Ahoskie industry honored

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 1, 2008

AHOSKIE – Moving up without moving out…that sound business practice has led Berry Plastics of Ahoskie to new heights.

It has also afforded the manufacturing facility, located on Johnny Mitchell Road, statewide recognition.

In a recent ceremony, Berry Plastics-Ahoskie was presented the 1B4NC ($1 Billion for North Carolina) award. That honor is bestowed to companies that report $1 million or more in value from the North Carolina State University Industrial Extension Service (IES). That economic gain may include jobs saved or created, increased sales or cost savings.

In the case of Berry Plastics, its economic impact was to the tune of $3.7 million based upon the gains they made through their lean transformation production process. That effort led the Ahoskie facility to become one of the most successful of Berry’s 60 plants nationwide.

“I want to make it very clear that this award would not have been possible without the work of the 155 employees of this company,” David Hepburn, Berry Plastics-Ahoskie Plant Manager, said as he accepted the award. “It’s the employees of this plant that deserve the credit.”

In true spirit of teamwork, numerous Berry Plastics-Ahoskie employees filtered in and out of the conference room where the award ceremony took place, each taking the time to inspect the engraved plaque. Some had their photos taken holding the award.

A crowd of 40 or so attendees, including North Carolina Senator Edward Jones, filled the plant’s conference room to celebrate this milestone. Senator Jones praised the plant’s leadership and employees for helping to make a huge impact on the lives of those living and working in such an economically distressed area of the state. He also urged other businesses in the area to join 1B4NC, a campaign of NC State University IES that promises to create $1 billion in economic impact from 2006 through 2010.

“Through building partnerships with manufacturing firms such as Berry Plastics, we fully expect to double our economic benefit to the state by the end of 2010,” Dr. Terri Helmlinger Ratcliff, IES Executive Director, said during the award presentation ceremony.

She continued, “What Berry Plastics has accomplished here in a small, rural setting is nothing short of remarkable. David Hepburn, his leadership team and the employees of Berry Plastics of Ahoskie are to be commended for a job well done.”

Since the start of the 1BFNC campaign, more than $330 million of value has been placed on IES services by a portion of the companies served.

Berry Plastics-Ahoskie is the first recipient of this award in the northeastern district thanks to implementation of lean principles which help companies identify and reduce waste and non-value added work.

The Ahoskie plant manufactures child resistant and tamper evident closures for the pharmaceutical industry with clients such as Novartis, Wyeth, Merck and Pfizer.

The “lean” transformation at the Ahoskie plant came by way of establishing a physical link between the molding and lining departments, once two separate divisions under the same roof, each with its own management team. Now they feed the components straight from the molding machine into the lining machine and into a finished box, thus completely eliminating WIP (Work in Process) by 80 percent.

Their reject rate went from 17 percent to less than one percent in process and six percent total by connecting the processes.

Hepburn saw the value in lean and took the principals as far as he could.

“We looked high and low for help, training help,” he said. “We were struggling and knew we needed some help here.”

Hepburn gives Patty Argent, human resources manager, full credit for finding that help with IES.

Hepburn stressed the importance of adopting a lean mentality and scheduled a Lean 100 on-site with IES at Berry so everyone in the organization could benefit. Lean 100 is a fundamental course in the philosophy of lean which is simply reducing waste; waste in movement, waste in time and waste in materials.

Another key element to the lean implementation was to decrease the changeover time on a machine from making one product to another. The most extensive changeover is termed a “rack-to-rack.”

Before the new methods kicked into gear, this process took more than one workday to complete; now it’s done in three hours.

Another measurement of a plant’s productivity is based on scrap rate.

Because Ahoskie’s clients are pharmaceutical and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, they must use all virgin materials, which means regrinding is not allowed. Bearing this in mind, Ahoskie’s scrap rate is .002 percent in process. End process scrap is two pieces or less based on 4.5-5 million components daily.

As he has done since implementing the lean process, Hepburn gives the credit to his employees.

“They’re an absolute gem to work with and I’ve worked with people all over the world,” he concluded. “We’re not in the heartland of industry here in Ahoskie. It’s made us somewhat insular, yet extremely self-sufficient. There is more innovation in this little plant than I’ve seen in Silicon Valley, RTP and the like.”