Marine environments at the equator can add high levels of stress to the fluid control products that Circor Instrumentation Technologies manufactures. Besides high heat, the salinity of the environment can create corrosion in the Hoke Valves, Gyrolok fittings, Go regulators and other Circor Instrumentation Technologies products that may be used for liquid or compressed natural gas stations, offshore oil drilling and other severe service applications.
“Our strongholds are in these very highly severe service applications, offshore in the middle of the Indian Ocean close to the Equator, or offshore in Norway in the North Sea, which are extremely harsh and highly salinic atmospheres,” Operations Manager Jon Weldon emphasizes.
Near the Equator in the Indian Ocean, temperatures may exceed 100 F nine months of the year, whereas temperatures may never warm up in the North Sea, Weldon stresses. “We are a world leader in several severe applications,” he declares.
Adding to this stress is the trend toward longer lifecycles for projects in the oil and gas industry. Projects previously were designed to last 15 to 20 years, but now they are being designed to endure for 30 to 50 years. “With that comes a higher demand on longevity for the product, and with that comes corrosion-resistant materials with higher yield strengths,” Weldon points out.
These include various types of stainless steel – many of them alloyed with high amounts of nickel – titanium and an alloy of nickel, chromium, molybdenum and tungsten. The variety is necessary to meet the requirements of different severe service applications. Some of the metals are less reactive with different chemicals. Titanium is lightweight and corrosion-resistant in highly salinic atmospheres, such as those found in offshore applications.
Circor Instrumentation Technologies fluid control products also can be used in water- or chemical-processing plants in the middle of the United States, for example. The company’s products are distributed worldwide.
Many of Circor Instrumentation Technologies’ parts are manufactured on approximately 100 machine tools in its 100,000-square-foot plant in Spartanburg, S.C. The plant can perform hundreds of different processes, Weldon declares. “Most include lathes or turning of steel,” he says. “We start with forgings or bar stock from a supplier. The material is then machined into components. Then the components are put together and tested in our assembly process.”
Circor Instrumentation Technologies has been implementing lean manufacturing techniques in its plant since the mid-2000s, Weldon recalls. The company has used kaizen techniques to engage the work force in suggesting and implementing ways to reduce lead times and costs in the manufacturing process.
“We’ve done a total lean transformation of our facility,” Weldon says. “We try to make any abnormalities in our production lines very visual for anybody walking by. In 2007, our average lead time for standard product was 24 days, and for non-standard product it was 40 days.”
Connecting the Value Streams
Among the changes in the factory were investments over the last five years of approximately $5 million in capital equipment. “We completely rearranged the factory from a layout standpoint, brought in new equipment and new types of strategic inventory locations,” Weldon explains. “From end to end, we completely transformed our business.”
Circor Instrumentation Technologies divided the more than 1,000 products it manufactures into value streams – one for valves, another for fittings and a third for regulators. “We started with the valves and did a complete transformation, where we broke all our demand into two groups,” Weldon explains. Standard products are called “runners,” and non-standard products are named “strangers.”
Runners are kept in stock and can be assembled and tested quickly. Strangers are built-to-order. Employees are assigned to runners or strangers with very little crossover. “So the runner associates would tend to be your standard operators, whereas on the stranger side, you start getting into the more experienced associates,” Weldon notes. Many strangers use more exotic materials and complex processes, so the more experienced operators are required.
This transformation of the valve value stream proved successful and was applied to the fittings and regulator value streams. From 2008 to 2010, all three value streams were transformed.
On-the-floor training has been strengthened at Circor Instrumentation Technologies over the last 18 months along with bringing in machining students from Spartanburg Community College as part of the college’s technical scholar program. Some employees with less experience are sent to the college for classes, while graduates of the college are hired and promoted as they learn.
“We’re continuously improving – that’s part of our culture,” according to Weldon.
“We’ve done a lot of good things by moving the needle in all aspects of the business – our onboarding process is much better, and our training process is better than in the past,” he adds. “We’re also driving health and safety every day at the plant.”