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A Brief Overview of an Aluminum Wheel Manufacturer

Joshua is a graduate student at the USF. He has interests in business technology, analytics, finance, and lean six sigma.

Aluminum Wheel Plant

This illustration shows an  Alcoa aluminum wheel plant where multiple sizes of aluminum rims are manufactured.

This illustration shows an Alcoa aluminum wheel plant where multiple sizes of aluminum rims are manufactured.

Some of My History with Aluminum Wheel Production

As teen job options were limited for me, my job finding quest right out of high school was challenging. If you remember the economy during the early months of the year 2000 you know most industries were doing good. The auto industry was thriving, and I had more energy than I knew what to do with. With no experience in anything besides restaurants, I gravitated straight toward this manufacturing sector.

My first position was as a welder. In this role, I took on lots of fabrication work orders that included guard repairs for CNC machines and conveyer building. Most of the guys on the crew had welder/fitter and rigging backgrounds. I was able to learn a lot from the combined experience of my colleagues.

Later that year, I was asked to serve in a new position on the building maintenance crew. I had to move to second shift which was kind of a drag, but it was better than getting the axe as a result of labor cuts. Building maintenance was interesting, but I felt like I was more of a janitor than anything since I was cleaning restrooms and picking up recyclables throughout the shop.

Finally, my chance to be promoted. A guy named Jack who was the oiler on third shift was becoming a mechanic in machine maintenance. It didn't take long until I was in machine maintenance myself and I stayed in that position for the rest of my time there.

Polished Aluminum Rims

The core products that are manufactured with this company are truck and semi wheels. Additionally, Hummer wheels, motorcycle wheels, semi-trailer hitches and so many other aluminum forges and products are machined as well.

The core products that are manufactured with this company are truck and semi wheels. Additionally, Hummer wheels, motorcycle wheels, semi-trailer hitches and so many other aluminum forges and products are machined as well.

Product Offerings

The core products that this company produces is aluminum truck wheels. More specifically, these wheels manufactured are for trucks grossing in weights anywhere from 3,500 to 45,000 pounds. See above for a few examples.

There wasn't really a limit on what could be made at this factory. Most of the contracts supporting long-term business relationship were for truck wheels. The company does have a few patented products of their own including an aluminum trailer-hitch. Aluminum motor cycle wheels were made for a while as well.

Business Decisions

There are a multitude of business decisions that this company could be making. At the highest level, the president and other executives are always looking to set-up product trials with customers. In this situation, the customer provides the manufacturer with specifications such as product specifications and other manufacturing guidelines. With this data set-up, quality teams, and project management can plan new product trial runs. Project managers will be making decisions on where and when to start running proto-type lines after such trials are approved. If they were approved, production managers would wait a contract, then on an order when after the contract is approved. The production manager would now start forecasting and making scheduling changes for machine tooling change overs. This would allow them to start producing for alternate parts when time allows.

Not often, but sometimes quality managers would have to decide whether to reject raw materials from being received. This decision would occur after the first process (the raw forge de-flashing machine) encountered a certain amount of scrap. Other major decisions could involve maintenance, safety, engineering, logistics, supply chain management, and other areas of the company.

Strategic Level Issues

Strategic level issues were part of marketing strategy, operations strategy, financial strategy, and IT Strategy. One could argue that this company is so large the they may also have a quality/safety strategy. Quality and safety is merged into one department to manage (QS 9000) the quality/safety management system. One of the main goal was to keep costs down by hiring labor for as cheap as they could get people for. Every year they capitalized by maxing out the Work Opportunity Tax Credit by hiring felons and more than likely maxing out the $6,000 credit each year. There are a lot of competitors in the area so this plant really has to stay on there toes. Although, their weren't too many plant that machine the wheels as well as polished, washed, and clear coated these products. To be competitive they landed as many contracts as possible while taking into consideration delivery costs.

Tactical Level Issues

For operations management tactical level issues included: Process design, Inventory management, planning capacity, and continuous improvement. The design and planning processed made up for the bulk of the tactical decisions in operations.

At the supply chain level tactical level issues include: processing materials, purchasing materials and supplies, logistics coordinating, inventory, and quality. For supply chain of course, they had to try to on costs for the raw material, but that was tough considering Alcoa the aluminum giant has a monopoly on the aluminum industry. This was the only place were raw wheel forges could be purchased for the lowest shipping costs to be profitable. There are options for the machine tooling. At least 2 lbs. of carbide tooling inserts were being used up every single day. Beside raw materials this cost was second in line and luckily there are many suppliers for those tools.

Operational Level Issues

Operational level issues within this organization can be found in each of the following areas:

  • Inventory Management- Executing policies and maintenance.
  • Quality assurance and control- Control chart use and in-process inspections.
  • Logistics and materials handling- Coordinating shipment and packaging requirements.
  • Safety policies- Training and enforcement.
  • Equipment maintenance policies- Training and scheduling.

Supply Chain Network

Take notice that there is only one supplier for this company due to the aluminum industry becoming monopolized by the aluminum giant Alcoa.

Take notice that there is only one supplier for this company due to the aluminum industry becoming monopolized by the aluminum giant Alcoa.

Competitive Priorities

The biggest competitive priorities for this manufacturer was adding new business to the company, working on projects that the company patented and designed, and the adaptation of a new quality management system.

Structural and Infrastructural Decision Areas

In the past this company had made some large scale structural decisions. Building an addition to the original building to expand operations was huge. After I started, my first three months was painstaking as an eighteen-year-old. We worked mandatory twelve hour shifts seven days week and longer is problems arose. The addition created a completely different value stream for the company by providing automated rotary cells that polished wheels. The next addition was a whole new building which was a clear coat and power coat facility.

Conclusion

The Aluminum industry is huge and it is a great industry to become involved with. I learned manufacturing principles here that I will carry with me my whole life.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Joshua Crowder