Lean Tools, Workplace

Reducing setup time to improve the operation

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.

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Continuous Improvement

Are we really doing root cause analysis?

During the staff meeting, one of our managers was talking about how a conveyor broke during start-up, causing downtime and thousands of pounds of product on hold due to possible foreign matter.  While he explained the results of their root cause analysis, on my mind I was keeping a tally of how many times I heard about it the last couple of months.

We have a continuous improvement program, posters everywhere with the “steps” for problem-solving, forms to fill out during each one of those steps and finally on every single corrective action report there is a mention to the root cause analysis.  And yet, root cause analysis and problem-solving are obviously not effective.

If you really want to get to the root of your problems, do not pick a solution and call it problem-solving.  Guess the reason for a problem is not root cause analysis either, not even when you have a meeting to talk about the problem and all agree on what the reason could be.  Follow the process that better fit your team, PDCA, DMAIC or other but follow it right.  Our employees are watching, our supervisors are frustrated for dealing with the same issue over and over, they are eager to learn how to make it stop.  We are responsible to show them the right path, take the lead and go to the gemba with them, see what is going on and do a real root cause analysis and problem-solving session.

Continuous Improvement, Kaizen, Work Standards

Why choosing the right metrics is important?

“What gets measured, gets managed”. ~Peter Drucker

There is no kaizen without standards, and we cannot establish standards without measurements.

Standards are required to efficiently manage the work areas on a daily basis.  Every time problems arise, managers should go to gemba to revise the existing standards, investigate what happened and identify the root cause for the non-conformance.  Sometimes, the problem is that there is no standard.  To be able to understand the problem and later on create standards we need to collect data of the current status and analyze it.  Why happened? When? How?  As soon as you answer these questions, establish a temporary countermeasure on the spot and then find the root cause.  If the real cause of the problem is not identified, it will happen again.  After the root cause identification standardizes to prevent a recurrence.

The three major kaizen activities are standardization, 5S and elimination of Muda (waste).  All three requires gathering some kind of data and analyze it to get improvements.  A lack of 5S can be considered a sign of inefficiency.  A good 5S program, on the other hand, is very helpful to identify right away non-conformance situations and facilitate the starting point to start the investigation process.

Good measurements are critical for kaizen, they provide a picture of the current process.  Metrics need to be aligned with the company KPI’s and easy to understand by the production floor employees. The metrics selection, their accuracy, and precision are very important to the success of the continuous improvement activities.  Wrong or inaccurate metrics will lead us to take wrong decisions.

Motivation, Workplace

Is it better together?

“The running thread through my career has been the notion that when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together in a collective effort, things change for the better,” President Obama

Do you remember when you were a child and your parents ask you to clean your room?  Not that you wanted to do it but if you had to do it any way you wanted to do it your way.  But your mother insisted on telling you where you have to store every action figure, every puzzle, every little thing you have.  After a short but intense struggle, you end up doing what she said.

When we are trying to improve a process, most of the time we feel the urgency to jump straight to the answer without even asking what happen.  That same urgency pushes us to tell people what we think has to be done without asking for their input.  Imposing ideas in the workplace is never a good way to improve the process much less the work environment.  It is just like the children following his mother’s instructions with reluctance, not a single intention to make it work.

A visit to the gemba is never complete without interaction with the employees. Observation of the process is critical but when the time comes to ask for why’s, do not ask yourself or other managers, ask the person(s) doing that process.  Even if the answer is obvious, you need to engage the employees by asking with respect, guiding them through the root cause analysis process.  Allow them the chance to express their ideas and proof them right.  If they were wrong, still there is a learning process.  Take the learn lessons with you and guide them through a start over.

The more people participate in this process, more and better ideas will come through and together we will change things for the better.  That is the spirit of a problem-solving people-focused workplace.