How to rebuild a plant in two weeks

On August 24, the Kautex Windsor plant was struck by an F2 tornado. Once it was confirmed that all employees were safe, the team faced the arduous task of rebuilding and minimizing disruption to the customer.

 

The initial assessment was mixed:

  • Structural engineers confirmed the frame and roof beams were 90% usable/safe
  • Chillers / compressor suffered little physical damage
  • All blow molding machines and downlines appeared to have little physical damage
  • IT servers / switch closets appeared undamaged
  • Status of material feed system unknown
  • Only one of three transformers was potentially operational
  • Standing water and debris littered the floor
  • 1000 amp switch panel saturated with water

Kautex immediately contacted its customers, who were faced with difficult decisions: Could they build vehicles without the fuel tanks and install them later? Could they change their product mix? If they had to shut down, how long would be it for? Should they consider moving their tooling to another location?

The initial assessment for the restoration was eight weeks. Eight weeks of lost production and the follow-on impact. Eight weeks of customers juggling their own production schedules – in an environment that simply isn’t that forgiving.

Steve Phillips, Windsor’s Director of Operations, asked the restoration partners to take a second look at the plan. Collectively, they shortened the time from eight weeks to two: a manageable number for the key customers in the plant.

How was a 75% improvement in timing possible?

“To begin, we committed the schedule took priority above anything else, except safety,” said Steve. “We worked closely with the local electric company to ensure power could be restored to the building by the end of the first weekend so we could start the reconstruction process. We had work crews on-site 24/7 working clean up, constructing the walls and roof, wiring, plumbing and more. And, we built a ‘plant within a plant’ – securing a production zone for the P1 blow molder behind the walls of the construction zone.

“We involved our customers every step of the way,” continued Steve. At first, it was daily cadence calls twice a day to update them on the status, but they went above and beyond by providing highly trained EHS specialists and advise as well as skilled tradespeople.

The process involved some…unique…. methodologies as well.

“Our first bake test was sponsored by Home Depot,” joked Steve, referencing the first bake test done in an oven purchased at Home Depot (a local home improvement chain). “It was sort of like watching cookies bake in your oven, but not quite so tasty.” (The oven was later cleaned and donated to a charity.)

Lessons learned…some the hard way

Even now, the team continues to reflect on what they did well – and could have done differently:

  • The City of Windsor doesn’t have an emergency siren system. For safety reasons, our plant needs to find an alternative solution.
  • The list of employees on site during the tornado was on a piece of paper on the supervisor’s desk – which didn’t survive the storm. The electronic time and attendance system should be linked to cell phones so a quick download of those employees / contractors who have swiped into the plant is easily available.
  • It was important to educate the restoration company of the timelines in the automotive business. Many restoration companies are used to months-long projects – which simply won’t suffice in the automotive industry.
  • Involve the customer early and often as they are a powerful – and influential – resource.
  • Plan for setback. Kautex Windsor hit several during their restoration:
    • Switches / hand valves were physically moved
    • Drive cards in the blow mold computers were not inserted
    • Cables were pulled
    • Motors, initially thought to be OK, were damaged, as were drive cards, CPUs, and the IT server room

In the end, team spirit prevails

In true Kautex-form, more than 20 employees from around the globe came in to assist.

“It’s times like this that you realize the strength of the entire Kautex network,” continued Steve. “We may sometimes feel like an ‘island’ as the only plant in Canada, but the Kautex team pulled through and proved once again that we have a global team that truly wants to collectively succeed.”

And that success was recognized by our customers as well.

Customers awarded the plant certificates of appreciation for its quick recovery, and one customer came on-site to learn from us about the process – and to take away ideas for their own disaster recovery efforts.

“As they say,” said Steve with a smile, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

 

Kautex employees await the results of the first bake test