Tag Archives: Muri

What is Advanced Manufacturing?

I am looking for some help to answer this question.   Seeking illumination, I recently attended a presentation offered through CCAT, a non-profit Connecticut corporation with a mission not unlike that of GBMP – “to apply innovative tools and practices to increase efficiencies, improve workforce development and boost competitiveness.”

The word optimization was used more times than I could count.  One slide in particular from the presentation, entitled “Rapid Manufacturing Scenario,” caught my eye.  The speaker described a series of two improvements (noted in the bar charts at the bottom of the slide) using “machining process optimization software tools.”   “Hmm,” I thought “interesting stuff: virtual verification of NC code, 3D part scanning and digitization, optimal tool paths, automatic program correction”.   But I couldn’t help noticing that as operational times were being slashed, the orange bar – Setup on Machine – stayed the same.   In fact, nowhere in the presentation, was there a mention of machine setup improvement.

I wondered, ‘Would this ‘improved ratio’ of setup to runtime cause a machine shop to run fewer parts or more parts?”   For a site grounded in Lean, I think the answer would be ‘always work on setup reduction in order to run exactly what is needed for the next process.”   In the absence of that grounding however, I worry that the ratio would create more over-production to “optimize’ part cost.

After the presentation, I jumped onto the CCAT website and did find a one-day course on set-up reduction (none scheduled however) and an article on Lean simulation software, not a favorite approach with me.  I think the real floor is where the action is, not the virtual floor.  Call me old-fashioned.

Investigating a little further, I discovered that the state of New Jersey understands Advanced Manufacturing (AM) to “make use of high-tech processes in their manufacturing plants including installing intelligent production systems such as advanced robotics.”   Same thing in Iowa and Georgia and, of course, my home state of Massachusetts.  In fact, this AM description appears in pretty much every reference to advanced manufacturing I could find.    Ultimately, I landed on the website of NACFAM, a non-profit who describes itself as  “the voice of advanced manufacturing in Washington, D.C.”   They appear to have offered the authoritative definition of AM, the one that everyone else is parroting:

“The Advanced Manufacturing entity makes extensive use of computer, high precision, and information technologies integrated with a high performance workforce in a production system capable of furnishing a heterogeneous mix of products in small or large volumes with both the efficiency of mass production and the flexibility of custom manufacturing in order to respond quickly to customer demands.”

In June 2011 our national government announced it would spend $500 million to support advanced manufacturing.  I hope they understand what it means.  I’m still confused.  I worry that Advanced Manufacturing sounds an awful (and I mean awful) lot like Lee Iacocca’s “agile manufacturing” strategy (vintage 1990) to leapfrog Toyota’s system.  History did not validate this approach; I hope it has not been repackaged for 2012.

I recall a complaint offered by Shigeo Shingo in 1989 that while at that time nobody was paying attention to SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies), there were a swarm of doctoral dissertations on algorithms for optimizing economical order quantity (advanced manufacturing?)  Have we grown beyond that thinking today, or are we still squirming in quicksand?

What do you think?  Let me hear from you.

O.L.D.

BTW:  Mark your calendar.  The Northeast Shingo Prize Conference is coming up September 25-26, 2012.  Hope we’ll see you there.

Incremental Elimination of Weeds

Spring is my favorite season because of the spirit of renewal it brings with it.  So here is a post dedicated to spring that is inspired by a comment made recently by my colleague, Menrika Louis:

“I am one with the weeds,” Menrika commented jokingly while we were working together on an improvement project.   She was referring to the nitty-gritty realities that present themselves to us when we are that close to the ground.   The expression typically refers to getting too tangled up in details.   But while it can be argued that a broad perspective may not be achievable from the ‘weeds,’ I think there are too few kaizen leaders who spend enough time there.  Menrika’s comment reminded me of a few lessons I learned from my Dad when I was a tot – maybe 7.

My father had a knack for breaking big problems down into palatable chunks, something I suppose he brought home from his job as a factory manager.   One Saturday morning he showed me the Frank Hamilton method for pulling weeds.   He was not a big fan of herbicides, preferring to use a weed grubber to control weeds.  To demonstrate, he placed a three-foot square frame on the ground and proceeded to move systematically from left to right and top to bottom identifying and removing weeds inside the frame.  He named them for me as he removed them: dandelion (pictured right), crabgrass, plantain, clover, chickweed, wild onion, and a few others.  These were analogous to the seven wastes – they starved the lawn of nutrients and moisture.   “If you get close enough to the weeds,” my dad said as he pulled up a small sprig of crabgrass “you can see them before they take root and you won’t even need the grubber.”

“Funny,” I thought, “the lawn looks so much different at knee level.”   There were stones and mold and bare spots and insects — all sorts of different problems that were only visible when, as Menrika would say, I was one with the weeds.

“But why do you use the frame for weeding?” I asked.

“There are two reasons,” he explained.   “First the frame helps to focus the task so you’re less likely to miss weeds.  And second, it divides the job into manageable tasks.  If you look at the lawn as a whole, the job seems overwhelming.  But in smaller increments it’s not so bad.”

“So when do you think we’ll be done with this job?”  I asked.

My dad smiled and replied, “We’re never completely done with this job, Sport.   But if we work at it a little bit each day it won’t take much time and we’ll have a nice lawn.”

Happy Spring!

O.L.D.

What does 3P Stand For?

3P, “Production Preparation Process,” is a method introduced to the US in the mid-80’s by Chihiro Nakao, a contemporary of Mr. Ohno, and founder of Shingijutsu consulting.  I recall the method was called “New Production Preparation” (NPP) early along, but apparently succumbed to a marketing intervention, hence 3P.   The basic idea of 3P is to achieve, in Mr. Nakao’s words, “breakthrough or transformational changes in production process” through rapid, integrated prototyping of both product and process.

I had a 3P experience recently that reminded me how much I learn from customers.  My inspiration occurred during a “mini-event” to develop a build-out addition to a surgery center.  The decision to use a 3P approach to develop a better floor layout was made pretty late in the process. We had one week to investigate the current condition and understand design requirements. Then, we began, a team of eight clinicians – docs, nurses, techs and housekeepers — to “trystorm”, a term connoting brainstorming activity combined with actual doing.   The first of Mr. Nakao’s  “16 Catch Phrases” advocates minimal pre-planning and “lightning fast” prototyping, a criteria we closely followed: the event lasted 1½ days.

Most of the 3P team had minimal previous exposure to Lean concepts.  But all were very passionate about patient care and “constructively dissatisfied” (a theme I take up in GBMP’s DVD Moments of Truth) with the status quo at the surgery center:  Bed shortages in the recovery area, ORs waiting for available beds in recovery, surgeons waiting for ORs and, of course, patients waiting for everything.

When I introduced the concept ofpatient-centeredhealthcare from a Lean perspective, a connection between passion and principle occurred – not a perfect understanding, more a fuzzy idea that focusing on the care from the patient’s point of view might yield a breakthrough.   By the end of the first day (actually half-day), there was consensus regarding the status quo and a first pass concept for improvement.  We agreed to “sleep on it.”  This, I have found is a very important, if not scheduled, part of the 3P process.

On day two we jumped into trystorming with a vengeance.  One participant advised that she’d awakened at 2:00 a.m. with a thought.  “What was it?”  I asked.  “That we might not come up with a better layout.” she replied.  Nervous laughter.  We trudged on with a concept that was based upon “adjacencies,” a word that connotes relative locations of departments to facilitate workflow.  I reminded the team to focus on patient flow, and placed a couple Lego people on the prototype layout to signify the patient and his family.  As we broke for lunch, there was a feeling within the team that the trystorm layout created so far would not be a breakthrough.  We were facing a 4:00 p.m. deadline for a solution, and CHI-E was kicking in.

Lunch was over quickly  — back to work.  A team member blurted out as we restarted, “If we can’t fix the recovery area problem, the rest of this expansion won’t matter.”   “Go with that idea,” I suggested.  A new layout idea developed quickly working back from an “ideal patient recovery area.”   The principle was right: patient-focused.  Ideas were popping now: trystorming and more trystorming.  Within an hour, the team was sensing a breakthrough, and anxiety turned to excitement.   By four o’clock, an operationally superior plan emerged that was, in the architect’s words, “totally different from what we would have drawn.”

A follow-up email from the project leader for this 3P effort sums it up:

“I know that my staff who were able to come really gained valuable perspectives and were definitely engaged in ‘thinking outside the box’. I must admit that I was unsure how we could begin to make change, but count me in as a true believer in the process. I have always believed that if you need change to happen, it needs to happen with the caregivers first- it needs to be their ideas or the change never happens. I think this is only the beginning for us and I hope to be able to use what I learned from now on every day.”

So what did I learn from this customer?  That, if the right people (in this case the direct patient providers) have the passion to improve, then the keystone to improvement is the right principle.  The technical side of lean is important, but the people side is essential:

3P = People + Passion + Principle

Do you have a 3P experience you can share?  Please send it along.

O.L.D. 

BTW:  Speaking of principle-based transformation, there’s still time to register for the fast-approaching International Shingo Conference in Jacksonville, April 30 – May 4.  I’ll be there, and hope to see you too.

JIT, Boy Scouts, and Stooges

I take my work very seriously, but sometimes when I have excess idle time (like on the red-eye from Phoenix to Boston), I’ll have a whimsical idea.  Here’s one I’d like to share, to demonstrate the universality of a good idea.  My stream of thought begins with recent participation in the Boy Scouts Merit Badge University.  As a counselor for music merit badge, I attended a course for their  “new” training method, referred as the EDGE method.   I noticed that it bore a striking resemblance to the methods used during World War II to backfill and rapidly train workers in US plants.  The same method subsequently was used to help the Japanese manufacturing economy rebound after the war.   And today it is experiencing resurgence on US shores, helping to standardize and improve operations in many industries.  Most recently, it appears to have made it into the latest edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook.  Hurrah for the Scouts, an organization from whom I think I learned more that I did from college. I suppose there is a TWI’er in Scouting today who had the foresight to pass this thinking along.  I can only hope that as scouts grow into business people, that EDGE will eventually become their means for training employees.

Boy Scouts of America Edge Method  (2011)
The Trainer’s EDGE uses contemporary training techniques and emphasizes the importance of experiential learning, or “learning by doing.”

The acronym stands for:
Explain how it is done – Tell them.
Demonstrate the steps – Show them
Guide learners as they practice – Watch them do it.
Enable them to succeed on their own – Use memory aids, practice it, they teach it.

Training Within Industry Job Instruction Training  (1940)
A step-by-step on the job training method in which a trainer:

(1) Prepares a trainee with an overview of the job, its purpose, and the results desired,
(2) Demonstrates the task or the skill to the trainee,
(3) Allows the trainee to mimic the demonstration on his or her own, and
(4) Follows up to provide feedback and help.

So far in my story, no particular whimsy.  However, by coincidence, a recent email from my brother, an inveterate Three Stooges fan, contained a link to a Stooges classic, that sums up the learn-and-do spirit and structure of Job Instruction Training in 1938, fully three years before the advent of TWI! Watch it for yourself:  “Swinging the Alphabet.”

Could it be that that the creators of TWI were Stooges fans?

Have light-hearted day.

O.L.D.

Shingo’s Network

With the International Shingo Prize Conference just a month away, I thought a short post about Shigeo Shingo and the Prize named in his honor would be worthwhile.  At the time of Prize’s founding in 1988, Shingo was nearly an unknown in the U.S.   His first book translated into English (1969, Japanese Management Association) was hard to understand, reading like a 1960’s instruction manual for a Japan-manufactured product.  This was  my introduction to  Set-up reduction and source inspection (or “prevent-type mistake-proofing) techniques.   Shingo’s amazing technical discoveries are credited with making just-in-time possible. Today while Shingo’s original book, the Green Book, is out of print, replaced by a slicker, more readable version, the techniques he first described in English forty years ago, SMED and Poka-Yoke, have become part of our manufacturing lexicon.

But one of Shingo’s most important contributions from the green book is often overlooked or even refuted: The concept of production as a network of process and operation.  In this network, process is visualized as the flow of objects of change on one axis, and agents of change on another axis.  The agents are the operators and machines that add value.  The objects are the various parts that are converted from raw materials to finished goods. For those in healthcare, note that “parts” can be replaced conceptually by “patients’, and “operators” can be replaced by “providers” (e.g. docs, nurses, etc.)  In Shigeo Shingo’s world, production does not refer only to manufacturing, but to any process-operation network.  The concept of waste is the same, in his words, whether you are “making rice cakes or automobiles.”  And where do we find nearly all of this waste?  On the process axis — from the view of the part (or patient.)  When we speak of “process improvement” we are referring to the process axis of Dr. Shingo’s network.

Unfortunately, traditional thinking postulates otherwise, that process does not exist separate from operation, but is in fact, the sum of many operations.  Witness its definition in the latest edition of Meriam-Webster:

pro·cess     noun \ˈprä-ˌses, ˈprō-, -səs\: a series of actions or operations conducing to an end; especially : a continuous operation or treatment especially in manufacture

This conventional definition spills over into cost accounting implying that if all operations for a particular process are improved by say 50%, then there will be a 50% process  improvement.  Consider for example that standard costs are based on roll-ups of operational cost (value-added) plus a large fudge factor based upon average allocation of overhead costs (non-value-added) which, in a circular way, are stated as a multiplier of the value-added time.   This is nonsense.   Operational times are scrutinized and measured often to four decimal places, while process is essentially invisible in this conventional model.  Make versus buy decisions are made by evaluating only a small fraction of total cost.  System Efficiency is viewed as a sum over local efficiencies.  More nonsense.

The English language can be confounding.  Those who prefer Meriam-Webster’s definition of process to Dr. Shingo’s will never gain the benefits of Lean.  How important is Shingo’s Network?   What do you think?  Share a story.

O.L.D.

BTW:  Looking for another kind of Shingo Network?   Come join me and GBMP at the International Shingo Conference in Jacksonville, Florida,  April 30-May 4.   Hope to see you there.

John’s Box

Some years back while working in an administrative department I encountered a curious condition.  With about a half-dozen employees, I was following the information flow from sales order to shipping.  Our spaghetti diagram kept looping back to an inbox on a table just outside John’s door.  It was imposing. It looked a bit like this:

“Who is John?” I asked.  He wasn’t asked to participate with us on this project.

“He’s the order supervisor,” I was told.

“What does he do with this information at this point?” I inquired.

“He makes a list of sales orders, checks for accuracy  and  then sends them to scheduling for release” was the answer.

“Where is he today?” I asked.

“He’s in a meeting,” came the reply.

A short time later, the spaghetti led back once again to John’s box.

“After the order is released to production, it goes to John for prioritizing,” I was told.

Order piles and files were mixed.  “How does John get through all of this?” I asked.

“He works late,” was the answer.

By the third trip back John’s box there were a few smirks on people’s faces.  An incongruous comment was offered by one of our team: “John’s a really good guy . . .”

I resolved to sit down with John when he was available.

John, who had been employed with this firm for over thirty years, greeted me cheerily when I finally got the opportunity to meet him.   As I sat across the table from him a scene from Office Space flashed through my head.  But unlike the character from Office Space, he was instantly likeable – really a people person.  During his career, I gleaned he had held nearly every factory and scheduling position, and had at one time scheduled the factory entirely from a three-ring binder.   He seemed to know about nearly every possible problem that might arise in the order process.  And he knew everybody – employees, suppliers and customers.  When I showed him our spaghetti diagram with many noodles pointing his way, he grimaced slightly, acknowledging, “I could be a bit of a bottleneck.”  After a moment, however, he added, “but there are so many problems with this system. If I didn’t check constantly, we’d be in hot water with our customers.”

I met with John’s manager later in the day to ask if John could join our team.  “He’s retiring in the next eighteen months.  He just sorts paper at this point,” said his manager.

“Exactly,” I responded, “and he has so much more capability.  Why not engage him to help solve some of the problems he’s currently sorting?    He’d be an asset to our team.”

“Okay, he’s all yours,” his manager said.  “Good luck teaching an old dog new tricks.”

How do you think John ultimately contributed to this team?  What do old dogs know?  And what is the 8th waste?

Do you have a story to share about underutilized talent in your business?   Please comment.

O.L.D.

BTW  Don’t miss the International Shingo Conference, April 30-May 4 in Jacksonville.  I’ll be looking for you.

Airplane

I think there are no new airplane stories left for those of us who take to the not-always-friendly skies, but having been on one of those super delay specials recently and coincidentally not caring especially about being hours late (I had booked a full day of buffer as a hedge against possible travel snafus), I was in a unique position to observe “from a Lean perspective” while the crew and the remainder of passengers on my flight stressed and melted down.   So I hope you’ll indulge this particular recounting of airline mental Muri and Muda.

The airline on which I booked seems not to be pertinent to the particular problems we experienced – I’ve seen them all before on other carriers.  So let’s just say I flew on a major carrier that, like most of its counterparts, has already declared bankruptcy once in the last decade.  Also like a few of its counterparts, this airline emerged from bankruptcy as a result of “restructuring,” a mostly euphemistic term for retrenchment and service reduction maneuvers that please banks but not customers.

My rule of thumb for travel is: Under four hours travel time, drive; otherwise I fly.  In this case, a two-hour flight was preferable to an estimated auto drive time of seven hours.   The first leg of my journey began at 5:00 a.m., a time calculated to both avoid morning commuter traffic and also place me in a favorable position in security with two hours to spare before the flight.   At 8:15 a.m., my odyssey began as we boarded on time for an 8:45 departure.   Then the schedule began to slip.   At 9:00 a.m., the captain announced apologetically that a “minor” mechanical problem was the cause of the delay, but that he had requested a postponement of servicing because “this problem is most likely the result of a faulty sensor.”  This is something air travelers do not like to hear, as it seems more like a hunch than an actual observed cause.  But concerns for safety appeared at this point to be trumped by a larger concern by many passengers that they not miss connecting flights.  It appeared from discussion in the cabin that most passengers were connecting from my flight with once-per-day international flights.

Our pilot explained his course of action:  He supposed the fault was erroneous – he’d seen it before.  He would shutdown and restart the plane’s engines, power and computer system – and then reboot.  “O-o-o,” I thought, “just like my PC”.  I wondered, since he’d “seen it before”, if there was any informative inspection, i.e., were they trying to solve the problem, or were they just side-stepping it?  It seemed that delivery, in this case of passengers, was more important than perfect quality.

The plane’s power and engines shut down and then restarted shortly thereafter.  But still we sat.  I passed the time on my iPod calmly listening in Tony Bennett’s latest duet album (Take a listen! Lady Gaga can sing), but other passengers began to fidget a little as the crew engaged in discussion at the front of the plane.  Missed international connections were looming for many passengers – the kind that were not only a major customer inconvenience, but also would incur additional hotel costs for the airline.  It seemed that the crew was keenly aware of both issues, but powerless to provide a remedy.  So they served cookies and water with stressed assurances that “everything was being done.”  Apparently the re-boot tactic had been unsuccessful.

At 10:00 a.m., silence was broken by the captain’s announcement:  “We’re going to have to ask you to deplane while our maintenance department diagnoses the problem.” (I suspect this action was taken because of recent laws governing maximum tarmac delays.) He went on, “I know many of you have tight connecting flights, but your safety is our primary concern, and there is an indication from our oil sensor that there may be chips in the oil.”  This condition struck me as substantially more critical than the aforementioned faulty sensor.  Time to repair was estimated at two hours.   “Maintenance will be here as soon as possible,” the captain said, which sounded more like a wish than a declaration.   Passengers were requested to make alternate travel arrangements upon deplaning.

Muri levels escalated as agitated passengers jockeyed for positions in several lines set up near to the gate to accommodate re-ticketing. The scene was chaotic as ticket agents struggled to placate travelers.  After standing in one line for thirty minutes, I learned from a fellow traveler that this particular line was only for passengers with Hong Kong connections.  Passengers with connecting flights (more than two-thirds of my flight) were given preference on alternative flights.  Rather than move to the rear of another line, I opted to just sit it out with my iPod.   My original flight (the one we had just deplaned) was not yet officially cancelled, and still under repair.  There was still a chance I might get on that flight.

At 1:30 p.m. there was good news: the plane had been repaired.  I re-boarded along with about three dozen other passengers, all that were left of the originally full flight.  There would be plenty of shoulder room, but I wondered if the flight was now a money-loser.   As I boarded, an agent offered, “The captain is very confident that the problem has been fixed.”  I chuckled at this reassurance; with all of the cascading problems so far that day it almost seemed like bad luck to be optimistic.  Once we were seated, the captain apologized one more time: “I’m happy to report that there is no problem with chips in the engine’s oil, only a malfunctioning sensor.  I apologize for the length of the repair time, as a new seal needed to enclose the sensor could not be immediately located.”  In other words, most of the flight delay was occasioned by searching for a part.   As I heard this, I imagined a poorly organized maintenance parts area with employees digging through boxes.  The whole repair process seemed reactive, non-standard and even unstable.  And we would shortly be taking off in the product of this system – or so I thought.

In fact, and probably fortunately so, we would not be taking off so soon.  After a brief firing of the engines, the aircraft powered down again.  This time a clearly exasperated captain exclaimed, “We are still experiencing a computer fault on start-up.  We’re going to have the maintenance crew restart the system properly this time”  (his exact words.)  I thought,  “What ever happened to ‘do it right the first time?’”  The captain continued. “No one is more frustrated over this delay that I am.  I’m so sorry.  But the good news is the maintenance crew is still here with us, so we should solve this problem very soon.”

About ten minutes later the captain addressed us for one last time.  “This flight has been cancelled.  Will you please return to the terminal for rebooking.”  I shook the captain’s hand as I exited the ill-fated flight, and thanked him for trying.

From that point, my fortunes improved.  The rebooking line for a 3:45 flight was short, and a friendly but weary agent handed me a ten-dollar lunch voucher. “The airline will also be making a restitution offer to you once you are boarded,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked.  “I have no idea,” he replied. “I’m just a working stiff.”

I never found out about the restitution offer because I fell asleep once on board.  It had been a pretty long day even for someone not in a hurry.    Ten hours after my original departure time, I reached my destination.

Here are a few reflections:

  • As a business traveler, I was not astonished by the multitude of problems encountered on this flight on this day.  But I was struck by the apparent lack of countermeasures and system feedback that could have eliminated every single one of those problems.  W. Edwards Deming’s estimate that “90% of all problems are system problems” seems understated in this case.
  • Customer service could be so much better and at a lower cost if airlines adopted Lean methods and philosophy.
  • Mostly however, I empathized with the demoralized captain, crew and other airline employees who went to work that day with the desire to provide perfect service to their customers, but were thwarted by a bankrupt system.

Do you have an airplane story to share?

O.L.D.