Improving Production Line Capacity

May 6, 2018

Sempangi Jones, of Haslam's 2017 Professional MBA class, devoted his Organizational Action Project to improving productivity, eliminating redundancy, and reducing costs by cross-training workers at the Arconic, Inc. plant in Alcoa, Tennessee.

CHALLENGE: Aluminum is on a roll with North American auto makers. The drive to build lighter, safer, stronger, and more fuel-efficient vehicles is fueling the demand for aluminum sheet. To keep pace, aluminum manufacturers need to be ready to regularly—and nimbly—ramp up production. Scheduling to meet demand is more efficient when the entire production workforce is trained for complete interchangeability. As Professional MBA (ProMBA) student Sempangi Jones, Human Resource Business Partner at Arconic, Inc., discovered, such flexible scheduling wasn’t an option on the HotLine, the department responsible for making aluminum sheet at the Arconic, Inc. plant in Alcoa, Tennessee. Instead of being interchangeable, the HotLine department was divided into three separate mills, each requiring a unique skill set.

PROJECT: Jones’ Organizational Action Project focused on improving productivity, eliminating redundancy, and reducing costs by cross-training the hourly workers on the HotLine.

PROCESS: In his role as an Arconic Human Resource Business Partner, Jones serves several different departments, including the HotLine. To gain a better understanding of the issues facing the HotLine supervisors, crew leaders, and hourly workers, he talked directly to the people on the front lines of production. “I wouldn’t have been able to talk to our external customers without having done this MBA project,” Jones says. “Doing this helped me understand the HotLine more…the shifts, the overtime, and how the experience was different depending on where you worked.  The program helped me understand more of the other functions of the business and then apply those learnings to better talk to my management team and internal customers.”

Through his field work, Jones saw and learned firsthand how the HotLine’s three mills essentially operated as separate entities. Skills were specific to each mill, which, among other challenges, created scheduling and quality of life issues. For example, while it wasn’t unusual for employees in one mill to work four or five weekends straight, workers in the other mills had weekends off. To schedule and work smarter, Jones proposed cross-training HotLine employees in the skills needed for all three mills, and then, working with the union to create a job title and wage for the new role.

RESULTS: For management, cross-training would position Arconic, Inc. to efficiently and cost-effectively keep pace with the growing demand for automotive aluminum sheet. For employees, cross-training would increase understanding and ownership of the entire manufacturing process. “We’re not displacing people,” adds Jones. “We need those people. Our overall headcount is capped, so adjusting what we do on the HotLine would allow us to flex. It’s a smarter way to work.”

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