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
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.