Currently, manufacturing takes place only in one wing of the plant; the rest is filled with crates, boxes and the steel racks used to transport finished products to the nearby assembly lines.
``That's not right,'' Mosingo said. ``It's not OK to take manufacturing space and make it into warehouse space.''
Instead, the plant will adopt a much tighter delivery and production schedule, requiring changes to the building and production, he said.
Currently, reusable containers arrive empty from customers at a loading dock along one wall at the plant. They are shuffled into temporary storage at the back of the building, then move into the center of the building for more temporary storage. Finally they shift to the presses to hold finished parts. Once filled, they go back to the center of the building for more storage before finally heading out the door.
That is changing. Sterling Heights now will adopt a ``point-of-use'' delivery system. Additional loading docks will be installed throughout the building - two already are in place. The racks will come off the trucks and directly to the press to await finished parts, then head back out the same doors with the completed components and modules. They will spend only a few hours - not days - on site.
To clear more room for processing, construction crews are preparing to move a pumping station for hydraulic fluids off the shop floor and onto a raised platform. A cockpit assembly line will go into the central area that now is temporary storage.
``We're moving a lot around to get it into the right place,'' Tinney said. ``That means that if you have to move a 1,500-ton press to the other side of the building, you do it.''
At the same time, the press operators and maintenance crews who have spent decades in the plastics business are being asked to change the way they work and to learn lean manufacturing.
Lucy Blankenship signed on with Becker in 1980, Daren Rupert in 1983. When the former Textron team came in, filled with ideas and plans for how they would change things, the pair took it all with a grain of salt.
``They told us what they'd be doing, and I said, `Yeah, right,' '' Blankenship said. ``Like that's going to help.''
The die changers working on the first shift at Sterling Heights were among the first wave of the former Becker and C&A workers asked to adopt the new operating system. Their process started with having someone watch them work, tracking their steps during changeovers.
Rupert points one out, a set of squiggles circling and circling the machine time and again.
``They call that the spaghetti chart,'' he said. ``You see that and it really slaps you in the face with the reality of it.''
During workshops, the die changers talked about ways to economize their movements - planning their steps in advance and coordinating their tasks with other members of the team. There was no new equipment purchased, just rethinking the way they did things, they said.
Rupert went from walking 1,800 feet during a changeover to 400.
``It's made me think a little bit more about what I'm doing,'' he said.
Less than two weeks after completing the workshops, Rupert and Blankenship have cut their mold-change time by 67 percent.
``It made more of a believer out of me,'' Blankenship said. ``We've found that extra time just by making changes in the way we do things - not that we have extra time on our hands. They've just found more mold changes to do.''
And the mood on the shop floor, she said, has improved.
``It's not so much of a dread now to start things up,'' she said. ``It's like, we're working on an old B-4 [press] this morning. Everybody hates that machine. It's a bear to work with. Now we still hate it, but it's not as bad of a job as it was before.''
Even the surface improvements, from painting the floor, walls and ceiling white instead of battleship gray - and scraping paint off the windows to let in natural light - are adding to the better atmosphere, Rupert says, glancing up at the sunlight pouring into the shop floor.
``It's becoming a better place,'' he said. ``There's a better vision of what we're doing.''
The Port Huron workers already accustomed to the Textron way of doing things likewise say they are happy with the newly combined operation.
Under Collins & Aikman, they said, they see more work coming their way, without changes to their management structure.
``It's been a great transition,'' Brenda Watson, an eight-year veteran, said during a break from door-panel assembly. ``Everything I hear has been good so far. We've even got some new launches coming, and that has to be good.''
The facility even is expanding thanks to the new contracts, with groundbreaking in June for a $17 million to $19 million, 30,000-square-foot addition that will add another 180 jobs in Port Huron.
Joe Robich stood before a group representing 130 of Collins & Aikman's suppliers on the afternoon of Feb. 28 to close out a daylong briefing with them on the company's buying strategy.
``It's nice to have a captive audience representing 75 percent of the dollars I spend,'' he said. ``And I just bought you all a free lunch.''
With its purchase of TAC-Trim, C&A has achieved a new status, that of a purchasing giant in the plastics industry. It now buys almost 500 million pounds of raw resins annually. Company officials figure C&A's one of the biggest buyers of resin in North America.
And with that size, the company is banking on winning more leverage.
``On the plastics side, before the acquisition, we'd normally have to call the suppliers in,'' said Robich, senior vice president of global procurement and supply chain management. ``Today, they're lined up out the door and sitting in the lobby waiting to come see us.''
The two firms' purchasing strategies meld well, he said. They both sought the same performance standards from their suppliers and in many cases already bought from the same companies.
Now it is up to Robich and his team to begin creating real savings through bulk buys, starting with up to $5 million worth of ``low-hanging fruit'' this year.
``[Before the acquisition] we'd been negotiating deals; they'd been negotiating deals. What we've done now is go back to those companies and say: `Hey, I'm paying 30 cents, they were paying 31 cents. Now we're all going to pay 30 cents.' ''
The second phase of cost-cutting will come as C&A reduces its supply base by 20 percent this year, going to 821 suppliers from 1,031. It will do that, Robich said, by offering the winning bidder the benefits of massive volume.
``Let's say, for instance, that we were buying polypropylene from Basell and ExxonMobil. Now we bring those two suppliers together and say, `OK, who wants it? We're not going to leave it as a 50-50 basis. Give us your best proposal on the volume basis and once you've got it, you don't have to keep bringing your salesman in here, you don't have to keep adding on cost.' ''
The new company also will cut its list of outside molders, he noted. With 578 presses in North America alone, it simply makes more sense to keep as much molding as possible in-house. It will, however, go to outside companies for specialty work or to a regional location the firm lacks.
Evans had planned for growth. But by the start of this year - with management from Becker, Joan, C&A and now TAC-Trim operating under one corporate umbrella - it was clear the headquarters simply was too small.
The company began by taking on a new building about three miles to the south - built by Charles Becker's real estate firm and about a quarter-mile from Textron Automotive's corporate home - to serve as the center for C&A's plastics business.
The farther the integration plans progressed, though, the more it made sense to just ``bite the bullet,'' Evans said, and take over two other adjacent buildings to house nearly all of C&A's metro Detroit offices. The exception is a facility committed to programs related to Ford vehicles and the Plymouth acoustics lab, which cannot shift easily. Those operations will stay in Dearborn.
The new campus will have one building dedicated to corporate activities, one to plastics and another to technology. Work still is ongoing at two of the buildings. A winding, landscaped footpath will connect all three of them.
Evans and the corporate staff were in the first phase of the relocation, moving in mid-March.
Two weeks later, the signs remained. There were boxes piled along hallways - empty ones waiting to be collected, some waiting to be emptied. Some offices still had paper signs on the doors, and temporary signs out front. Evans' office was up and running, though, with his favorite knick-knacks at hand.
``You notice what's here?'' he said. ``Product, product, product.''
There are samples of acoustic mats, embossed fabrics and interior trim filling the shelves along one wall. Others are available nearby in an outer office.
``This whole thing spins around product,'' he says. ``I want, right at my fingertips, the ability that if a customer is sitting in that chair, or an analyst, to be able to say, `Here, let me show you.' ''
The integration is off to a good start, but Evans estimates the firms will not be merged fully for at least a year. In his presentations to investors, managers and hourly workers, he stresses the company will be operating in the ``red zone'' for the rest of this year - a football-based analogy he has taken on to focus on peak performance.
C&A also must firm up its European consolidation, he said.
``Be patient with us,'' he stressed in his Jan. 7 videoconference. ``The last thing we want to do is organize it wrong.''
And a successful first hundred days does not guarantee a long-term success, one analyst noted. The auto industry still is a harsh environment. Customers will continue to expect cost cutting and, in contracts where Collins & Aikman acts as a Tier 2 supplier, it will have to answer to both automakers and Tier 1 integrators.
Besides, the company has more acquisitions on the burner. Evans had six companies targeted for purchase at the end of 1999. Collins & Aikman has bought three.
The full financial, manufacturing and new product improvements targeted by C&A are not fully realized yet.
Collins & Aikman reported a $46 million loss for 2001 as the economy dipped and the costs of acquisitions and integrations mounted. The firm's Dec. 20 takeover of TAC-Trim also hit the bottom line as it took on 10 days of business costs for the company, but no sales.
Analysts have stuck by C&A, though.
New York rating agency Standard & Poor's refused to alter C&A's credit rating, stating that it ``expects the company's strong new business backlog and benefit from cost-reduction actions would result in improved operating performance in 2002.''
Hilgert likewise remains bullish.
``I like the approach they're taking,'' he said. ``I think this will be a successful company.''
Efforts in the auto industry to move total interior integration to Tier 1 suppliers leaves C&A in a good position to sell either directly to automakers or to integrators, and it has no real competitors when it comes to engineering sound quality.
``Their `mega-Tier 2' strategy fits in with the industry trends, especially with what we've been seeing just over the past few months,'' Hilgert said.
Managers at Sterling Heights are anxious to chart their operation's growth during the coming months, in terms of the number of machines relocating there and improvements in processing. They have started ranking their employees' progress against those at former TAC-Trim plants, and joke that they're going to beat those old records with the new work force.
Tinney, meanwhile, is plotting exactly when he will submit the Sterling Heights plant for consideration as one of Industry Week's top plants in North America.
``We will control our own destiny,'' he said.
The technology gurus said they'll be able to offer the first elements of a combined C&A and TAC-Trim approach later this year to customers, and they expect the first components to show up on cars in a few years.
``Even in these few short months we've had so far, we've realized there is more synergy than what we'd thought existed before,'' Khambete said.
While Evans has sold investors on what the combined C&A can provide, the pressure is on the technology group to come up with the products that will sell.
``We've all made random great acts of products and technologies that were interesting feats, but either the market didn't care or they couldn't afford it,'' Rose said.
``What we're doing now is combining something from both [sides]. To achieve the kinds of things we want, we need to have exciting things to bring to market and we have to do it in the right way.''