How RockTenn (WestRock) Doubled their Speed, OEE and Reliability

All manufacturing leaders know what’s expected of them. They face financial statements, customers, stakeholders, etc. on an ongoing basis. There’s no denying the what. Truly world-class leaders continually search for the best how, and they ask, how are we going to do this? What is the best way to achieve our expectations? Even the best companies struggle with asking and implementing these questions, and they’ll struggle with it at the top of the organization. Once Leadership has consensus on the how, then it’s just a matter of maintaining that commitment and continually communicating that vision to the organization.

Beau Groover, Director of Performance Excellence with RockTenn (WestRock), says “RockTenn was not much different from most companies in how it previously established goals. We would look at where we are performing currently in a measure and then say, ‘How do we improve that by 5 percent, how do we improve that by 3 percent?’ And that would set about how they frame up their resources and their capital and their people.”

RockTenn (WestRock) is a leading producer of corrugated and consumer packaging and recycling solutions; and is one of several companies that reached out to Performance Solutions by Milliken to helped adopt their own, unique version of the Milliken Performance System (MPS). An award-winning system geared to compliment, revamp, and accelerate current performance systems towards new levels of success.

At RockTenn, Groover serves as a conduit interacting with teams working in plants, managing the relationship with Performance Solutions, and bringing information to RockTenn’s steering committee.  He says, “at the end of the day, there are thousands of books written on lean, six sigma, and TPS. If the leadership isn’t capable or willing to go through what it takes to build a high-performing team, it doesn’t matter how many tools and how many super-duper black belts you hire, you’ll never get there. And the Milliken system, in my opinion, focuses directly on the culture. And that’s what has enabled them to reach the performance levels they have.”

Groover notes that the Performance Solutions approach is heavily weighted on the front end to how an organization puts in the Performance System, and, on the back end, weighted to the actual performance it gets from the system. “We get so wrapped up in the results that we fail to look at the process.” He uses a baseball analogy of how well a team conducts batting and fielding practice will usually parallel with how well the team performs in a game. In manufacturing, it means focusing on the processes that yield an output target, such as OEE, rather than how to move the metric.

“Through the Milliken process, we’re trying to get our plants thinking about OEE as an output mechanism,” says Groover. “How well we run the equipment, how well we train our associates, how well we take care of our equipment, how well we prepare our inventory — all of that leads to the result. And the result is a high OEE number, which is what we want.” In approximately one year, the process work at RockTenn began to move the organization across never before seen thresholds of performance, adds Groover, yielding double-digit improvements in speed, OEE, and reliability.  “We’ve uncovered/created the equivalent of 3 full sites worth of capacity that we didn’t even know was achievable.  The financial impact of that goes far beyond the P/L and starts impacting decisions such as capital investment and footprint rationalizations.”

“It’s a different way of thinking about where your problems are and where your opportunities lie.  We become very accepting of our reality that we see. We start just accepting things instead of challenging them to say, ‘Why does it work like that, or why do we have that failure, or why do we have that downtime?’ The Performance System takes all that emotion and acceptance out of it, and it makes it a data question. Here’s where you’re performing. Here’s where you’re losing dollars. What are you going to do about it?”