October 2005

Battery recycler implements lean processes to eliminate waste from operations

With recycling as the core service that a business offers, it might be assumed that waste is already being eliminated. But, making the best use of discarded resources doesn’t mean you are making the most efficient use of your own resources, as RSR Corporation has discovered.

Headquartered in Dallas, RSR Corporation operates recycling facilities in Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Middletown, New York. The company’s business is built upon the recycling of batteries…everything from the lead components to the polypropylene plastic battery cases, even the battery acids. From the old batteries, the company produces pure lead and lead alloys, which are interchangeable with primary lead. The recycled plastic is provided for re-use to plastic compounders and fabricators, and the acid is used in the production of sodium sulfate for use in the pulp and paper industry, as well as in common laundry detergents.

RSR’s growth is dependent upon the growth of the battery industry, which is very incremental . . . only about one percent per year. So, the company knew that the only way to improve profitability was to improve its cost structure.

Bob Finn, RSR president and CEO, recognized from the get-go that to make the kind of changes necessary for improving processes was going to involve a top-to-bottom transformation of the company culture.

Finn and his group had been researching various companies that they thought could assist in their new endeavor. They were familiar with lean manufacturing and had spoken with a number of lean consultants when they decided upon the Lean Learning Center. The Center believes that lean — at its most basic level — is defined as “a shared way of thinking”. Its philosophy is based upon the idea that lean tools are largely ineffective unless they are supported by the proper foundation of lean guiding principles and rules to help an organization understand how things work together and why.

As Finn says, “We found this group to be more straightforward, to be more hands-on, and, they weren’t what I call ‘latch-on consultants’. Their goal was to get us to a level of lean training and performance where we would become self-sufficient. And,” he added, “They did not push us.”

RSR started to methodically send managerial level personnel to classes at Lean Learning Center. To date, 100 RSR personnel have attended classes.

At the same time, a committee was assembled at the corporate office to develop a set of ideal state goals and to develop the program.

Each plant was then assigned to take these ideal state goals and adapt them to their particular environment. At each plant there is a core lean team with a vice president & plant manager in charge of implementing the program.

Viewing the lean transformation of RSR as a continual journey, Finn insists they are just babies in this process, but the results would say more.

The Battery Recycling department, which was the site of the first Lean Learning Lab, developed a way to used recycled water on its rotating sieve or trommel, reducing cost by $4,000 per month.

The Water Quality Department, which has four pressure filters designed to remove suspended solids from the clarifiers, has experimented with different sand filter mediums to discover potential ways of reducing cost. After a well-documented study, the department was granted permission in 2003 to switch to alternative materials as a filter, saving the company $8,784 to date. As of May 2005, the Indianapolis facility has documented $220,000 in total savings for the year.

A major initiative has been started to develop a totally paperless office. This is a huge job, so it is being rolled out methodically starting with the purchasing department. All the pre-printed formats at the plants and at corporate have been converted to laser generated forms. Additionally, a paperless purchase order process was analyzed where it was realized that the old “paper” PO process cost $42 per transaction; the new paperless way, $12. Based upon annual volume, this could result in a savings of $850,000.

“We have to get better,” says Finn. “We are basically in a fight for our lives against third world countries. As I said before, the growth rate in this industry is not very high. We have cases where we know that the Chinese ship products to people not more than 50 miles away from our plant cheaper than we can do it. This is about job preservation.

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