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A wide range of projects achieves multiple improvements

Jul 29, 2018 | 08:00 PM |

Best Operational Improvements » Outokumpu Americas

Outokumpu Americas has recently embarked upon a series of operational improvement projects to help it achieve a goal set in 2016 by its parent company to become the best value creator in the stainless steel industry. This is being achieved through both greater engagement with its customers and other stakeholders, and increased efficiencies.

While there is no doubt that other steel companies are also very committed to employing tools to be more efficient and to create a safer work environment, Outokumpu Americas President Mike Williams says he believes there is something in his company’s organizational DNA, and in the passion that both its management team and workers possess, that empowers them to really embrace a continuous improvement mentality.

“We recognize that we have not yet achieved our ultimate vision,” Williams admits, “But we are definitely well on our way,” perhaps more quickly than some other steelmakers. It is because of this commitment to keep finding ways to improve itself that American Metal Market has presented Outokumpu Americas with its 2018 Steel Excellence Award for Best Operational Improvements.

One of the most important goals that Outokumpu has been looking to achieve – not just in the Americas, but worldwide – is to improve employee safety. It has been doing that with its SafeStart® human error prevention methodology, which drives employment engagement – not only in the workplace, but across all areas of the employee’s life.

“This is based on the philosophy that if we have a very effective and high performing safety culture, it will influence our whole organizational culture and business performance, including our efficiencies, our product quality and our customer service,” Williams explains.

Outokumpu introduced Phase 1 of this program, first on a pilot basis late in 2016, at its Americas unit, which includes its Calvert, Alabama, and San Luis Potosi, Mexico, plants plus its processing and metals distribution center in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Williams observes that after full implementation was achieved last year, Outokumpu Americas achieved a 14% year-on-year improvement in total recordable safety incidents and a 45% reduction in incidents that resulted in injuries.

Owing to these successful results, Outokumpu is currently implementing its SafeStart® methodology at its other operations globally. In January 2018 it began rolling out Phase 2 of the program at its Americas unit, where it is expected to be fully in place by the end of this year.

Williams says he expects that Phase 2, which builds upon the awareness orientation of Phase 1, should continue to result in dramatic improvements in the company’s safety performance as well as general business performance. He says it will do so by having employees make changes in their way of life, promoted by their recognition of their physical capabilities, including an awareness of fatigue and of the impacts of certain of their behaviors.

“By doing all the right things all the time, it really improves one’s behavior and performance in the workplace,” Williams says. “And if things aren’t right, it teaches you to take a step back and to take a course redirection to ensure that you are on target, not rushing, not overly fatigued and that you are focused upon doing the task at hand in the safest manner.”

Outokumpu Americas has also incorporated several other operational improvement projects, including initiatives to improve the throughput in both its melt shop and cold rolling operations in its Calvert, Alabama, mill. A series of projects at the mill’s melt shop has enabled the company to increase its capacity utilization last year from 90% of its nameplate capacity to greater than 100% by the first half of 2018.

This was initially accomplished – both in the melt shop and at the company’s cold rolling mills – by implementing aggressive predictive maintenance schedules for its equipment, improving the reliability of its production equipment by eliminating, or at least significantly reducing, downtime or production delays.

Additionally, Outokumpu Americas has begun using a lean engineering tool – the single-minute exchange die principle – to enable it to evaluate certain equipment that needs to be changed on a routine basis with time-lapse cameras and statistics, and to be able to engineer the necessary setups in a way that enables these change-outs to be accomplished in minutes as opposed to hours.

Williams says that Outokumpu Americas has a full pipeline of projects that it plans to undertake in the future, including a number that are aimed at focused on increasing its reliability. “Our product quality is excellent, but we want to achieve a much higher level of consistency and to be able to differentiate ourselves from our competition by becoming our customers’ most reliable supplier.” He explains that since the company’s products tend to go into very high-end applications, it involves some very sophisticated and complex supply chains that could be difficult to manage.

“Going forward we will continue to be heavily focused upon self-help, working closer with our customers,” Williams says, adding that Outokumpu Americas plans to do that while continuing to improve its productivity, optimizing its supply chains, improving its reliability and making sure it has adequate product availability and production capacity to meet market demand.


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