CeramTec: Learning for savings

Piedmont Technical College helps company improve

by Carol Sams

German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “You can, for you must (Du kannst, denn du sollst).” At CeramTec N.A. in Laurens, SC, three improvement teams have found that they “can,” bringing significant improvement to their organization.

Hubert Wyzlic, president of CeramTec says he is proud of the teams’ progress toward their quality goals. The Textile Continuous Improvement Team, the first team deployed last September, has already saved the company $40,000 per year in quality cost reductions. They say that exceeding CeramTec’s customers’ expectations for quality and service is their driving force, their central concern, and their reason to be in business. Quality service is "the only way to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s best in a competitive category."

CeramTec’s transformation starts with senior management

Wyzlic’s vision and the leadership of CeramTec’s senior management team have allowed CeramTec to begin a transformation of the organization. Beginning last year, the primary leadership team chose to use a systematic approach for continuous improvement. After conducting a needs assessment, Piedmont Technical College proposed using a customized training system using PQ Systems’ Total Quality Transformation. TQT® represents a family of instructional products based on the theory, process, and tools of continuous improvement.

To be truly successful, the company’s leadership team said, the company’s Strategic Business Units (SBUs) needed to "excel beyond their wildest dreams of their competitors—at just one thing." After selecting each SBU’s strategic intent, we used a process developed by Chip Caldwell of the Juran Institute, plus PQ Systems’ Foundations for Leaders, System Alignment Guide, Team Skills, and Total Quality Tools to deploy the strategic intent and provide future linkages for continuous improvement teams.

In 66 A.D., Caius Petronius wrote, "We trained hard—but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization."

System Alignment Guide provides transformation steps

To prevent history from repeating itself, Piedmont Technical College trainers used PQ Systems’ System Alignment Guide as our model to transform the existing project improvement team system. The seven steps:

  • Define the system
  • Document the process
  • Design the measurement system
  • Operate the system
  • Study the system
  • Stabilize the system
  • Plan for improvement

Upon completion of the 48-hour learning program, the Continuous Improvement Steering Committee, sponsored by CeramTec quality manager Edward Wawrzynski, gave a formal presentation of their team’s work and recommendations to the leadership team.

CeramTec’s TQT facilitators lead groups through improvement projects

Since successfully designing and implementing the process, CeramTec has six trained TQT facilitators who are capable of leading natural work groups or cross-functional individuals through improvement projects. CeramTec teams have completed three projects. The completed projects (and team names) are:

  1. Macro approach to improve yields (Heater Team)
  2. Micro approach to eliminate defects from components (Textile Team)
  3. Process capability improvement (Industrial Team)

Two project teams are working on continuous improvement today. Their projects may make dramatic process breakthroughs in

  • proposed changes in ceramic processing (Material Science Team), and
  • elimination of existing processing requirements (Ceramic Process Project).

TQT facilitators share lessons learned

PTC training staff interviewed two TQT project facilitators—Nikki Blasius, H.R. and training manager, and Edward Wawrzynski—to gain insight from their successes and failures during the life cycle of their project improvement teams.

  • Cost-benefit analysis: Training = $15,000, vs. first team’s savings of $40,000;
  • Quality theory was difficult for front-line employees to connect to quality improvement efforts;
  • PQ Systems’ team skills training was valuable to liven up hard skill learning;
  • Engineers really enjoyed the fun exercises in Team Skills;
  • Engineers became bored with quality theory;
  • Keep the project scope narrow to prevent teams from exceeding 6 months;
  • Prevent engineers from dominating groups;
  • All projects must have possibility of success;
  • Don’t focus too much on the theory up front;
  • Add team skills training for enjoyment and learning;
  • Use materials only if they are relevant to group success;
  • Meet once or twice each week for one hour;
  • Provide customer tours;
  • Everyone participated in the management presentations;
  • Teams went through all states of group development;
  • Provide analyticals (engineers) an external deadline to prevent overplanning

"To achieve improvement at a revolutionary pace requires that improvement be made mandatory—that it become part of the regular job, written into the job description." —Joseph Juran

For more information on continuous improvement programs, call PQ Systems at (800) 777-3020.

Carroll Sams, training coordinator for Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, SC, wrote the above article about the experiences of improvement teams at CeramTec, Laurens, SC. Sams and other Piedmont Technical College instructors facilitated training for these teams, using the Total Quality Transformation system developed by PQ Systems. As a result of the teams’ improvement projects, completed in conjunction with the training, CeramTec achieved substantial cost savings, as well as enhanced teamwork in the organization.