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May 08 www.bus-ex.com 51 received its certification in March 2007, under the watchful eye of the Vehicle Certification Agency. “We consider ourselves fortunate to have VCA as our watchdog, so to speak,” he said. “We had two audits and learned that if you follow a process, you can solve any issue.” Solving issues as they arise is at the heart of Blue Bird North Georgia’s production process. In 2004, the plant installed Toyota’s Andon tool to literally shed light on any manufacturing problems. Each cell is equipped with a blue light that associates will flash if they discover an issue. This signals a “first responder” who assists in the resolution of the issue and then logs and tracks the event. BlueBirdNorthGeorgia Steve Clark and David McKinney explain to Jenn Monroe why Blue Bird is recognized as one of the world’s leading bus manufacturers With a top ten place in Industry Week’s Best Plants in North America 2007, Blue Bird’s North Georgia school bus body facility is recognized for its dedication to continuous improvement and outstanding performance in safety, quality and productivity. The plant has been in operation since 1982, and such recognition is no surprise to Steve Clark and David McKinney. “The real key is we measure everything,” said McKinney, controller for the Lafayette, Georgia facility. Clark, director of quality and risk management, School Bus Body, said much was owed to the ISO 9000 certification process which started in earnest when he arrived in 2003. The facility Followtheprocess

In just four years of use, even this process has been evaluated and improved. In 2004, all team leaders were first responders, and they used paper logs to track events. Today the facility has a small cadre of dedicated responders who collect information on PDAs. While this tool is used across the auto industry, Clark believes Blue Bird is unique in the bus business. “It is the best tool for learning,” he continued. “It solves problems, contains issues, and creates a learning environment.” Andon also appears to be the best tool for driving out defects; as Andon events have increased, defects per unit have decreased. Blue Bird North Georgia recorded 12,697 Andon events in 2007 and the number of defects per unit dropped from 40 in January to 10 in December. “Employees know there is no penalty to pull it,” McKinney said. “They understand the more you do it, the more you can address issues now.” Blue Bird North Georgia is dedicated to ensure all of its employees understand their value, importance, and responsibilities as part of the team. Under the leadership of general manager Kevin Wood, the facility has developed “Bus University” which is focused on orientation, training, and cross training. Within the “university” are “schools” for each trade; for example, paint school, rivet school, and hand tools school. In these schools, new employees undergo skills training after 30 hours of orientation and become proficient in their area on mock-up buses. “Once upon a time they had to learn on a customer’s bus,” Clark said. As it is still relatively new, there is much potential for Bus University. “It is not just an application for new employees,” he said, “but available for associates who want to grow.” McKinney noted that so far, Blue Bird North Georgia has seen this program have direct impact on its safety program as well as turnover rates within the trades. Last year the facility won Blue Bird’s parent Traxis President’s Award for its safety efforts and is already on pace for another great year. “We had only seven recordables in 2007 and so far this year just three,” he said. In terms of turnover, the facility discovered lack of training was a root cause in some occupations, and the Bus University application is addressing that directly. “We needed to train them better,” McKinney said, “and now we are creating a crosstrained team to provide a back log of multiple skilled associates.” Blue Bird North Georgia also uses kaizen events to help it continue to improve its productivity. “We keep getting stretched by the company,” Clark said. “We have a goal of 100 percent this year for productivity. Last year we ran at 96.3 percent so we were looking at a four percent increase, but we are currently meeting that goal this year.” Two types of kaizen event are in use. First are “breakthrough” events that use cross-functional teams and last a month or more. Clark said the facility sees six to eight of those each year. Secondly, the ones done at the department, cell, or individual level, which are often tough to track as 52 May 08 www.bus-ex.com