Manufacturing Genius

Roy Perry is moving production full speed ahead at Dell Computer

When Roy Perry went to work for Dell Computer, it took him only two months to begin redesigning the way Dell put its award-winning computers together. One year later, his techniques are being implemented throughout the company, and patents are in the works. More than that, Perry and his team have helped Dell, now the world’s leading direct computer-systems company, grow faster than ever.
As vice president of operations for Dell’s Dimension, Latitude and Inspiron computers in Austin, Texas, Perry is responsible for manufacturing three of Dell’s six brands for North, Central and South America. Plants located in Ireland and Malaysia service the rest of the globe.

Founded in 1984, Dell has created success by selling its computers directly to customers and manufacturing them one at a time, as ordered. With fiscal revenues for 1998 at $12.3 billion–a 59% increase over the previous year–Dell is now ranked third in the PC industry worldwide. The company now sells $5 million in computer goods each day direct from its Internet site.

When Perry arrived, Dell’s plants were using a progressive-build manufacturing style similar to automotive assembly lines. With this method, Dell delivered a computer to a customer’s doorstep in five days. “We wanted to get below five,” recalls Perry, who has an operating budget of over $50 million and a crew of 1,200. To do that, Perry was part of a cross-functional team that included engineers from all levels of the company as well as associates from the assembly line. Soon, processes were mapped and time periods that did not add value to the product were identified.

The final outcome was a total changeover: a new continuous-flow process in which teams of three build and test an entire computer by themselves. “We had the first line up and running in 100 days,” says the 42-year-old Houstonian. Within a year, Perry increased productivity by 50% without increasing headcount or hours. “And yes, we can now do it in under five days,” he adds.

The continuous-flow process also gives associates a new sense of pride and ownership, explains Perry. “Whereas before, someone might put in one piece all day long, now that same person understands how to build an entire computer,” he says. “We’ve created career paths like never before. The leap from associate to repair technician or engineer has become possible.”

Perry is no stranger to the computing world. After receiving a B.S. from Prairie View and an M.S. from Iowa State, both in electrical engineering, he joined IBM in 1980. During his 14-year tenure with Big Blue, Perry held a wide variety of posts, including design engineer and manufacturing liaison for the company’s divisional president. Also during that time, Perry earned his M.B.A. from Stanford as a Sloan Fellow.

In 1994, Perry joined Allied Signal Aerospace as vice president of operations for the company’s Commercial Avionics System Division. Overseeing five plants worldwide that manufactured a multitude of products designed to improve flight safety, Perry also helped Allied streamline its business. In 1997 he joined Dell, where he found

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