Lean Manufacturing In the Real World:
Enjoy reading these humorous and educational, “real world” experiences we’ve had while helping clients implement Lean Manufacturing tools.
Names have been changed to protect the guilty ; – )
*Please Note: We NEVER disclose private details regarding our clients. With their permission we do, however, enjoy sharing their stories with you.
The Chicken Bone
A chicken bone found in a major customer’s “finished product” along with a host of other quality problems prompted one client to engage in long and very complicated testing procedures that added weeks to lead-time and significant production costs.
With a 100% internal quality failure rate on every one of their “bread & butter” products an urgent and thorough Lean intervention was desperately needed.
After only 5 days of working with this team we achieved a 99% + internal quality rate, dramatically increased production, and significantly reduced lead-time.
The whole experience was incredibly satisfying and literally helped keep the company going through the recession following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
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Slice & Dice Lean Team
Don’t be surprised if your Lean Improvement Teams cut holes in your tables! Working with a recent client we did just that. The team realized that a great deal of time was spent bending over and cleaning up excess filler material for their products. The weighing process to ensure proper weight and quality for every product was also cumbersome and time consuming.
The team decided to cut off about 4 feet of the transfer table where the products were passed on to the next operation. Then we cut two large holes in each end of the transfer table in which we could place excess filler material without bending, turning, or stooping. We took the improvement one step further by fastening two overfill boxes to the transfer table to make it faster and easier to adjust product weight on the fly.
With these improvements, the proper staging of every tool and component, and a renewed discipline, the area now produces consistent product with far greater throughput and significantly reduced repetitive motion concerns. Did we mention everyone likes the job better as well? They do.
Leaner Is Better. We Guarantee It!
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Patience Is A Virtue!
During the first day of a major improvement event that would totally shake up the way work was done in a work center, one improvement team member became very upset. This good woman had been a loyal employee at the company for many years and proceeded to really chew me out for several minutes (Bill Hanover, SR. Consultant). She said “this would never work here”, and that we were all “wasting our time” etc. Actually, it was a bit more colorful than that.
I patiently listened to her concerns and when she was finished I simply asked if she was willing to “give it a try”. She agreed and we pressed forward. Before the end of the second day she excitedly approached me and began pointing out several benefits of the new system. I asked her if she thought these improvements would really make this a better place to work, to which she replied, “OK, I guess you got me”. She became a real champion for positive change and continuous improvement from that day forward.
You have good people at your plant. They are essential to your success. We engage them, challenge them, and count on them to achieve outstanding results. Lean principles properly applied sell themselves.
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The Power Of Lean
Working with a recent client we combined two departments into one, reduced floor space consumed by 70% and significantly shortened product lead-time. The technicians now focus on one product until it is completed, work closer together, and can more easily help/train each other. Everyone in the area has expressed how satisfied they are with the improvements they helped create and implement.
Done well, Lean dramatically improves the quality of real people’s lives.
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Never Punish For Lean
On a number of occasions over the years we have encountered situations where the term Lean Manufacturing had become synonymous with lay-offs. Essentially, a company would become so Lean that it would no longer need so many employees and would justify firing or laying-off some number of people to be more profitable. Sometimes companies would lay-off people “in the name of Lean” before actually implementing any Lean Toolsat all. Both of these actions ultimately thwart your Lean success.
These are terrible approaches to implementing Lean and flawed at their very foundations. Lean is about making improvements through waste reduction but it is never about improving people out of gainful employment.
Here are a few guidelines that will help make your transition to Lean successful even if some reduction in staffing is warranted.
1. Lay-off excess employees (if you absolutely must), before you even utter the words “Lean Manufacturing”. Lean is not about laying-off people and will be seen as a scourge right off the bat if “Lean = lay-offs”. (Would you improve yourself out of a needed job?)
2. After you have completed minimal necessary lay-offs, (assuming they were necessary), allow your company to stabilize for several weeks if possible.
3. Begin your Lean transformation process.
So what do you do when head-count reduction seems justified after you have begun your transition to Lean?
1. Make an absolute commitment to your employees that Lean Manufacturing and process improvements will NEVER cost anyone his or her job. Say it often, Post it in plain view, and Stand by it all the way!
2. Let job performance and natural attrition be your only reasons/methods for reducing your staff. Yes, this requires some patience, but committing to this policy will yield incredible benefits. Barring catastrophic sales losses or other extreme situations you should never need to lay-off anyone if you stick to these principles.
3. Allow “displaced” workers to transfer to other areas of the company.
4. Assign “displaced” workers to special projects, new business development, leading further Lean initiatives, etc.
5. If there is “nowhere” to put “displaced” workers until natural attrition once again balances your workforce than run a little heavy on labor for a short time. This is much cheaper than losing the hearts and minds of your entire workforce for punishing people for improving!!!
6. Now that you are Leaner and delivering short lead-times your company should be increasing market share and sales could be increasing quite significantly. You may find you will be setting-up new production areas and even hiring more employees. It would be a shame if you lost the skills of the “displaced” workers because your labor costs were higher than normal for a short time.
7. Loan a few “displaced” workers to suppliers or customers. This can be a powerful business strategy and a terrific investment for many reasons.
We know about corporate pressures to save money in every possible way and can truly appreciate the predicament leaders find themselves in when they are “over-staffed”. That said, short term, minimal to moderate (temporary) labor savings will never justify the losses you will experience if you let fear and punishment for improving collapse your Lean transformation process. You have our word on it.
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