3M and Amano McGann Open Doors to Parking Today Editor
editor toured their facilities in late November. Here is his first-person account.
3M / MVSS
In September 2012, 3M acquired the assets of Federal Signal Technologies (FSTech) from Federal Signal Corp. and its associated brands. During the past year, 3M has been focused on integrating FSTech into its Motor Vehicle Systems & Services (MVSS) business. All former brands have been converted to the 3M brand, and MVSS now offers its customers a unique, integrated, automated vehicle identification (AVI) platform that combines the best of 3M-branded tolling, public safety and parking solutions.
The FSTech research, development and manufacturing operations also have been consolidated to four 3M locations. The 3M MVSS Research & Development staff includes leading scientists, software developers and engineers. They are in state-of-the art laboratories in Austin, TX; Knoxville, TN; Morrisville, NC; and St. Paul, MN. MVSS products are made in the 3M Manufacturing Centers in Austin and Knoxville.
The tour in Austin began in the facility’s conference room. Randy Henderson, Manufacturing Manager for the company’s Traffic Safety and Security Division, was extremely proud of the speed and efficiency that his company experienced in the moving of the manufacturing facility previously located in Federal Signal’s plant in University Park, IL. The FS Tech operation was integrated into a larger manufacturing group and had to be picked up and moved to Texas.
“We were fortunate that we were able to start with a blank sheet of paper and design the work flows and manufacturing processes from scratch,” he told me. The operation was moved to Austin to be near 3M’s other technology-based manufacturing.
The operation is a Six Sigma-style facility with safety as their first goal. Randy discussed in detail how precise documentation, employee involvement and manufacturing consistency lead to a safe employee environment and excellent product quality.
3M policy doesn’t allow pictures to be taken inside the plant, but suffice it to say that the floor was designed for good work flow and flexibility. This is an assembly plant, with most of the components built in other plants or at outside vendors.
I saw numerous pay-on-foot machines, ticket dispensers and gates in various stages of completion.
Most impressive was their inventory control. All inventory was placed in bins designed for the purpose, barcoded and numbered consistent with all 3M manufacturing.
“We are using experience we have gained through years of manufacturing engineering,” said Jason Dvorak, Plant Manager for 3M Austin. “This leads to consistency, and to the ability of our staff to move to different work stations with ease.”
A number of 3M parking distributers, or “value added resellers” as 3M calls them, were in Austin, and I was able to spend a few minutes with them. They all seemed very high on the new owners.
“It’s all about metrics,” one dealer told me. “They track everything and know about every component and process. This means we are receiving an incredibly consistent product.”
Amano’s manufacturing plant is located in Loveland, OH, a suburb of Cincinnati. According to my tour guide, Raymond Hassa, VP of Production Services, the plant is designed for quality and speed. “We produce a parking product, be it a Pay on Foot, Gate, Ticket dispenser, Exit Verifier every 20 minutes. That’s thousands of units a year.”
The assembly operation is down to a science, with every employee’s motions set to a bare minimum. Jim Hamann, director of Production engineering, showed me empty bins with part numbers stacked on the loading dock. They will be sent to vendors who will load the parts directly in Amano’s specifically designed boxes. “We don’t have to put the parts in our boxes when they arrive, they are ready to be taken to the line for assembly. If it’s a common part, like a connector or screw, we leave it in the supplier’s box but place our part numbers on the outside. We don’t want to have to do additional steps in the process if we don’t have to.”
The assembly staff have an alarm button near their station so if they run low on a part, or need help they don’t have to leave but simply hit the alarm. A floor supervisor immediately goes to the station and solves the problem.
There were large LED displays on the wall above the assembly area. “They are there so managers can see how the production is going and if it drops below a certain number, can go to the line involved and see what is slowing down the process. We don’t have to wait hours or days to see if there is a problem brewing” Hassa told me,
The plant’s general manager, Hiroaki Yamagishi, took me through their circuit board assembly area, with pick and place and wave solder machines turning out boards by the thousands. It is a clean room built on the factory floor.
Each component is tested completely prior to being placed in line for shipment. “We have literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different products. Our customers may have special requirements, say a different type of reader or combination of cash/coin/credit card acceptor and each has to be taken into consideration on the line when the product is built.”
The company has completed a separate line for the assembly of its new OPUSeries™ products that introduces a unique encrypted QR code that is placed on the ticket at each step of the process and includes information about the ticket. This new assembly process is described step by step on tablet computers for the assembly staff. This high-tech production line provides exploded drawings and videos of how to assemble every component and product at every workstation on the line. “If a staff member finds a better way to handle the assembly, they can provide electronic messaging on the tablet for the engineering staff to review and incorporate into the process,” said Hamann. “With these detailed instruction programs, we can do away with the ‘tribal’ manufacturing approach where one person trains another on the assembly. It gives us tremendous flexibility and a consistent product.”
Both 3M and Amano have invested considerable time and money to design and build manufacturing operations to fit their products. They ask for and receive input from all staff members, creating a team atmosphere that leads to high-quality, consistent production.
Amano McGann has taken the lead, with a new innovative product it introduced at the IPI show last spring and will be shipping in the first quarter of 2014.
3M has its work cut out for it, but if the plant I saw in Austin is any indication, it is the company that won’t be seen in rear-view mirrors for long.
John Van Horn is editor of Parking Today. He can be reached at email@example.com