Today a team from the energy company was working on replacing one electrical post. The work started with two guys and a truck. Then a couple of trucks more arrived, six to eight people arrive, leave after a while and then come back again. After an hour another truck comes to drop off the post that was for about one hour laying on the dirt. The post they planned to replace was in my neighbor’s back yard. I was wondering how they were going to dig in the hole and lift the pole when a fifth truck arrived hauling a funny little truck.
It was a skid-steer loader equipped with a hole digger auger. I learned that the skid loader has also capabilities to carry the pole and put it up and they drive it using a wired remote control. All the walking around had me nervous but at this point, I was starting to feel really anxious. A crew was clearing the area, cutting branches and trimming bushes while five or six guys were just looking. When the cleaning crew finished nobody was doing anything productive, just walking up and down the street until the little truck arrived. Then a couple of them started to take parts out of one of the trucks and for a while, there was so much confusion as to what they needed and how to put together some of those parts that almost an hour went by before they decided that everything was ready to start.
To start moving the little truck out of the trailer, that is. The skid-steer driver was all the time watching the others but never try to get it off the trailer and have it ready to load the post. Nobody thought about getting the parts ready while the cleaning crew was working.
One of the most used lean manufacturing tools is Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) or quick change over. It is used to reduce the setup or change over time. The goal is to reduce this time to ten minutes or less. Some of the techniques used are: convert setup steps to be external (performed while the process is running, simplify internal setup (e.g. eliminating the need of tools by replacing bolts with knobs and levers) and, eliminate non-essential operations.
A good leader is curious about ways to improve the operation and engage the team on the continuous improvement process walking them through a series of whys to identify the root cause of the downtime for this process and then figure out solutions. Here are examples of possible solutions. After the site assessment, the first crew will start cleaning the area while the second crew starts searching for parts and completing their setup. Plan the skid-steer delivery to be right after the post, upon receiving the third crew get it off the trailer and align it to the post to further prepare it for loading and move it to location. To ensure the same process happen each time, the team can create standardized work instructions. Team participation is critical for the success of the improvement exercise.
Lean manufacturing tools are not just for the manufacturing floor, they can be applied to any industry. Some of them are just common sense, like reducing all the time wasted walking, waiting for equipment or parts or looking for them. Do not be content with the status quo, always look for ways to improve.