Culture-changing tools

Author Alan Richter
February 27, 2017 - 11:45am

One of the activities I enjoy most in connection with my job is visiting production facilities, because I get a chance to see how parts and products are made and have face-to-face interactions with talented metalworking professionals—not to mention that it gets me out of the office now and then.

My most recent trip took me to MTU America Inc., Graniteville, S.C., which manufactures diesel engines for off-road and stationary applications. I initially learned details about the company during a meeting at IMTS 2016 with Jeremy Diebel, senior manager of machining and apprenticeship coordinator. A feature-length profile of the company’s machining operations and apprenticeship program is scheduled for our April issue.

During a shop visit, I typically conduct an interview, frequently involving several members of a company’s team, followed by a plant tour. I always find it fascinating to see how a shop and its workers operate, and the cutting tools, machine tools and other production equipment the company employs.

What was unique about my trip to MTU America was that, in addition to the interviews and tour, I was able to attend the machining group’s shop-floor meeting and the subsequent plant operations shop floor meeting, as well as witness Diebel’s online call with his industrial engineer at MTU’s headquarters in Friedrichshafen, Germany. At these meetings, the groups covered a multitude of daily production details, such as the overall effectiveness of the department’s five medium and three large machining centers, addressing any issues, no matter how minor they might seem to an outsider. 

First and foremost, however, is safety, and I noticed a large monitor that stated that the facility had 154 incident-free days. Speaking of safety, I’m used to wearing safety glasses, which are mandatory at MTU America, but I also had to put steel-toed footwear over my street shoes and sport a fluorescent green and yellow safety vest.

Another aspect of the plant’s operations that caught my attention was the focus on lean. The company not only talks the talk, but walks the walk—gemba walk, that is, to observe, engage and improve. According to the company, the implementation of the MTU Production System (MPS) provides an opportunity to transform how problems are solved and how continuous improvement is maintained for the operations team. MPS has five guiding principles: moving people (“our behavior is the example”), change for the better (“our ambition is the drive for continuous improvement”), zero defects (“our products are defect-free”), eliminate waste (“our processes create value”) and synchronous production (“our heart beats in customer takt time”).

The focus of lean at MTU is on its people and improving its culture. The company added that the facility engages people at the shop floor level in finding solutions to challenges and is bolstered by a coaching routine that promotes people development.

And the results are compelling. For example, the facility reduced overall engine throughput time 30 percent and improved on-time delivery 38 percent. Culture change has its rewards.

Related Glossary Terms

  • centers


    Cone-shaped pins that support a workpiece by one or two ends during machining. The centers fit into holes drilled in the workpiece ends. Centers that turn with the workpiece are called “live” centers; those that do not are called “dead” centers.

  • metalworking


    Any manufacturing process in which metal is processed or machined such that the workpiece is given a new shape. Broadly defined, the term includes processes such as design and layout, heat-treating, material handling and inspection.



Alan holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Including his 20 years at CTE, Alan has more than 30 years of trade journalism experience.