Lean Empowerment – Part 4: Sharing Work Aids

Settling into a New Culture

lean-empowerment-sharing-tips-blogAs we continue our Lean Empowerment series, we check back with the same company to review their progress and see how their new Lean Culture is evolving.

In Lean Empowerment Part 1 and Part 2, the workers chose shadow boards from their Lean Toolbox to resolve a number of ongoing issues. As a result, this company no longer runs out of saw blades in the middle of production, nor do they experience workflow issues with excessive setup times.

In Lean Empowerment Part 3, the workers saw the opportunity to eliminate non-value added (NVA) work caused by flawed materials. The existing process was frustratingly inefficient, mainly because they were working with bad material.

First, they established the daily “milk run”, a new system of smaller shipments more frequently, enabling the workers to reject shipments containing flawed material. This simple change unblocked decades of severely impeded workflows, while eliminating unpleasant tasks. The constant hammering noise, heard throughout the entire building, was now a rare event. Making these simple changes restructured the entire process by transforming inefficient workflows into smoothly flowing tasks.

Next, SMI helped the workers couple this newly streamlined process with a two-bin system and kanban cards. These two additional Lean Tools were the final touches to assure visual workflow while organizing the workstations. The positive changes coming from these minor Lean improvements far exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Small Changes = Big Improvements

While each of these changes may seem small, it is essential to view the bigger picture. The efficiency improvements, quality improvements and stress reductions were all quite significant and packed a powerful punch. When we examine impeded workflows, we’re able to see the root causes of inefficient processes. Once we resolve the root causes, the workflow impediments are eliminated, increasing quality and throughput while reducing labor. These positive changes begin emerging immediately, on multiple levels, after applying Lean Principles.

The impact is meaningful for both the company and the workers. Once the company and workers experience these positive changes firsthand, they understandably want more. Buy-in from management, and the workers, creates the support necessary for the Lean environment’s ongoing success.

Lean Empowerment Continues Growing

As the workers continued to experience positive outcomes from their initiatives, they became more motivated and more adept at recognizing inefficient areas and impeded workflows. As a result, they were becoming less hesitant about collaborating with each other to improve and transform the inefficient processes they discovered in their work environment.

lean-empowerment-welder-blogA Flexible Process

The production process at my newly transformed Lean client contained half a dozen welding work cells. This is where each welder/assembler worker assembles the products through a series of welding operations. These highly skilled workers are quite capable and highly imaginative. Designing their own effective implements and shortcuts to assist them with their tasks is common practice. The production process gave them a great deal of latitude for the assembly process. As long as the final assembly performed and met the quality requirements, the workers were free to assemble the product in almost any order.

While this “artisan” method sounds quite undisciplined, the product design was very clever and accommodated a wide variability in part quality, while producing a highly functional and robust finished assembly.

Helpful Tools Aid the Process

Over time, each worker had devised various little jigs and fixtures to assist in their assembly tasks. Holding certain parts in alignment was required during the assembly and welding process. Since the welder/assemblers were essentially fabricators, it was quite natural for them to quickly devise and fabricate their own little work aids and tools. In this case, each worker had designed their own unique set of jigs and fixtures to help them with their various assemblies.

The Five Ss Event

lean-empowerment-5S-blogAs part of the Lean Transformation Project, SMI helped the company conduct a 5S event for the welder-assemblers. The team of six welders, the plant manager and the SMI consultant, went to each welding work cell and performed the 5Ss at each workstation. This was a time of discovery for all of the assembler/welders, presenting yet another opportunity for them to experience Lean Empowerment.

During the 5S event, the welders discovered they had each fabricated their own unique set of tools, jigs and fixtures to simplify their tasks during the assembly process. Upon this discovery, the welders immediately recognized how they could benefit from sharing their tools with each other.

Following the 5Ss exercise, each worker had an action item to replicate their own jigs and fixtures to create sets for the other workers. Next, we asked each worker to teach the other workers how to use their jig or fixture for their particular assembly operation. By exchanging technology, the workers improved both quality and productivity, while making their own jobs easier. The workers were all working with tools of their own design. The workers were happy and freely exchanged their unique designs. The workers collaborated with each other, making their jobs much easier. This, in turn, continued to strengthen the Lean Empowerment mentality and culture throughout the company.

The New Lean Mindset

In every company, every production worker has developed little tips, tricks and work aid tools. These emerge from years of experience and practice, gained from performing the same tasks over and over again. The tools represent collective learning. Like my client, every company would do well to discover the little tips, tricks and tools developed by their workers. In any department, these work aids will improve productivity and quality while eliminating stress and senseless errors.

With each new successful initiative, workers experience more Lean Empowerment and become more confident in their ability to recognize and resolve anti-lean work flows. Lean workers and managers don’t hesitate to team up and find ways to be more effective and efficient. They understand how non-value added work throughout the company adds stress and financial drain. Once workers begin experiencing the fruits of their labor, transforming to a Lean environment quickly becomes a new welcome mindset.

Andy Pattantyus, CPIM is president of Strategic Modularity, Inc., a systems engineering consulting firm that works with clients on process oriented Lean Transformation projects, including initiatives to improve administrative workflows. Andy is also an active member of APICS-SFV and The ACA Group. If you would like to get in touch with Strategic Modularity, Inc., contact Andy here.

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