An operator holding a tube checks the computer screen adjacent to his workstation, positions the tube just so against a backstop, checks the screen again, then initiates the cutoff operation. In less than 48 hours, that tube will be part of a finished golf club and in the hands of a customer who ordered it.
That make-to-order, quick-response environment has been a cornerstone to the success of Ping golf clubs. So said Nathan Tapp, product specialist, who brought a group of fabricators on a plant tour this morning. That tour kicked off The FABRICATOR's Leadership Summit, the 7th Annual Metal Matters, being held this year in Scottsdale, Ariz.
A golf club's effectiveness really boils down to basic geometry. How tall you are and how exactly you hold your club affects how Ping customizes its clubs. A person's height and swing style obviously influences the club height, but it also affects the angle of the iron itself. In fact, Ping invites customers to be custom-fitted for its clubs, so that the final result fits their height and swing style as perfectly as possible.
This morning, a few stations down in the assembly cell at Ping's Phoenix manufacturing facility, a worker attached the club iron. In an adjacent station, another worker inserted the club into a precision clamp, grabbed a large pulling mechanism, and bended that iron just so, adjusting the angle to suit customer specifications. An adjacent computer screen shows those specs, as well as results from real-time gauging.
Customer specifications literally drive everything on the shop floor. Every club flowing through the assembly process already has been ordered. The manufacturer makes nothing to stock. There's no warehouse for finished goods. As clubs arrive in the shipping area, they are packaged immediately and, within hours, are on a UPS or FedEx truck.
Every club has a barcode and a serial number. If someone at Ping were to scan that barcode or type in that serial number into the company's software system, an entire history for that product would appear on the screen—the materials used, when it was manufactured, and the specs the customer requested. If a customer breaks a club, he can call Ping and order a replacement, even if the specific product line isn't produced. The software identifies all the necessary components, and the order is placed into the schedule.
This is demand-pull manufacturing in its purest form. Each customer order triggers the assembly shop into action. Sure, the company does rely somewhat on forecasts to ensure sufficient amount of raw components. But in assembly, if a worker receives an order, that order already has been sold.
Workers in each manufacturing cell are cross trained to operate all the machines in that cell. They work two hour stints, take a break, then begin their next stint on another machine. Working on multiple processes a day ensures everyone has knowledge of multiple assembly process, and keeps their skills fresh. One more thing: Every employee is trained in quality assurance.
Perhaps most telling was our tour guide's tone in the packaging and shipping department. Working with boxes and shipping labels, their job may not be the most memorable, but it's one of the most important. Not only do the efficiency and speed of this department govern the speed of all those before it, the people are last to touch a product before it reaches customer's hands. If they don't do their job right, it affects the workmanship of the company's 800 Phoenix-based employees that touch the product before them.
More than 100 manufacturing managers have come to the desert for ideas about best manufacturing practices at this year's Leadership Summit. Seeing how effective Ping's manufacturing operations were—producing components on-demand, sometimes within hours—was a fitting start.