Winona PVD Coatings takes quality so seriously that out of the almost 1.5 million wheels shipped in the past ten years, the company has seen the number of returns in the single digits.
The company coats wheels with a bright finish for Ford’s F-150 along with Hyundai, Nissan and BMW. The company focuses on quality, continuous improvement, and high-technology manufacturing—the coatings process is so automated that wheels are not touched by human hands in the six hours it takes to produce them. In the past year, the company tripled its output and workforce.
“Quality standards for the automotive industry are very demanding and only the best players can participate in that market,” says Tom Foley, president of Dynavac, a supplier for the company. “And Winona can certainly do that.”
The company was founded in 2006. Back then it was located near Winona Lake, in Warsaw, Indiana, a town known as the orthopedic capital of the world, a few hours outside of Chicago, down the road from a Medtronic plant.
The beauty of the Warsaw location is that there is plenty of room to expand, as CEO Scott Dahl points out, and they will. They currently have two buildings with three lines total, and the second building, with a chandelier made of Ford F-150 wheels, is undergoing a 83,000 square foot addition that will be completed in October.
The PVD (physical vapor deposition) coating provides the reliability of a painted wheel but the look of chrome and saves one to two pounds of weight on each wheel.
“Obviously quality is first and foremost of what we do,” says Rick Groom, director of operations at Winona. “A defect equals a reject.”
To prevent rejects, the company monitors defects closely, takes immediate corrective actions, and then looks for a root cause. The process involves cleanliness, checklists and standardization. To that end, the high-volume lines two and three are identical in how they look and run. Line one handles with smaller, aftermarket orders.
THE BIG ORDER
And the process is working. As Executive Vice President Larry Beals says, Ford doesn’t just put a new company with a new technology in place without being confident of the results.
At first Ford gave them a smaller order, with contingency plans in place. When Winona delivered 300,000 wheels with zero defects, then they received a larger order and then the F-150 job. “Since then, we’ve not disappointed,” Beals says. “We stepped up to the plate.” Ford visited the company a month earlier and said it was unusual for such a small company to have such a large order.
The company is awash with quality initiatives, including Six Sigma, SPC, Design of Experiments, Ishikawa diagrams, the Five Whys and the 8Ds. Beals is black belt certified, and the company has several other Six Sigma leaders, which for a small organization is a good start, says Dahl.
But at even the best-run companies, quality issues do crop up. About a year ago, a few defective wheels came back from the field. Beals compares it to a plane crash—multiple factors have to be in place in order for it to occur. To prevent future issues, they modified a lot of process parameters, looked into contamination, and added more pass/fail conditions. All of this was done to keep their rejected parts per million (ppm) in the single digits.
At first the company noticed natural fibers contaminated the wheels, so they switched to cleanroom suits. Then they noticed an increase in synthetic fiber contamination—coming from the suits themselves, since they weren’t full-blown cleanroom suits. Now that they have switched to official cleanroom suits, fibers of any kind are nearly eliminated from the process.
PARANOIA AND CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
Dahl joined the company about six months ago, and says he has tried to accelerate the continuous reduction of defects. “Zero defects for us is clearly the vision,” says Dahl, who lives close by and often stops in at odd hours. Whenever he walks the floor—often in jeans and cowboy boots—people pull him aside with suggestions.
The staff includes 150 people, working three shifts 5.5 days per week, and they plan to hire more once the new line is up.
Attention to detail has helped the company grow from a startup to a Cinderella success story. Though the PVD technology is not new, the company has been successful in refining the process. And they want to continue to grow and offer new technologies.
“If you’re running faster than everybody else, you don’t have to worry about the competition,” Beals says.
ON THE FLOOR
The company offers three different finishes: bright, a black chrome look and liquid silver. Preferences vary across continents, with Europeans often preferring the black chrome style. (The bright finish looks “too USA.”)
The plant floor itself seems mainly inhabited by towering stacks of finished wheels. Throughout the floor, operators keep tabs on the process and inspect the wheels.
Once a wheel is on the line, robots take charge. Wheels flow through the process without human contact. (Unless it has an issue in the inspection process, in which case an inspector has an opportunity to remove small defects.)
A display shows how many parts were shipped in the last hour. There’s plenty of information to keep track of, and also to be proud of. In October, the company shipped its one-millionth wheel to Ford.
The process looks simple, but there is a lot going on. It begins with raw castings which are prepared for painting. They are washed, pre-treated and prepped. This involves several steps: a base coat, then a powder coating, then a cure oven, then a dark blue powder for the next step in the process. It goes through three curing ovens. The PVD process involves a vacuum, an alloy sprayed onto a wheel, and then finally a decompression chamber and the shiny wheel emerges.
Along the way, every single wheel goes through a stringent inspection process. A defect of even half a millimeter would cause a reject. If there are any issues, the wheel is sent to a locked rejection cage so it doesn’t get intermixed with the good product. Three people inspect each wheel and then it is loaded onto the line.
SPUTTERING TO SUCCESS
Suppliers are a big part of the team. The company receives regular visits from vendors and suppliers, including top research scientists, constantly tweaking processes.
Tom Foley of Dynavac, has seen the company grow into the high-production powerhouse they are today. “We’re in the middle of the process,” Foley says. “Our machine applies the PVD coating. Sputtering falls into that family of coatings.”
Foley explains that the technology, known as magnetron sputtering, has been around for a long time and can be used for both decorative and functional coatings. This coating must live up to some high standards, Foley points out.
“The automotive industry probably has some of the highest quality standards that you’re going to find,” Foley says. “In mass production, you need to control many, many parts going into an automobile, the functional aspects of it and appearance.”
While other industries such as aerospace have high quality standards, the appearance of a part may not be as important, for example. Not so with a new BMW.
Winona PVD Coatings, LLC.
The company was founded in 2006.
Scott Dahl, chief executive officer
Richard Groom, director of operations
Larry W. Beals, executive vice president
THE WORLD OF WHEELS
Scott Kurpiewski, divisional vice president at Vogue Tyre & Rubber Co., has been a Winona customer for about five years. He said the wheel world is small and everyone knows each other, or at least who the good companies are. Vogue Tyre had tried PVD coatings from other companies but wasn’t satisfied. When they heard about Winona, they decided to try it. They were impressed by the quality—Kurpiewski described the company’s work as wonderful, fantastic, and consistent—and it snowballed from there.
But, if there ever is an issue, they resolve it right away, Kurpiewski says. “Nothing is swept under the carpet,” he says.
In the very early stages of production there was an issue with acid from a car wash that stained the wheels, Kurpiewski said—obviously not something a new Lexus owner wants to deal with. Not only did Winona respond to the issue immediately, they also changed the process to prevent it from happening again.
This attention to detail has led to a big year for the company, and the future looks just as bright as the wheels. Q
Michelle Bangert is the managing editor of Quality. To see past Plant of the Year articles, visit www.qualitymag.com.
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