.

“We’re a contract manufacturer – we’re building other customers’ products, so all of the upfront planning goes into making sure you can move and not disrupt your customers,” Kettler says.

All of the company’s moving plans centered around a two- to three-week buffer of product shipments. The company planned for being down three days during weekend moves, but the extra wiggle room was included in case anything went awry, Kettler says.

“We had to go sell this to our customers,” Kettler says. “They were very nervous about a move of this scale and size, and three facilities. But we had done so much preplanning.”

Plexus armed itself with information such as demand, consumption rate, fixed manufacturing lead time and engineering time. It developed a “FMEA,” or failure modes and effects analysis, noting possible risks that could occur from the time equipment was shut down to when it was put on a truck and moved to the new facility.

“It allowed us to very seamlessly plan,” Kettler says. “And why it took us five months to move is we didn’t shut down an entire building and pick it up and move it.” Instead, the company moved its operations by sector, or department.

Making communication with the customers a priority helped facilitate the move.

“I think anytime that you’re moving from one facility to the other, there’s an element of risk – ‘What if you drop my products? What if you get into the new facility and there’s no power? What if, what if, what if?’” Kettler says. “This is where having those conversations early with the customer to ease their concerns over time, and making them part of the process, was key.”

One customer, for example, needed a six-month safety net of products rather than the two to three weeks Plexus had planned, Kettler says. Another customer received an urgent order and needed its entire stockpile of products shipped immediately – the day before Plexus’s first move.

“But, again, because of our planning, that Monday we were building product and we had our first shipments back to them that Wednesday,” Kettler says. “Literally, three days later we were shipping product again, even though they had consumed in one fell swoop two weeks of build-ahead.”

Tripling size
Green Bay-based Cherney Microbiological Services, which expanded its facility from 8,000 square feet to nearly 25,000 square feet over a 14-month period completed in 2011, faced similar concerns from its client base, says Debbie Cherney, president and director of microbiology.

“There were a number of clients who were involved and asked about how we were maintaining the integrity of the work we were doing,” Cherney says. “All of them were very satisfied with the efforts that we had in place to just continue to maintain that sample integrity.”

That kind of communication and planning is absolutely vital with employees, contractors and project managers as well.

At Cherney, Ryan Bobholz, Cherney’s quality manager for continuous improvement, was assigned to be project manager during the construction to help ensure open lines of communication. Bobholz met daily with the project’s general contractor, Dean Snyder Construction of Clear Lake, Iowa, who had stationed someone at Cherney to work on planning around the company’s production.

The contractors were “phenomenal” in working around Cherney’s operations and avoiding interruptions to the daily work of the company, she says. “They understood and were just so involved and committed in making our life ‘not miserable’ and doing it as quickly and competently as possible.”

The company completed the addition first without doing any renovation in the existing 8,000 square feet, Cherney says.

“Then there was one day where there needed to be a doorway, so the doorway was cut in and then that opened up the area to the laboratory, and then that area was quarantined off and no longer used by Cherney as a functioning area,” Cherney says. “So for a little bit of time we had to take a department and crowd it into another department to be able to keep going. But that was done at the very last stages.”

Bobholz says it was a bit of a challenge to get the new lab up and running, transfer items to the new lab and remodel the existing lab without significantly interrupting operations. Add to that the challenge of being a laboratory and needing to have everything clean and under control, and it’s easy to understand the obstacles.

“So there were some challenges from a scheduling and from a logistics standpoint that we worked through,” Bobholz says. “Having that general contractor who understood our business needs and what it meant to us – they were able to help work with the subcontractors and make it happen.”

Bobholz says having detailed plans in place for department moves that included date, time and length of temporary shutdowns helped employees plan around the site work that needed to be done.

“I didn’t expect to get resistance, but at the same time I wasn’t quite anticipating the level of enthusiasm and cooperation that I saw,” Bobholz says.

Open lines of communication and keeping everyone informed of what’s happening helps smooth the transition, Bobholz says.

“I really think that was one of the biggest reasons we had the successes we had, from a cooperation standpoint,” Bobholz says. “We kept them involved, and we did it throughout the project. We did a number of walkthrough tours, status updates, we took them through before any of the walls were up, to see the size of what we have. We had the walls essentially drawn on the floor. It was really neat to see that employee engagement, and they felt that they were actually a part of it, not just, waiting to be shoved into this new space.”

Plexus held an open house in July and helped introduce employees to the new larger facility with a picnic, Kettler says. Two weeks before employees moved, they went through an orientation.

“While we’re all one name, every time you’re in a facility you have a culture that’s in that facility,” he says. “You really have to make them a part of the process to ensure that you could move in and start to execute immediately.”

Schreiber Foods headquarters
Schreiber Foods in Green Bay is completing a $50 million headquarters in downtown Green Bay that will bring 550 employees from six facilities together, says Andrew Tobisch, director of communications. Schreiber’s move, as with Plexus, will be done in a phased approach. The company will likely start moving people in late June and finish in August, and it’s already helping its employees (which the company calls “partners”) to prep.

“There will be a move guide that we put together that will help them understand what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and what they need to do to make sure their items make it from their current location over to the new location,” Tobisch says. “We’ll have ‘team captains,’ that help get information out to our partners, so they’ll have a contact person that they can go to, to ask questions and to get information.” They’ve held “town hall meetings,” as well.

“Our president and CEO actually conducts those, and he’s been very involved with the project, as have many of our executives,” he adds.

The meetings offer discussion on the consolidation-related decisions that have been made, what employees can expect, what the new facility will be like, and if there will be potential changes to watch for.

“One of the big questions is, ‘Where am I going to be sitting?’ so we answered that for them,” Tobisch says.

The company also has an intranet page that’s updated daily with news about the new building, sometimes including video.

What’s ahead
Cherney Microbiological is expanding into New Mexico to serve dairy-based clients in that area, says Brian Van de Water, Cherney general manager.

One day, the company may also continue expanding its facility in Green Bay – a thought that Van de Water suggests other companies consider as they plan an expansion: What might come after that?

“There will be a point in time when we’re going to say, ‘We need to expand again,’” says Van de Water. “You may never get there, but if you’ve at least thought it through, you can make that next transition without having to take out areas that you just put in.”

Companies that have been through the process of consolidation or expansion know that the more you have planned out ahead of time, the less likely you are to run into problems along the way. Here are some tips based on steps other companies took before they made the big move:
» Choose a general contractor that understands your industry.
“The general contractor that we used had built some labs in the past,” says Ryan Bobholz, quality manager for continuous improvement for Cherney Microbiological. “They came in and spent a full day onsite seeing what we had, how we did things. They stayed very involved with regular meetings throughout the project.”
» Determine the areas of potential risk, such as delays in product delivery or sensitivity of equipment.
» Talk to your customers about those risks and how you plan to avoid or assuage them.
» Talk to your employees about your plans and have a system for regular updates and access to information. Offer opportunities for input whenever possible.
» Develop a detailed plan for the moving process.
“You need to have a schedule that addresses every step of your process, and it has to fit to a timeline,” says Debbie Cherney, president and director of microbiology for Cherney Microbiological. “It has to be a buttoned-down process from beginning to end. It’s like building a house – there are steps in the process and a good contractor keeps the flow going for that timeline.”
» Do a test run, if necessary. Plexus worked with its rigging company to move a manufacturing line from one old facility to another to ensure that everything would work when they moved the line permanently, says Scott Kettler, general manager of Plexus Fox Cities. “We tested all of this to take the risk out of it to make sure that we were very confident we were going to be able to move.”
» Acclimate employees to the new space. Offer tours of the new facility.