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Vol. 8, Issue 2                     February 2008

By Hillary Gavan
Stateline Business Writer

SHOPIERE -- "It's a shining star -- a prime example of emerging Lean Six Sigma operations."

That's what Bernie Nielsen, Regal Beloit Durst-Mastergear's vice president and general manager says about his company's progress during the past three years.

Nielsen and the rest of the team at Durst-Mastergear have witnessed something of a miracle. In the past two years, Nielsen said, the company transitioned from barely profitable to high profitability.

Not only has Durst-Mastergear improved its manufacturing processes, but it also has consolidated two divisions in less than four months time to better serve customers.

"There are two different concepts of lean manufacturing existent in this plant. It's very unusual to have that diversified of an operation practicing the full gamut of lean principles and methods in one plant," Nielsen said.

Regal Beloit, parent of Durst-Mastergear, is a leading international manufacturer of electrical and mechanical motion control components headquartered in Beloit. From electric motors and generators to gear reducers, and electronic switchgear, Regal Beloit's products are often concealed within, but essential to the function of much of the equipment powering the world.

Durst-Mastergear, at 5560 E. Buss Road, Shopiere, is the only manufacturing facility of Regal Beloit in the Stateline Area. Durst-Mastergear is composed of Durst, a manufacturer of turning gears, pump drives, transmissions and other industrial products. Mastergear, formerly located at 5466 E. Rockton Road, South Beloit, makes valve actuators and quarter turn gear drives.

"It's very diversified to the extent that many of them are small and some of them are almost as big as a room. We build all the turning gears for every General Electric turbine that goes into installation in the world. Our products are primarily sold in the U.S., but there are increasing global sales as well," Nielsen said.

Here's the story of Durst-Mastergear's transformation.

"Five years ago Durst was employing conventional methods of operation and sales were dropping," Nielsen said.

One of the first steps to change was implementing Lean Six Sigma methodologies. Lean focuses on speed and the elimination of waste, while traditional Six Sigma focuses on precision, accuracy and elimination of defects. At Regal Beloit, the role of Six Sigma involves the improvement of all types of business processes. By combining the two techniques, the result is improved business performance by eliminating waste and improving productivity throughout the company.

Manufacturing operations such as GE Capital, Caterpillar Finance and Lockheed Martin have all implemented Lean Six Sigma, according to the U.S. Army Business Transformation Center's Web site.

As Six Sigma has gained popularity, training for it has cropped up in training centers all across America. Each participant of the Six Sigma program can attain a green or black belt status indicating leadership abilities.

Successful green belts are able to allocate half of their time to a four-to-six-month Six Sigma project, while black belts normally dedicate at least 75 percent of their time to a long-term project.

Some companies have added either Lean or Six Sigma, or both to their existing techniques, while other companies have brought on consultants to implement the programs.

In the case of Durst-Mastergear, Lean Six Sigma practices had evolved from Regal Beloit's acquisition of General Electric's heating, air-conditioning and ventilation division in 2004. The good news was that before Durst launched Lean Six Sigma, both Durst and Mastergear started down the path of Lean with Mastergear starting three years ago and Durst starting about four years ago.

Although the beginnings of Lean and Six Sigma were in place at Regal Beloit, it needed to be upgraded at Durst-Mastergear. Everyone in the building had to commit to it. Managers had to become trained so they could train other employees. One by one everyone at Regal Beloit got behind the company's efforts to drive out waste and reduce costs. The most important aspect of Lean and Six Sigma is the involvement and ownership by every employee.

"It's not just people in the offices. All the plant personnel get to have involvement and ownership. The people in this facility have responded extremely favorably and have taken ownership and generated outstanding results," Nielsen said.

Over the past two years Regal Beloit Corporation has trained approximately 548 green belts and 62 black belts including nine green belts and two black belts employed within the Durst-Mastergear operations. 

Looking ahead, Carroll Stein, vice president and general manager of Mastergear Worldwide, is leading the way in the implementation of Lean practices in their European operations, after successfully completing that same initiative for Mastergear in the United States over the last few years. Their support has greatly enhanced our ongoing Lean Six Sigma initiatives.

"It's an ongoing thing and we are going to keep broadening the base," Nielsen said.

The leaders in implementing Lean initiatives for the combined Durst and Mastergear manufacturing operations have been John Vormezeele, Gene Mund and Steven Strait, with support from black belts Terry Pearson and Jim Packard along with green belt project leaders.

To drive waste and costs down, changes had to be made at each work station and every square inch of the shop floor.

One change, for example, was the job of machinist Carter Shores. Before Shores had operated a CNC lathe. After implementation of Lean Six Sigma, however, he and other operators were responsible for producing parts from start to finish. Shores now has to set up a number of machines to make the part and inspect it.

Keeping a part in one area reduced the waste of transporting it to other departments and gave each operator more of a sense of ownership in their work.

"He (Shores) owns that gear from start to finish," Pearson said.

An automatic tool dispenser was set up to reduce the need for ordering more parts and keeping extra inventory which could be considered waste. With the goal of speeding up production and to lowering costs, inventory had to be reduced.

Another improvement was the installation of heat treatment equipment. All gears used to be outsourced for heat treat, therefore, the existing equipment has served to eliminate transportation cost, reduce processing cost and vastly improve processing time, the net result is reduced lead time and improved on-time delivery to our customers.

Durst-Mastergear was so successful that employees have helped train other employees in Lean at the Regal Beloit's Packard Learning Center, a world class training center.

Thanks to the adoption of Lean Six Sigma, Durst-Mastergear has made astounding strides. Since 2003, sales have tripled, employment has doubled and profitability has skyrocketed. The company expanded and updated its product line with innovative and patented new products.

In addition to Durst-Mastergear's successful implementation of Lean Six Sigma, the company has also successfully undergone the massive asset transfer and consolidation of Mastergear and Durst. Until six months ago, Mastergear had its own operations at 5466 E. Rockton Road, South Beloit. 

Nielsen is happy to report the consolidation is going smoothly.

"It's all about people engaged in a journey involving continuous improvement that never ends. Training, empowering and supporting them are critical to success. Our people have responded favorably which, coupled with the overriding Regal Beloit support, provides promising optimism for the future. Quite frankly, I must admit that our people have achieved results to date that are well beyond my initial expectations. At this point, I simply look forward to their ongoing achievements, which seem to be unlimited. At the ripe old age of 70, it's refreshing to work with the outstanding combination of our people and Regal Beloit who value them as their most valuable asset," Nielsen said.


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