Customers are the focus of everything employees do at Eaton Corp.’s 52-year-old Lincoln, IL, facility. The 2010 Assembly Plant of the Year actively solicits customer feedback and uses it to drive improvements.

Customers are the focus of everything employees do at Eaton Corp.’s 52-year-old Lincoln, IL, plant. “This value is reflected in our quality policy, which focuses on driving a continuous improvement culture, exceeding our customer’s expectations and achieving our quality objectives,” says Rick Wyatt, plant manager.

“Through the Eaton Quality System, we have implemented a set of processes and practices that go beyond the standard ISO 9001 requirements to improve customer satisfaction, address common quality gaps and reduce our cost of quality,” adds Wyatt. “We always look at quality through the eyes of our customers.”

Eaton Lincoln actively solicits customer feedback and uses it to drive improvements. “At the plant, this feedback comes through multiple channels including direct contacts from customers, field sales or our customer support center,” Wyatt points out. “All feedback is recorded in a central database and reviewed for trends and actions. We receive and respond to a monthly report from our field sales that includes specific comments or requests from our customers.

“We also receive input directly from customers in our annual Customer Relationship Review survey, which looks at current product quality and performance, support, ease of doing business, innovation and partnering across all divisions in Eaton,” explains Wyatt. “The survey scores our business in terms of an Overall Customer Confidence Index. Our scores have increased from a score of 61 (moderate) to 71 (high).” This is the leading score among the Eaton divisions.

“Over the last three years, we have reached industry- leading performance levels in our warranty as a percent of sales, decreasing from 0.20 percent to 0.10 percent,” says Wyatt. “This has been achieved by addressing quality problems through both preventive and corrective action. Our preventive action process consists of reviewing customer and product trends, proactively looking at potential defect modes, and analyzing risk factors in our design and processes.”

Product quality and customer needs are also addressed early on in the design process. “PROLaunch, our product development process, ensures that the quality of the design and the production process requirements are met through each phase,” notes Eric Samuelson, P.E., engineering manager. “We also integrate our lean kaizen activities to implement error-proofing techniques in our design and processes.

PROLaunch is an acronym for Profitable, Reliable, On-time Launch. It uses a phase-gate process that is used to launch new products or make changes to existing products. The Lincoln plant primarily works with the new product development module of PROLaunch, and has been effective in using this process for improving time to market and launching products that bring value to customers.

Cross-functional teams, consisting of employees from engineering, quality, materials, manufacturing, marketing, and finance, work together from concept to launch to design and introduce new products. “Each gate has a sign-off process by the functional managers to ensure all activities have been completed and address any open issues,” says Samuelson. “This ensures that a quality product is ready as promised for our customers.

“Our market demand can change very quickly,” adds Samuelson. “We have an effective process that can react very quickly to changes in our product mix or production level. Customer satisfaction results have proven the effectiveness.”

A good example of quick customer response from the Lincoln plant occurred five years ago, after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. The 2010 Assembly Plant of the Year experienced a 20 percent increase in volume across all product lines immediately following the disaster. In addition, Eaton Lincoln was asked to supply electrical devices for temporary housing within two days of request. Within 48 hours, the engineering department had a new product designed and all functions had materials, labor and equipment ready for production.