Rethinking everything Featured

10:09am EDT July 22, 2002

Rethinking everything

When Aquatech moved into a smaller facility, the owners found savings in places they hadn't thought of before.

By Dustin S. Klein

When James Larr gazed out across the busy production floor at his company's plant in 1997, all he could see was more than 60,000 square feet of wasted space.

Larr is chief operating officer of Twinsburg-based Aquatech Inc., which produces sewer-cleaning equipment. He had just been told by the parent company, Columbia National Group, to cut costs and improve the bottom line. Part of the job, Larr concluded, would mean selling the 160,000-square-foot Streetsboro facility and finding a smaller plant.

But there was more to it than he realized at the time. His original intent was to shave the expense-payments, taxes, utilities, insurance-of excess real estate. In the end, he also found that it provided an opportunity to improve production efficiency and, therefore, margins.

Larr's first action was to get outside help-in this case, CAMP Inc.-to find the right facility. He expected it would have to be about 100,000 square feet.

"We looked at how their existing process was and how it could fit in with the real estate constraints of the building," says Deborah DeRusha, a CAMP senior manufacturing consultant.

When priorities were written down, the total amount of space was not the first consideration. The new building first needed to have high-cost infrastructure already in place: adequate overhead cranes, enough electricity and the necessary HVAC.

The best match, it turned out, had only 60,000 square feet. CAMP's next assignment was to determine the most affordable way to modify the building to squeeze Aquatech in.

That left Larr with the rest of the details-rethinking work flow and designing a floor plan. "Primarily, we were concerned with where we were going to fit everything," he says.

Larr says the tighter quarters required an entirely new layout-which meant revisiting workstation arrangement. Equipment was moved closer together and arranged to better align with the assembly process than the old plant.

And, since there wasn't enough space for a painting room, Larr weighed whether to build an addition or outsource that function. Outsourcing turned out to be less costly.

"We identified where we would put every machine," he says. "We actually placed a footprint on the plans for each one."

That comprehensive preplanning also paved the way for a quicker move, which was one of Larr's goals from the start.

"By having everything identified exactly where it was going to go and who was going to do it, we made the move over Memorial Day weekend," he says.

Lost production? Three days. "But we finished everything for May the day before the move and we had everything in for June," he says. "So we really didn't miss any time at all."

In the year since, Larr has measured not only a significant decrease in overhead, but also a 10 percent increase in productivity. Which has satisfied the bosses at Columbia National Group.