Today’s guest blogger is Joe Wilson. Joe is a great lean thinker that worked for an automotive supplier for several years. Developing his lean thinking by diving into the deep end. Joe now works for Tyson Chicken working within their Industrial Engineering group. I am happy to post his writing here. Joe is a great lean thinker.
A few days ago, I had one of those random day-dreaming thoughts that spurred me to go look up something in a book that I haven’t read in a few years. When I opened the book, the bookmark was a heavily scribbled on piece of notepaper from a series of Lean classes I took. Among a handful of otherwise barely readable comments was these three words, underlined and circled: “PACE…NOT SPEED”.
Those 3 words stood out as a turning point for me in my lean education. Those words drove an understanding of what the huge pile of lean phrases and tools I had bouncing around my head really were all about.
You really can’t implement things like pull systems/kanbans/heijunka, standard work, or even 5-S programs until you can define what your customers want and when and how they want it. It is extremely difficult to determine how many people should be doing the work in your workplace or how much equipment you need to do the work if you don’t have a true understanding of how much work needs to be done. What this also means is that your distribution, purchasing, and planning/scheduling functions are absolutely critical to the success of your success in lean.
Where do you take this from here? Start by getting as deep as you can in what the market is for your plant/company’s output and what your customers need. Get as deep as you can in how your suppliers bring things to your door and how you handle those. Those things aren’t exactly the most interesting or flashy pieces of the pie to work on, but without a clear understanding of what you need to do, you can’t solve the problem of how you get there.
Kanban is a very powerful tool when used properly. It can lead to significant waste reduction. Most people tend to think of the inventory waste reduction. While kanban can lead to inventoryreduction, it could also lead to an inventory increase. If a company is running so light on inventory and always creating shortages at the customer, kanban can help but it will most likely add inventory to the system. Or if a company tries to use kanban on items that are not used but a couple of times a year, most likely the inventory will be increased in order to keep them in-stock year round.
No matter the circumstance though, if used properly, kanban will reduce the waste of information and material flow/transportation through the facility.
In a traditional environment, information flow is separated from the material flow. The information comes from the office to someone out doing the work. The person doing the work creates a schedule to be published. When the schedule is published the material handler moves the material to the area to be worked on. Then the material is processed.
The genius of kanban is taking the information flow and the material flow and combining it into one. When the kanban is returned to the supplier, it triggers the work to be completed and when to be completed by. It becomes the scheduling and the inventory control, as well as directing the where and when for the material to flow. The kanban travels with the matieral and describes what the material is, the quantity to produce, who ordered it, and when it is due. All in one package.
This reduces a lot of transactional waste of transportation and can eliminate non-value added work done by some people, freeing up time to do more value added work.
This is often missed because many people focus solely on reducing inventory through kanban and not reducing inventory through flow. So, in cases when the inventory is increased, and rightfully so, due to a kanban system then kanban gets a bad name because “it isn’t lean.” As Mark Graban would say, that is more L.A.M.E. then Lean.