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, with six to eight people, leave after a while and then come back again. After an hour another truck comes to drop off the post that was laying on the dirt for about one hour. 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. The skid loader has also capabilities to carry the pole and lift it 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 anxious. A crew was clearing the area, cutting branches and trimming bushes. Right behind them, five or six guys were looking. After the cleaning crew finished, nobody was doing anything productive. They were 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. They seemed confused, there was some discussion on what they need and how to put them together. 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 that time watching the others. He never tried 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. One technique is to convert the setup to be external. For example, to prepare the parts and have the truck ready while the cleaning crew was working. Another way is simplifying internal the setup. For example, eliminating the need for tools by replacing bolts with knobs and levers. Another way to simplify is to create a color code or any other visual aid to make it easier looking for parts. Finally, another technique is to cut non-essential operations.
A good leader is curious about ways to improve the operation of engaging the team on the continuous improvement process. They walk the team through a series of whys to identify the root cause of the downtime and figure out solutions. Here are examples of possible solutions. After the site assessment, the first crew clean the area while the second crew search for parts and complete the setup. The skid-steer and the post will arrive right after the third crew. This group will get the truck off the trailer, aligning it to the post. They will also prepare the post for loading and will move it closer to the location. The team can create standardize work to ensure the same process happens each time. Team participation is critical for the success of the improvement exercise.
Lean manufacturing tools are not for the manufacturing floor only. Lean is for any industry, including service. Sometimes waste reduction is common sense. For example the reduction of walking time, waiting for equipment or parts or looking for them. Do not be content with the status quo, always look for ways to improve.