Intertape employee at screen in factory Intertape Polymer

2017 IW Best Plants Winner: For Intertape, Being Stickler for Safety and Improvement Creates Culture Change

At one time, Intertape Polymer Group's Utah plant was stuck in neutral, until it hit a paradigm shift in continuous improvement.

As any continuous improvement leader should be, Erik Richardson is a stickler for safety. This makes the injury he incurred at Intertape Polymer Group's Tremonton, Utah, factory on Feb. 1 a tad embarrassing.

The manufacturer of food-grade shrink film and stretch film values safety above all else. Until Dec. 2016, the 115,540 square-foot facility had an amazing 766 day streak without an accident. Focusing on safety was part of the factory-wide culture change that led to several victories in continuous improvement. Then Richardson goes and cuts a finger while unboxing a new keyboard.

Although a very minor injury that required only a Band-Aid to treat, it was enough to bring the plant's safety sign from green to yellow and for Richardson to fill out an accident report. The new mannequin by the floor entrance, Safety Man Stan, also bore a symbolic wound—a yellow bandana to indicate where the incident occurred. The giant chart where they hold daily production meetings also logged the cut.

Intertape Polymer Group

Tremonton, Utah

Employees: 75

Total Square Footage: 115,540

Primary Product: Polyolefin shrink film and stretch film

Start-up date: 1997

Achievements: Span of 766 days safe; 72% reduction in defects in last 3 years; 97% reduction in quality returns since 2013; reduction in scrap by 78%; 12% reduction in energy usage; 4.6 suggestions per employee (89% implemented)

"That's something that wouldn't have happened in the past," Richardson says.

For a company that went more than two years without an accident, you'd think they played it fast and loose with the definition of an accident. But management here believes the opposite is true. Tremonton makes a big deal out of near misses because "those are all leading indicators to something major," Richardson says.

"About 10 years ago, we used to have a lot of accidents all the time," says plant controller Lisa Butler. "It was commonplace."

Since then, she adds, Tremonton has become more stringent with fewer incidents.

In 2013, there was a paradigm shift in how the plastic film manufacturer approached its operations—which basically entails processing, stretching, rolling and cutting material. To do this, they instituted the Intertape Performance System (IPS), a multiphased series of benchmarks centered around model machines most important to the business.

(Read more about the IndustryWeek Best Plants Awards.)

Each pillar of the business has a leader from productivity and safety to quality and continuous improvement.  For safety, Richardson credits involving everyone with the major improvement. It's part of the daily briefings, along with quality, delivery, and cost updates. And employees wear stickers indicating how many days safe the plant is.

"Prior to IPS, everything was about saving costs, which often led to low quality parts," engineering manager Bill Bourgeous says. "Instead of buying parts from an equipment manufacturer, we started cutting our own parts, which often led to a degradation in machinery. If you look at spending in repairs and maintenance, it went up dramatically."

Compared to throughput, it has dropped in recent years, he says. Another key was upskilling engineers on predictive and preventative maintenance, and logging processes for analytics.

"The culture now is to fix [equipment] correctly the first time, so you don't have to lose sleep over it failing in the middle of the night later on," he says.

For example, because the machines are much cleaner, they can tell if a bearing is going bad before it breaks and damages the shaft. Getting a repair part could take days and lead to a 30% loss in productivity, Richardson says.

(Download an application for the 2018 IW Best Plants Awards competition.)

There's been more emphasis on R&D in recent years as well, with control going to a business team and quality managers. The efforts have led to a 72% reduction in defects in last three years and a 97% reduction in quality returns since 2013. And it's taking less plastic material to do it, as they found a way to make the films thinner and recycle more of it.

A healthy dose of competition has also fueled the path to production perfection. The Danville, Va. facility won an IW Best Plants Award last year, which led to some friendly smack talk between Intertape factories' equipment optimization teams meet to compare standard metrics.

"There's a lot of competition," Bourgeous says. "It gets pretty excitable."

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