The Ties that Bind: DEMEP, FMC BioPolymer Division Work to Improve Efficiency

The FMC Biopolymer Business manufactures products for the food and pharmaceuticals industries.

The FMC Biopolymer Business manufactures products for the food and pharmaceuticals industries.

By Eileen Dallabrida

For half a century, FMC Corporation’s BioPolymer Division has operated a plant in Newark that produces excipients, organic compounds made from wood pulp that are widely used to bind or add viscosity to food and medicine.

FMC plant manager Graham Moore is intent on growing his segment of the market. DEMEP can help.

FMC plant manager Graham Moore is intent on growing his segment of the market. DEMEP can help.

If you ever wondered how the active ingredient in St. Joseph’s Aspirin for Children is delivered through an easily swallowed pill, thank excipients. The compounds also enable particles to be suspended in salad dressings, protein shakes, milk of magnesia, cough syrups and scores of other products.

FMC—once known as Food Machinery Corporation—also produces good jobs. In Newark, 105 people are employed at the plant, with wages starting at about $25 an hour. Forty-two percent of employees have worked at FMC for 20 years or more. The 26-acre plant pumps $23 million into the local economy each year, through wages, supplies and other expenditures.

Based in Philadelphia, FMC Corporation is a global leader in agricultural, specialty and industrial chemical markets. The company’s products and applications cover a wide range of uses to increase food production, enhance medicines, food and energy storage, and to clean soil, water and air. The FMC BioPolymer business manufactures products for the food and pharmaceutical industries in Europe, Asia and Maine, in addition to Newark, which specializes in sophisticated goods for such customers as AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Nestle.

“We’ve always been the plant that takes on the difficult products our competitors can’t copy, and then develops the new products that add value for customers” says Graham Moore, FMC Newark plant manager.

FMC is intent on growing that lucrative segment of the market. Newark had doubled production over the past 15 years, but was at risk for being passed over for expansion in favor of a location in Asia, where labor costs are lower.

In short, the local plant needed to prove itself by raising the bar even higher.

To find ways to squeeze new efficiencies out of the operation, FMC turned to the Delaware Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which helped management to arrange for a training grant through the Delaware Economic Development Office. Accredited by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, DEMEP’s mission is to substantially improve the quality, productivity and profitability of manufacturers in the state by identifying, transferring and implementing best practices.

“With a greater emphasis than ever on the bottom line, we are showing manufacturers low-cost ways to make their operations more efficient,” says Steve Quindlen, DEMEP executive director. “We are passionate about teaching manufacturers to succeed in a fiercely competitive marketplace.”

One of the most effective ways to increase productivity is to decrease down time, the minutes and hours drained away by bottlenecks in work flow or breakdowns of machinery. The plant already had an admirable overall equipment efficiency (OEE) rate of 82 percent. The lofty goal is to increase OEE to 90 percent by 2015.

“FMC is a very clean plant, not your typical 1960s-style facility,” says Jim Jones, DEMEP’s manufacturing specialist. “Essentially, our mission was to bring fresh eyes to the plant and find ways to improve maintenance.”

DEMEP meticulously mapped operations at the plant and analyzed processes for maintaining equipment. They discovered that a significant number of repairs were done on an emergency or unplanned basis. By predicting and scheduling repairs, FMC could minimize disruptions and keep the work flowing.

“If you know from your experience that a drive motor lasts five years, you don’t have to wait for it to stop working before you replace it,” Jones says. “Instead, you can block out the eight hours you need for the job during your down time so it doesn’t disrupt production.”

Workers were trained in total productive maintenance—known as TPM—in small groups of about 12, with each group devoting an entire week to the process, which represented a significant investment in resources.

“We believe learning best practices and becoming a world-class operation are worth the investment,” Moore says. “It pays off in future productivity and better morale.”

To accurately predict when maintenance is imminent, FMC measures such factors as the vibration and temperature of machinery, performs oil analyses, and has started using ultrasonic and infrared diagnostic devices to detect tiny problems before they escalate. That enables workers to make small adjustments or repairs before serious problems develop. As a result, the rate of emergency work declined has by 30 percent, and continues to improve.

Moore compares the process to fixing a loose handle on a kitchen sauce pan.

“If the handle is wobbly, you look and see that the screws are backing out a bit—then you take care of it immediately, rather than waiting until some future convenient time,” he says.

Taking a proactive approach to maintenance also will pay off in safety.

“We want to avoid situations where a worker is on his hands and knees in the middle of the night trying to fix something because those are situations that are inherently hazardous,” he says. “The wrench is much less likely to slip when you are doing routine maintenance in a nice, brightly lit spot on the day shift.

“To further boost productivity, there’s a bucket of small jobs, each lasting an estimated 15-20 minutes, which mechanics can take on if they finish their regular work earlier than planned, Moore says. Positive reinforcement is used to recognize employees for efficiency and effectiveness.”

Parts and tools are pulled in advance and placed in clearly marked bins with work orders attached to the front. Parts were reorganized to make them more accessible, with an easy-toread Excel software program as a guide. In the past, operators tended to avoid a cumbersome computer procedure for placing work orders. After the system was replaced with a simple touch screen, the number of operators placing maintenance work orders increased by a factor of 10.

FMC also compiled a list of “bad actors,” equipment that was chronically problematic. Some of these items can be addressed through world class maintenance practices; some will require significant investment to replace.

As a result of improved Planning and Scheduling programs, completed job orders are up 30 percent. OEE improved two points in 2011, and the plant is looking forward to continuing the upward trend.

“It was a choice of keeping doing what we were doing, pouring time and money into it, or adopting a different approach,” Moore says.

Instead of broadening operations in Asia, FMC decided to invest in its Newark location, based on the quality of production and support from state government. This year, the 145,000-square-foot plant will be expanded 25 percent. Eight workers will be added to the payroll.

“That gives us a great sense of security about the 105 people who already work here,” Moore says. “DEMEP helped to safeguard the future of this plant for many years to come.”