Monthly Archives: March 2015

One Man’s Lean Journey: Perseverance and Creativity Help Provide Positive Experiences

A lean thinker will always continue to push on boundaries whether it be around processes or how things are viewed. It isn’t an easy road to continually be pushing against the normal thought pattern but when it works out it is very rewarding. One big breakthrough makes up for many failed breakthroughs.

The automotive supplier I worked for specialized in plastic trim parts. The parts had three finishes: molded in the color, painted or chrome. The facility had 30 injection molding presses ranging from 500 ton to 3500 ton. In order to reduce inventory and shorter our lead time we had the hair-brained idea to actually connect four molding presses to the chrome plating line. It was hair brained for two reasons: 1) we needed to moved 1800 ton presses and they weren’t easy to move and 2) the chrome plating line racks were 10 ft x 15 ft so a pit would have to dug in the concrete next to the molding press so rack could be lowered to where operators could load the top of the rack.

Studies on paper showed the molding cycles and changeover times lined up nicely with our rack storage capacity for the plating line as it was. The savings was in the neighborhood of $250,000 or more per year in inventory, lead time and labor. The VP would not sign-off. He just couldn’t picture it.

Fortunately, the plant manager wouldn’t drop it. So, I got approval to purchase a computer simulation package I had a history with and model the before and after states of the areas. It took about three months to get refreshed with the program language and then create the base models. We then spent another couple of months tweaking and playing with scenarios. This allowed for a better estimate of the savings and to help visualize how the facility would work.

We were able to present the idea again to the VP and he started to see and move on his original opinion. It took a few weeks of the plant manager following up with the VP before he finally gave his consent.

From original idea to breaking ground was about a year. When it was done it worked very well. We reduced the lead time about about a week, freed up employees to work in areas where we had temporary help and saved approximately 20,000 sq. ft. of space.

Nothing like this had been done before and even people in the facility said it would never work. When it did it opened up the possibilities for so much more.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to see the “more” because I left and took a position at another company.

Reflection:

* It can be hard and frustrating to not be able to get others to see the potential and just continue so squash ideas, but if you have just one or two of the right believers it can make all the difference in the world. For me, that was the plant manager in this case.
* Sometimes you have to be creative to get people to change their views. You have to provide them with new positive experiences. For the VP, we couldn’t spend the large about of money to just do it and show him. We had to come up with a different way. That was the computer modeling. It allowed him to see things and ask questions to have a good experience in the new world. For the plant staff and employees, it was seeing the new idea actually come to life and work.
* I learned how to be stubborn with my beliefs but to do it a positive manner and how to back up, regroup and take a different approach to get the message through.

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Error Proofing Swedish Style

I was at IKEA the other week and saw the best error proofing for cart safety.  If you haven’t been to an IKEA store, it is massive.  The parking for our store is ground level and the store is on the second and third levels.  Elevators are used to help get the carts down to the ground level as well as an escalator.  The shopping carts have suction cups on the wheels that engage as you get on the flat escalator.

For safety reasons, IKEA does not want customers to take the flatbed carts down the escalator.  Products could slide off and cause an accident.  In line with the traditional mindset, there are signs posted showing a normal shopping cart is OK to take down the escalator and the flatbeds are not.

In a lean error proofing mindset, IKEA made it impossible to take the flatbeds down the escalator.

IKEA_CartsThere are two poles that are four foot high as you enter the escalator.  The normal shopping cart fits through the poles with a couple of inches to spare.  The flatbed cart is made to be angled out wider so it can’t fit.  The poles are also positioned so neither cart can enter from the side.

It was a great system that a lean person can truly appreciate.

One Man’s Lean Journey: Process and Data Don’t Matter…Just Emotions!

Following a structured problem solving approach takes fortitude and courage when the world around you wants to shoot from the hip and judge based on their emotions. I found this out when dealing with one of the automakers we supplied.

Our quality engineer (QE) got a call that our grilles were not fitting the front of the cars correctly and asked her to take a look into it. The QE asked me to help find the root cause. We first tested our gages at our facility and found they were certified and working properly. Our parts showed to be within the tolerances given to us by the automaker.

We decided a trip to the automaker was needed to see the process, talk with the operators and also run a couple of tests. The QE and I asked the automaker’s QE to pull two vehicles off the lot and save for us to test. One vehicle is a great example of how the part should fit and one vehicle where the part fits very poorly.

When we arrived at the assembly facility the first thing the QE and I did was go out to the assembly line and talk with the operators that assemble our grilles the the vehicles. The operators said our grille may not fit the first vehicle but would work great on the next one down the line. This was a big clue. Direct observation of the process was a huge help in understanding how our grilles were assembled to the cars. We ended up knowing the process better than the automaker’s QE.

Next we asked to see the two vehicles we requested to be set aside. Well, he only saved the bad vehicle and not the good one. This became a point of contention because we needed a good car to compare the differences and conduct a test. He argued with me for 10 minutes before I finally convinced him to pull one in from the lot outside.

I conducted my test and proved with a 95% confidence level that our grille was not root cause of the fit issues. There were two possible causes: 1) the fender or 2) the fender’s interaction with our grille (the fender on one end of their specs mixed with a grille on the opposite end of our specs could cause the fit issues).

This was not received well at all. The automaker’s QE contested everything I did and wouldn’t believe the findings even though he watched me during the entire test. It took a second automaker QE to come over and see what was going on to get any agreement. The second automaker QE heard about the test and backed up my findings.

I even volunteered my help to conduct more tests to find the root cause. They agreed to the help and both the automaker and the QE from my company had action items to complete in the next two weeks in order to do further testing.

As we followed up with the automaker’s QE over the next couple of weeks, we found he was not living up to his end of the action items and was still trying to blame our grille. The QE and I had to escalate the issue to our plant manager who supported us and called their plant manager.

A compromise was reached. The test was conducted as I laid out but I was not allowed back into their facility. In the end, it was the fender that had issues.

It was hard to stick to the process when every obstacle was being thrown in the way. It taught me a valuable lesson about how strong emotions on a subject can be even with data and facts presented.

Reflections:

  • A strong process is an amazing thing to be able to fall back on in times of stress. It showed exactly why people fall back into old habits when things aren’t going well.
  • The right thing isn’t always the easy thing. It can be hard to standup for the right thing even when it is good for your customer.
  • Having a leadership team that supports and encourages strong processes is critical when those processes are challenged
  • Solidified my belief in the power of a strong process to get predictable and sustainable results
  • Direct observation of the grille being assembled provided strong facts that no one that hasn’t seen the process could argue

One Man’s Lean Journey: If You Follow the Process, The Results Will Come

One of the most valuable lesson I learned while working in the automotive industry wasn’t about the industry or people or even myself. The most valuable lesson I learned was having a great process will yield predictable results. I didn’t learn this from a manufacturing process. Instead I learned this from a problem solving process.

The automotive supplier I worked for was part of the Chrysler Supplier Quality Program. As part of that program, I got to learn different methodologies for problem solving. One was Shainin’s Red X methodology. I followed the methodology stringently. The benefit was repeatedly achieving great results.

One example was the with the electro-plating line. This is a large vats of chemical baths that produced a chrome finish on plastic parts. The line was operating at a 84% yield. Any defects that came out of the line had to be trashed. The parts could not be salvaged. We were throwing away approximately $40,000/week in scrap. I was asked to problem solve the scrap and get the yield up.

I knew squat about chemistry then and I still don’t know squat. In fact, I needed a tutor in college to get me through freshman chemistry. But that was my task.

Following Shainin’s Red X methodology and never wavering from the process, within in two years the plating line was running at a 96% yield. The line had never ran above 91%. Scrap dollars were down to $10,000/week.

I learned that I didn’t have to know anything about an area to achieve significant results if I followed a good process. It is something that is stated repeatedly in the lean world, but until you have the experience it is hard to truly understand the power of this.

I was accused of “always being right”. I never said anything of the sort but when I was accused of that I would say, “Yes, because I follow the process not because I know anything.”

Have you experienced a good process that is predictable and repeatable?

Reflections:

  • A good process is more powerful than hero employees
  • You don’t have to be an expert in an area in order to produce significant results
  • It is easier to stick to a process when you are unfamiliar with the area, because you can’t rely on your “expertise”

One Man’s Lean Journey: Safety First. What It Truly Means.

Lean and safety go together like peanut butter and jelly. Safety should always come first. Whether the company is trying to implement lean or not. Safety is #1.

The automotive facility I was working at was one of the many places that claimed safety first in everything they did. It wasn’t until the management saw it ranked nearly last among facilities owned by the corporation. This is when the transformation took place.

Safety became a daily discussion in every area. A safety committee formed by employees. Safety bingo with a cash payout began. But the biggest change was came within the management team and how they handled safety concerns and issues. When an accident did occur all management was required to participate in understanding why it happened. Also, anytime there was a requisition making the facility a safer place it was signed…no questions asked. No ROI.

Within two years, the facility was in the Top 5 worldwide for the corporation for safety. The facility surpassed 2.5 million man hours worked without an accident. Employees were correcting other employees when it came to safety concerns.

Actions around safety were clear and concise. There was no room for misinterpretation. A 40 year veteran and amazing tooling engineer got sent home for one week with no pay because he did not lock out / tag out the machine before he went into it. It was shocking but sent a statement.

Contrast that to another facility I was in a few years later where the hearing protection rules were vague and unclear. When approached about this the management team was defensive and was more concerned about the inconvenience of dealing with hearing protection. Two years later the facility had four cases of hearing loss.

Lean or not the automotive facility was truly dedicated to safety.

Reflections:

  • Safety first is a mindset. It isn’t just something you do. It is something you believe.
  • Being safe and believing in safety are different things.
  • The actions of a leadership team give true insight into their belief around safety.