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.
* 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.
My time at Thomson Consumer Electronics came to an abrupt end as the company went from 2,000 people in the U.S. to 250 people in a years time. I got a job with Guardian Automotive. The facility I was hired into specialized in exterior plastic trim. Guardian’s customers included almost everyone during the five years I was there: GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Harley-Davidson, BMW, International and Freightliner to name a few.
The first few months was very frustrating. My manager and I were trying to make process changes that made since to us in order to reduce WIP. We wanted to move assembly next to the paint lines so there was no paint inventory, but people fought this at every turn.
Then a big change happened. Guardian got a new VP of manufacturing and he brought in his director of lean. We were going to be a lean company. After years of studying Shingo and using lean tools, this was the first time I had heard the term “lean”.
Everyone got pulled off-site for an intro to lean and a hands-on balloon simulation showing pull vs push. During the simulation, I leaned over to my manager and whispered, “This is what we have been trying to do for months with the paint lines.” I was anxious to see how things would go now. The couple hour simulation was the extent of our lean training. We were told to “go do”.
Talk about ‘deer in the headlights’ after that. No real training and being told to “go be lean”.
The first thing my manager and I did was re-establish the idea of connecting the assembly area to the paint lines. We discussed it with the plant manager and how it would be like the balloon simulation. We had his support and were able to complete the work within a few weeks.
Over the next few years, the facility became a lean playground for myself, Joe Wilson (who also blogs on Beyond Lean), and our manager. We learned something, tried it, screwed it up, fixed it and made huge progress.
Our time was a huge success in that the plant went from $500k in the red on $120 million sales to $8.5 million in the black on $90 million sales in three years. But it was a huge failure as well. We had phenomenal support to make the changes we did, but we didn’t change the leadership’s thinking. After we all left the plant was back in the red in about a year.
I don’t say that to too our own horn, but as a lesson in how important it is to change people’s thinking and behaviors in order to sustain the change.
I will be diving deeper into my experiences at Guardian moving forward.
- It is critical to not only have the support of leadership but to change their mindsets and behaviors in order to maintain the changes during a lean implementation
- Top down support makes an enormous difference in the work you can accomplish and the time to accomplish it
Recently, Bill Waddell published a great blog post highlighting the benefits of reducing changeover time. The post was about reducing the manufacturing cycle which is the time it takes to produce every product. Bill used an actual story from a client of his.
To be sure there were other inputs to the improvement – a simple demand pull method and more statistically valid methods of determining the inventory needed to cover the cycle, but set-up reduction was at the heart of it, and the improvements there translated into significantly less inventory, better on time delivery and lower costs.
Hearing stories like the one Bill wrote about just reaffirms the importance of reducing changeover time. It is something that companies take for granted. Most companies don’t see it as critical to achieving the business needs and goals.
Bill gives two great examples of where changeovers have been deemed to critical or their business would die.
I recently saw a cruise ship go through the change-over process and it is really quite similar. Dock and disembark some 3,000 passengers and their luggage and take on 3,000 new ones, restock tons of food and supplies, perform necessary maintenance to the ship, then sail again all in the course of a few hours. They have all sorts of specially designed devices and a very well trained crew of folks to do it … but they have to. That turnaround is the key to their success. In that regard they are a lot like the NASCAR or Indy cars – change-over fast or die.
Manufacturing companies don’t take this view. My question is “Why not?”
If results like the company Bill talks about receives such incredible benefit that help them stay viable and profitable, why aren’t more companies doing it? What other evidence is needed?
Does your company consider quick changeover critical to it’s success?
My family and I had a nice day at Schlitterbahn waterpark a couple of weeks back. It was a lot fun and the rides were great. While waiting in line for each of the slides, I couldn’t help but think about the very poor value stream management for the rides.
For one set of three slides, the line was split in two. For two particular slides the line was to the right and for the third slide the line was on the left. When you got to the top the lines then crossed each other causing a ton of confusion and a park employee trying to keep the lines separate and correct. See the diagram below.
Also, if one of the first few didn’t want to ride one of the two slides from the line on the right then that slide would sit idle for a few minutes until the riders on the other slide unclogged the line. It was a waste of time and use of the one slide.
There was a second group of three slides at another part of the park. At this group of slides, two of them needed mats to ride down and the third needed a tube to ride the slide. They didn’t mark this line with two separate lines so people had to tell you there were two lines. Also, the mats for two of the slides were not stored at the entrance to the slides but at the exit. You had to fight people through the exit, get a mat, then walk back around to the entrance. All the tubes were stored at the entrance for the one slide. This caused over an hour wait for the one slide but only a 10 minute wait for the 2 slides with the mats.
The way the park handled the value streams for the slides caused unbalanced lines and confusion for anyone that had not been there before. It was a great lesson in making things visual and easy to understand in order to make a better experience for the customer.
During the past weekend, I end up reflecting on how I have spent some summers of the past. I don’t know why. I just did for some reason. There was one summer 17 years ago that ended sticking in my mind that I thought I would share.
I was working for a consumer electronics company that had manufacturing in the U.S. and in Mexico. One fall, I was asked to help design a new manufacturing facility to be built in Mexico and they wanted it to be a Just-In-Time facility. This was my first time hearing about JIT, so I read up on the concept. Of course, 17 years ago almost all the material was about what it was and not how it worked.
The goal was to only have 2 hours of production materials at the production lines. I made a super fancy spreadsheet that showed how much square footage was needed in each area based on line speed, shelving, component size, packaging, etc…
In July, I was approached again and asked if I would spend the month in Mexico straightening out what was going on. The JIT system wasn’t working. There wasn’t enough room for everything.
My boss and I went over the spreadsheet three times before we went on our visit and verified all the calculations and formulas. It was all fine.
When we arrived the first day, we toured the plant. We where horrified. Televisions that were designed to stack 3 high were stacked 6 or 7 high. Boxes were being crushed and leaning. They looked like they could fall at any minute. Areas that were not designed for storage were stuffed and there were approximately 100 trailers in the parking lot with materials in them.
This was a brand new facility. It had only been open about 1 or 2 months. It was a disaster.
The first thing I learned was there was no ramp up period. On a Friday, one facility was closed. The following Monday this facility was opened and expected to run at full capacity. I had never seen any company do that before or since. There is always a ramp up period.
The second thing we learned and more importantly was there had been no training on JIT, what it was or how it worked. The facility was operating under old batch-n-queue mentality causing space to quickly fill up.
My manager and I were able to get the inventory under control through some strict inventory management processes and even get a more consistent delivery of materials to the assembly lines.
In the end, the company was not ready to run any differently. It was a shame. They ended up expanding the building and continued to run in a batch-n-queue manner. I believe the facility has been closed in the last 3 or 4 years.
It was my first exposure to JIT and all that it takes to run a JIT system successfully. I call it a system because it isn’t just about space and delivering parts. It is the management mentality to reduce changeovers, run in much smaller batches and solve problems. It really showed me how everything must work together.
Does anyone else have any horror stories from trying to implement a just-in-time system?
Small change vs. Large change is a debate I hear quite often within the Lean community.
The meaning of kaizen is to continuously make change for the better. Implied is to make small changes everyday and over time it will add up. Paul Akers at FastCap often talks about the 2 second kaizen.
Every improvement counts. This is small change.
The flip side of the discussion is large change. Transform the work into something new. Redesign the process, the layout, the flow. Act in a completely different way.
My opinion…they are both right and you should do both. The key is understanding what your organization needs and when.
If it is a traditional batch and queue organization (manufacturing or service), then as you start your lean transformation I would recommend large change. Create a pull system where the parts or service flow uninterrupted. Dramatically change the way you operate.
Once the large change is done, the improvement never stops. This is when you start looking for the 2 second improvements in the process. Everyday the process should be better. Keep making small changes.
This isn’t the only way to go about a lean transformation. It is just one way. If you want to be successful with your lean transformation take the time to really consider your strategy for going about the transformation.
All in all, some improvement is ALWAYS better than no improvement…small or large.
Flow is a concept that lean teaches about how a product/service moves from beginning to end. When the product/service stops there is a disruption in the flow. This is when inventory starts to build between two steps in the process.
With the functional mentality, people only worry about optimizing each machine, without regard to the flow. The thought is, “I have to run this machine as fast as I can and get as much product out as possible.”
The hard part for people with this mentality to understand is the product/service will only move as fast as the slowest operation. No exceptions. Period.
Take a simple process like doing laundry at home. My dryer is always slower than my washer, so when I have multiple loads of laundry to do nothing moves faster than the time it takes to complete a dryer cycle.
I move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer and start the dryer. Then I add another load to the washer and start the washer. The washer always finishes at least 15 minutes before the dryer. Instead of taking the laundry out of the washer and piling the wet clothes in a laundry basket, I let them sit in the washer. Knowing the dryer is the slow part of the process, it would do me know good to start another load of laundry in the washer because it still won’t end before all the other loads have finished in the dryer.
This is how we should look at the flow of our processes at work. It does no good to buy equipment or change the process to speed up a part of the process that is not the slowest step. In the end, the product/service is still being completed at the same rate.
What is the dryer in your process?
One of the first concepts that pops up when learning about lean is single piece flow. This is a great concept and should be considered when it is appropriate. Cooking my french fries might not be the time to use single piece flow, but downloading songs may be.
My wife runs a small business of her own. She sells products online through her website and Etsy as well as events in our local area. Selling online and brick-n-mortar poses problems from time to time. One issue is wanting to provide a wide range of scents for customers, but not having large amounts of inventory on-hand because of the batch process of making the soaps in loaves.
After a year and a half, we think we find a solution to this issue. Most of her requests for custom scents come through her online sales. Typically, she has the fragrance available but can’t justify making 8 bars in a batch because the other 7 may sit for a year or longer. She has found a mold that works very well and is the size she needs that allows her to make one soap at a time. My wife can now fulfill the requests of her customers and offer more fragrances to her line in her online shop without the expense of carrying a year’s worth of finished product.
What about the live events to sell the inventory?
Good question. The events are always in the Sept – Dec time frame. So, if a customer orders a special scent in January, the rest of the finished goods would sit until September at the earliest. She could have used the raw materials for other products. The soaps that are high volume sellers and do well at the live events can be made in batches right before the event. Any finished product that is leftover after the event season can be sold online.
It is a good mix of using single piece flow and batch processing when it best fits the situation. It is about understanding your business needs and trying to meet those needs. Not forcing everything to one solution whether if fits or not.
What makes sense for your business?
The city in the U.S. that I live in has started installing more and more roundabouts. The reasoning is it is “easier” for traffic flow. I don’t find that to be the case at all. I find them to be a pain to maneuver around and a hindrance to traffic flow. Many others that I have discussed this with believe the same thing.
But they are used in Europe to help with traffic flow is the argument I get back from time to time. “Who cares!” was my reaction.
Now imagine my chagrin when I discovered I was spending 2 weeks in the United Kingdom on business. My buddy and I spent a lot of time driving around the UK. To my surprise, the roundabouts were quite helpful and did help traffic flow.
Change in attitude? No. Change in reason. Yes.
In the U.S. for the most part the roads are set up in a grid pattern and most intersections crossed perpendicular to each other causing 4-way stops. In the UK many roads would come together with anywhere from 3 to 7 options of directions to go. When there were 4 choices the streets were almost never perpendicular to each. A stop sign or light would be very difficult so the roundabout was used. See the pictures below:
As I drove more and more in the UK, I noticed how the roundabout did help traffic flow when streets weren’t perpendicular. When streets were perpendicular stop lights were used with turn lanes just like in the U.S.
Cities are copying the roundabout as a solution for all traffic flow issues without understanding what it can be best used for. This is why it is best to understand why solutions or countermeasures are put into place so you know when and how best to apply that learning.
Don’t copy solutions. Learn from them.
Through the years of learning and implementing lean, I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Toyota. At first, it is easy to get really excited about the tools (kanban, 5S, flow) and how well they use them. After the initial excitement the understanding of how to use the tool with people systems starts to gain clarity. This is great, but it is still what is best for Toyota and not necessarily what is best for someone else.
Dig deep enough and what Toyota is really good at is problem solving. Toyota really understands where they are and where they want to go and develop a countermeasure that helps them close that gap. Toyota looks at both the technical and human side of the system when solving the problem.
Toyota didn’t develop 5S to straighten the place up. They realized by putting things in a designated place they could see and understand the problems they were having at a glance. This allows them to address the problems quickly.
Kanban was not put in place to reduce inventory. Toyota had a problem of not enough cash or space for lots of inventory, but wanted to be able to have enough inventory on hand to build what the customer wanted when they wanted it and also make visible any problems in flow they were having. The kanban was a countermeasure for this.
Years later others have the ability to learn from Toyota’s lessons. Instead of understanding the problem trying to be resolved, other companies just copy the solution from Toyota without understanding why or if it fits their needs.
Organizations need to become really good problem solvers and if needed learn from Toyota’s lessons, not copy them.