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Spring 2005


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Sidebar Feature   |  Spring 2005

Tapping into Purdue resources

Staying competitive in manufacturing doesn't just depend on having the latest equipment or the newest tools. As in any industry, initiatives such as minimizing waste, improving process efficiency and even boosting worker morale can have significant, positive effects on a company's bottom line.

Image: Fairfield Manufacturing

Purdue helps Indiana manufacturing companies improve efficiency and stay competitive in a world market. (Photo courtesy Fairfield Manufacturing)

One company that has come face to face with these issues is Fairfield Manufacturing. The Lafayette, Ind.-based manufacturer designs and produces gears for heavy machinery used in industries, including agriculture and mining.

When the company wanted to make the manufacturing process more efficient, management turned to Purdue's Technical Assistance Program (TAP) for help. TAP provides Indiana companies with free, short-term assistance with product development, advanced manufacturing, information technology and management issues.

Fairfield is consulting with TAP to implement lean manufacturing, a process that minimizes waste and organizes and manages production so that it runs more efficiently. Lean manufacturing has proven successful at industrial giants Toyota and Subaru of Indiana Automotive.

At Fairfield, lean manufacturing involves creating cells, or dedicated groupings, of the machinery used to build components such as gears and drive assemblies. For example, a wheel drive might travel more than a mile throughout the plant as various pieces are added to it or it is processed on different pieces of equipment. Cells can cut this travel distance—and its associated time and expense—by more than 40 percent, says Noel Davis, a vice president at Fairfield Manufacturing.

Another lean manufacturing principle that the company hopes to adopt is minimizing inventory by manufacturing only what customers need, rather than stockpiling large quantities of gears, shafts and other components.

Operational changes like these are major shifts in manufacturing culture, which has long adhered to the principle of maximizing worker hourly output. “These are not easy changes to implement, but these ideas are being used by our competitors all around the world,” Davis says.

While companies can make the changes on the assembly line, acceptance by workers is crucial to success. “It can't be done if the employees don't buy into it, so effective teamwork is important, too.” Davis says. “For lean manufacturing to work, you have to have the right training to remain competitive.”



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