White gloved hands and robotic arms. People and technology. The San Francisco Mint seems to have found just the right balance of man and machine.
“It takes people to run those machines,” said Paul Lewis, San Francisco Mint industrial manager. That’s trained people who also know the expectations of quality, he said.
“We want to give them skills to solve problems and the confidence that they can do it.” he said.
Those 330 employees, 50 of whom are police officers, are a diverse workforce. Sixty-seven percent are men and 33 percent are women. Thirty-eight percent are Asian, 23 percent are white, 29 percent are black and 10 percent are Hispanic.
It is the policy of plant manager Larry Eckerman to involve the employees in the decisions affecting them, from determining shift schedules to solving problems.
Take, for example, the issue of changing dies. It used to take 50 minutes to change a die on a press, Eckerman said. Today, it takes five minutes.
“We found out that most of the time spent changing dies was to go looking for tools,” Eckerman said. “Now every press has its own tools.”
Robotic technology has reduced mistakes at the facility, but they still occur.
“We used to write people up when they made a mistake,” Eckerman said. “But they didn’t purposefully do it. So instead we started rewarding people for bringing mistakes forward. Now I don’t have to find thousands of errors that got through because someone was afraid to say something.”
It’s all about training, teamwork and empowerment, Eckerman said. With it come manufacturing efficiencies.
In 1998, it cost $8.75 to make each plastic encased coin set or lens, he said. By 2005 that cost was reduced to $2.71.
In 1999, 600 employees made 5.7 billion lenses a year. In 2011, 271 employees made 5.9 billion lenses.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this team could run a Toyota plant,” Eckerman said.