aka Building Moxie Gets Its Faucet Geek On!
And now onto the second part of our adventure in Memphis. I mean – I have already told you about our visit with the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. But another reason this luxury faucet maker brought 80 bloggers, from all corners of this continent and beyond, to a city in the Mid-South, we were going to get an even deeper, deep behind-the-scenes look at the Brizo brand.
We toured Delta Faucet‘s Jackson Facility (below). We saw state of the art assembly practices, and learned about the science behind the company’s best product offerings.
(For more Factory Tours with Building Moxie, check out our category Tours.)
Full Disclosure: All of our expenses were paid on this trip.
* Who is Brizo?
Brizo, like Toyota’s Lexus, is Delta Faucet’s luxury line. And as Brizo is part of Delta, we toured one of Delta’s primary manufacturing and distribution facilities in nearby Jackson, TN. It is here that most products in the Brizo fleet are assembled.
As for the Blogger 19, see this roundup – Building Moxie & The Blogger 19.
We also got an intimate look at the technology, as well as the design and thought, behind some of the brand’s core features – respectively, SmartTouch and H2OKinetic. We were wowed too when were introduced to several new tub filler options – dramatic sculptures and free standing works of art.
Delta Faucet’s Jackson Plant
Delta Faucet is headquartered in Indianapolis, IN. In 1954, it secured the patent on a ball valve, which facilitated the design and manufacture one of (or if not) the first single-handle kitchen faucet.
From that, the water and this story gets aflowin’.
This 600,000 sf facility in Jackson opened its doors in 1995, producing and shipping the first of the Brizo line in 2007. While still responsible for service parts, including parts for retrofits on that earlier ball valve equipment, this location shipped some 23,000 new faucets last year. With roughly 800 employees, about 70% of Delta Faucet’s products and 80% of Brizo’s products are assembled here.
We stopped first at the station responsible for assembling tub/shower diverters, aka “roughs”. Delta in fact produces and sells under the name Peerless, along with Brizo and of course Delta. These tub products offer a true “multiple choice” rough-in. That is – trims can be interchanged not only within, but across brands.
* Lean Manufacturing at Work
This line, as with many of the lines we toured, featured dedicated assembly and included deeply embedded defect detection. As jotted in my notebook, many lines incorporated “Pokey Oaks.” As I found out only later, actually spelled “poka-yoke.” These are Lean Manufacturing techniques (and tools) used to assist with error-proofing. Some lines employed small counter mechanisms used in a method dubbed “pick and click.” These were especially prominent on packaging lines.
While stringent quality assurance procedures are in place across the factory, it is fair to say that products in the Brizo brand are held to an even higher standard. In many cases, Brizo products receive not only a water test, but also more stringent air (pressure) testing.
Recycling belts are built into the infrastructure, and since the plant deals heavily in brass, this is invaluable. Brass used in production is stocked as long rods, ranging in diameters from 3/16” up to 2 5/8” and coming in lengths ranging from say 12 to 16 feet. Only about 15% of that raw material will actually go into products, meaning about 85% is ultimately recirculated … fortunately, in a true closed loop system.
* Diamonds Are a … Faucet Geek’s Best Friend
Brizo (and perhaps Delta) has moved all new faucet products to a more advanced Diamond Seal Technology (or DST – as it is called on the floor). As we learned, diamond-encrusted ceramic disks eliminate metal’s contact with metal. This helps not only with meeting ever tightening codes and regulations. It also offers superior life against wear for moving parts. Delta maintains the exclusive patent on this technology. They also utilize an injection molding facility in Morgantown, KY for this component’s production.
On the Red Carpet with Hand-Assembled Brizo Faucets
Yes, there is actually a red carpet that runs through the areas of this facility that are dedicated exclusively to Brizo products. Their connection with fashion of course is felt, but elegance too – especially surrounding the location where newly-released tub fillers are worked. Nearby vignettes and clear cases throw off a showroom feel. As hinted at above, the tub fillers we saw in production were assembled wholly by hand. Because of this, and because assembly occurs after finish is applied, additional steps are taken throughout to protect those products against damage.
In this section of the facility, there are approximately 20 lines total. These included both those used for sub-assembly and those dedicated to finishing. Speaking of finishes, and packaging, I always love hearing about manufacturers’ secret weapons.
What products are used for the final clean on finishes before shipment?
… That’s right – Windex.
Duracell batteries, too, are shipped with the battery packs used in SmartTouch equipped faucets.
* Finishes are Fascinating
I lingered a little longer too at the stations where “hand peel” (better known as the texture associated with a brushed finish look) are applied. These, it turns out, are run by hand on a texturing wheels fitted with industrial-grade Scotch-Bright pads. Operators here are some of the most highly skilled within the operation. It was said that it requires many years of practice to make it in this department.
Finish is applied using a unique plating system. Each finish is a unique recipe – the chemical compositions of which, an exact science. The Brilliance finish, found on some Brizo faucets, goes through an additional process called “physical vapor disposition” or PVD. Four large chambers fitted with zirconium rods vaporize metal, and then when assisted by an electrical charge, essentially fuse a finish to parts.
A dedicated finishing facility in Greensburg, IN handles any work not completed here in Jackson.
A central distribution system, using advanced warehouse management software system, routes packages for shipment electronically. This system itself detects defects by weighing cartons that pass through it at given intervals. Each package has a SKU and is said to be scanned a total of six times. Fixed locations along the lines allow “replens” to occur at the exact same location every time. Very Efficient.
Not All Touch Technologies are the Same
The faucet geek in me almost exploded listening to Director of R&D, Bob Rodenbeck, as he discussed how SmartTouch moved through ethnography (using somewhat low-tech research surrounding how people function at their sinks), through ideation, and ultimately landing at the capacitive sensing (ooo baby … sweet spot) behind the company’s current “Touch” technologies.
This is the same technology that is employed when interacting with the screens on the phones and/or the tablets. The technology is preferred in these applications because it is very repeatable – person to person, situation to situation. Senior Electrical Engineer, Joel Sawaski, walked us through some astonishing demos. These showed how truly inferior infrared sensing (for example) can be.
While introduced in the kitchen, SmartTouch has expanded into the bathroom with SmartTouch Plus. Some bathroom products, specifically, utilize small “servo motors” which serve up a TempIQ intelligent temperature control and below-the-deck mixing. We saw live-action stations that placed Brizo’s feature up against those offered by a few leading competitors. The secret with Brizo’s success in this arena might lie simply in the fact that they employ several electrical engineers full-time. Yes, at a Faucet Company!
Pooling both Delta and Brizo’s portfolios, there are currently 75 different SKUs, including varying styles and finishes, that are Touch-capable.
And Please Don’t You Mess with My Shower. Well, Unless …
For my group, the conversation in the late afternoon turned to showering. “All senses are engaged,” they say, with showering. It really isn’t something that is “one size fits all.” Everybody has their own way, and Brizo acknowledges that when developing their shower products it really isn’t something that needs … re-inventing.
Delta’s Paul Patton, a leading expert on showering, admits though that the “green movement” has been the driving factor here. He asked – with calls for conserving water, how do you meet the need of pushing down water flows without compromising the quality of the shower experience?
With that, and crediting a windshield wiper sprayer for inspiration, the company’s H2OKinetic technology was born.
* More on the Science of Showering
Of it, Patton says, “It is about controlling water and ultimately water droplet size.” And how was it achieved? Not through mechanical means, or with air, but rather with physics. As a large-scale working model depicted, cavities (or voids) inside a “chip’s” chamber harness water’s natural velocity and momentum to create vortexes. The alternating activity (or lack of) in these “low-pressure areas” then provides added movement to a water’s stream both for a wider and a smarter spray.
In context, a traditional shower head will provide about a 25% surface coverage, whereas H2OKinetic provides up to 90%. Available with both 2D (two dimensional) and 3D (yes, three dimensional – I think) chips. These shower implements still produce an output of 1.5 gallons a minute. Because of the added movement, though, and because of droplet size too, it is said that the experience feels more like 2.5 gallons a minute.
Booty Slappin’, Butt Kickin’ anddddd … We Out!
Of course…! There were some exciting new offerings, though many of course I am not at liberty to discuss.
I will give a little tease out to the SteamPunk fans in the bunch. I’ll say, there looks like there might be an Industrial Chic offering coming that will, without a doubt, blow your Mad Max-inspired chaps right off.
Props to Brizo, and the team at MSL for making the Blogger 19 Reunion a reality (or is that a dream?). Thanks for the smoothness, and thanks for providing us with an outstanding app to help us navigate the event. (I’d take a pic, but, really … it’s on my phone. ha!)
Oh! and thanks for the entertainment … the “Ball Room Reception” – dualing pianos, the flashing lights and a photo booth; the Itta Bena (above BB King’s Blues Club) – good food, piano jams and a sweet new shower system (shhh); and the Peabody Hotel – its famous ducks and a lobby that felt like, well … home.
But most of all – thanks for bringing all of these fantastic people together in one location, for one amazing experience. That’s it. ~jb
Some, Okay Most, Photos Courtesy of Brizo.