7 lessons learned from a brownfield upgrade

Jim Rink, global manufcturing engineer, advanced components & systems operation at Caterpillar (www.cat.com) in the greater Chicago area, is one of the annual mainstays at the American Manufacturing Strategies Summit (www.manufacturing-summit.com). This year, he shared lessons learned from a brownfield project he undertook at a 60-year-old hydraulics facility in Joliet, Illinois.

Caterpillar employs 125,000 people worldwide, 50,000 of those in the United States. It has more than 500 locations worldwide in 180 countries. The union factory Rink discussed was expecting a dramatic increase in future demand (30% year-over-year increase in demand) with a short time to respond. "There was limited space in the existing facility," explained Rink. "But there would be severe penalties if current production were impacted." More than $80 million was invested in more than 30 projects. Here, in Rink's words, are seven lessons he and his group learned:

1. Be intentional with your culture: We started by focusing on the culture we will be. BlessingWhite (www.blessingwhite.com), the consulting firm says employee engagement is determined by an individual's level of contribution and satisfaction in their role. Engaged employees are enthused and in gear, using their talents and discretionary efforts to make a positive and sustainable difference in a business. Break the career doom cycle.

2. Start with the end in mind: When you start doing brownfield sites, you lose your shirt when you start doing things twice. We started with a five-year plan, planned backward, and executed forward.

3. "Financialize" everything: I'm in the mining business. We had approval at the full bundle, but we financialized every decision. We approved each machine project individually.

4. Leverage proven partners: Executives love to get sucked into high-tech stuff. As scientists and engineers, we'd stay in the section of the library that is filed by numbers. We have a one-up solution that has to last for a long period of time. I worked with one of my partners, and they said to start an intern program. Our project is winding down now, so I have some great interns who will becoming available.

5. Drive clarity, communication, and camaraderie: Be brief and clear in relating information to those you work with.

6. Drive accountability through execution: Do what you say, or you don't keep playing. We formally chartered the project, and we actually published a playbook.

7. Provide solutions, not installations: Why did we do a training center? Because we couldn't find a place to train operators. Training is about dignity and respect. You can't learn to swim by watching a video.