Originally created 02/14/98

Eliminating waste



WAYNESBORO, Ga. -- When Earle W. Maxwell Jr., the new president of Perfection-Schwank Inc., takes his wife to the supermarket, she shops, but he dreams up ways the store could eliminate wasted resources.

Oversized parking lots, wider-than-necessary aisles, 10 check-out counters when only three are open.

It's waste, Mr. Maxwell thinks to himself. And it costs money that eventually will come out of his pocket.

But what if the store brought customers groceries, like Domino's delivers pizza. That would eliminate the need for big lots, wide aisles and multiple check-outs, and it could lower prices.

It's the future, Mr. Maxwell predicts.

Finding new ways to boost efficiency, Mr. Maxwell says, is the cornerstone of a successful enterprise. And even though he runs a heater manufacturing company, the same principal applies: Increasing productivity makes room to grow.

"My greatest joy," he said, "is finding and eliminating waste."

Seated in an office at the 100,060-square-foot Perfection-Schwank factory in Waynesboro, Mr. Maxwell is wearing an orange-and-black necktie with the company logo. The logo is orange, he says, to represent the orange flame of the company's heaters.

But on most days, Mr. Maxwell wears golf shirts to work.

Neckties are just another example of waste.

"Nobody's ever convinced me that wearing one does any good," he said.

A Greenville, S.C., native, Mr. Maxwell went to Clemson University on a basketball scholarship. He studied to become an engineer and went to work at United Technologies.

Later, he worked for Sunbeam Corporation rising through the company to senior vice president of operations for the outdoor products division.

At six feet seven inches, Mr. Maxwell is a towering man. His height is an advantage in the board room as well as on the court, but it also is an inconvenience when he has to fly to Germany to meet with executives at the Cologne-based, privately held parent company Schwank Industries.

During his past eight months as president of Perfection-Schwank, Mr. Maxwell has found and eliminated some of his company's waste.

He has been watching the flow of materials from part to finished product and streamlining the system.

"It looked like spaghetti," he said, sketching a diagram of the path parts used to follow in the factory. He draws a series of squiggly lines on a yellow pad.

In the factory, parts would travel an average of one mile, and workers would waste time just moving products from one place to another. But if the company did something as simple as moving equipment, Mr. Maxwell says, the system could be streamlined by as much as 70 percent.

"Some items took six days to go from one bin to the other, our goal is to have nothing in there longer than two days," he said. "Eliminate waste."

Just before Mr. Maxwell had arrived, the company was awarded ISO 9001 certification, an international quality standard that indicates the company is producing quality products and delivering superior service.

It is a standard Mr. Maxwell wants to maintain.

"It behooves us to find other things to manufacture," he said.

And that's the challenge.

In an increasingly global market, companies have to maintain a competitive edge by producing better products and seeking new markets.

It's the only way companies like Perfection-Schwank, which manufactures infrared gas, gas and oil heaters, can compete with manufacturers in developing nations, Mr. Maxwell said.

"We want to improve every single day," Mr. Maxwell said."But you can't do everything in one day."