IMEC Success Story: Elkay Manufacturing, Water Cooler Manufacturing Facility

Posted by Amy Fitzgerald on Nov 30, 2011 10:24:07 AM

E3 review helps savanna manufacturer look at business with fresh eyes

Like other companies striving to stay competitive from a U.S. manufacturing base, one of Elkay Manufacturing’s biggest challenges is controlling operating costs. That’s why, with IMEC’s help, the company’s Savanna-based Water Cooler Manufacturing Facility recently took a deep dive into assessing economic, energy and environmental efficiencies—emerging with money-saving action items in each area.

Part of a Chicago-based family of international companies with more than 5,000 employees, Elkay’s Savanna facility employs about 200 and is the market leader in the manufacture and assembly of drinking fountains and water coolers for the commercial building market. Earlier this year, an IMEC representative stopped by the plant to provide an overview of training, benchmarking and consulting services. According to Plant Manager Kraig Kniss, the timing was just right.

“Our management team had recently completed a strategic planning process to identify specific areas of focus for 2012,” he said. “IMEC agreed to do a free lean assessment for us, and based on the results of that work, they recommended an E3 Review—which aligned with key areas our executive team wanted to pursue.”

Those areas were economy, energy and environment—the three “Es” in the E3 Review, a process that involves a customized, hands-on assessment of production processes, recommendations for improvement and assistance with implementing energy-saving projects. For Elkay, the review started with value stream mapping to identify specific process flow areas and root causes of waste within the facility, specifically those associated with the company’s highest volume product family. IMEC spent several days on site assessing various aspects of Elkay’s operations, calling on support from energy and environmental experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Energy Resource Center.

The end result was a list of specific action items in each of the three areas. From an economic and operational perspective, for example, IMEC recommended changes to the plant’s layout to improve efficiency and minimize rework. Energy improvement ideas included re-laying out some areas in the plant’s compressor room to drive better air flow, adding preventive maintenance checks to eliminate compressor air leaks, and installing more energy-efficient equipment when the time comes to replace existing models. Environmentally, IMEC’s suggestions focused on improving Elkay’s recycling efforts. The company added plastic recycling and rebid contracts on other recyclable materials—already making the switch to vendors offering better pricing.

Because Elkay is just beginning to implement many of the action items, Kniss and Production Manager Mick Dieterich say it’s too soon to quantify the results, but they hope to realize significant economic, environmental and energy benefits—many of which they say wouldn’t have been possible without IMEC’s help.

“IMEC’s strength is in the assessment and their willingness to look at the business from a broad scope,” Kniss said. “We had done some audits internally, but it’s important to get viewpoints from the outside. IMEC’s overall breadth of experience combined with the partners they brought in to help with the audit allowed us to identify improvements we may not have seen on our own.”

Dieterich agrees. “As you work your business day in and day out, you get so used to things you don’t see them anymore,” he said. “IMEC gave us the ability to look at our business with fresh eyes.”

Amy Fitzgerald

Written by Amy Fitzgerald

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