Tag Archives: process improvement

Invisibility

A chance reading recently provided a thought from Henry Thoreau that I think is worth sharing. Thoreau said:

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when
one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

The quote caused me to reflect on an incident some years ago at a film manufacturer:

I had been asked to visit with a team of engineers and scientists to troubleshoot a process problem on the production line.   While I had no special technical understanding of this process, the project manager felt that “another pair of eyes” might help to discover the cause of impurities deposited on their finished product, polarized film.

invisiAfter a short meeting, our team of erudite problem-solvers took to the floor, which, in this case was a one hundred foot long automated coating line. Film wound in serpentine fashion through prep, coating, drying and slitting zones over dozens of stainless steel rollers, accumulators and knives.   When the two technicians manning the line were told to take a break during our investigation, I objected and asked if they could work with the team.   One of our team, a gentleman with a PhD in Chemistry, grunted disapproval and then declared that he had isolated the problem in the process and had a solution. “MEK on this roller,” he said, pointing to a large stainless cylinder.   He turned to one of the techs and barked at her, “Wash this down with MEK.”

Both technicians glanced over to me, one of them shaking his head slightly.   “What do you think?” I asked them. One tech responded tentatively, “I used DI water for a similar problem in the past.” I glanced back to the problem-solving team, but no one was paying attention. In a slightly elevated tone, I repeated the tech’s idea. “She says that DI water has worked for cleaning in the past.”

After a short pause, our PhD chemist replied with an air of condescension, “Just use the MEK.”

By now, dear readers, you may think you know where this story is headed.   And you’re right! After several hours of experimenting with MEK, the team decided it was not working. “How about trying the DI water?” I asked. The project manager shrugged and replied, “Ok, let’s give a try.”

The cleaning with DI Water worked; the residue of impurities on the film vanished. To my amazement at the end of the day, the team thanked me – not the technicians – for the idea.   I corrected them, but I’m not sure they understood. To paraphrase Henry Thoreau:

“The greatest insult that was ever paid me was when
no one asked me what I thought, or attended to my ideas. “

Are you attending to the ideas of your employees, or are they invisible?   Please share a thought.

O.L.D.

ALERT: Less than six weeks until our Northeast Lean Conference. This year’s focus “Putting People First” will energize your Lean journey. Click here for more information.

And don’t miss my next free Tea Time with the Toast Guy Webinar on September 9th from 3:00-3:45 p.m. The topic: “Getting Suppliers Involved – Do’s and Don’ts.”  Register here.

Repetitive Madness

My last post about superficial improvement may have implied that the condition is limited to organizations with deep enough pockets to buy pricey automation.  There are also plenty of opportunities for superficial improvement in small shops.  Here’s an example of  a manual assembly waste that took years to eliminate:

The product was housed in a die-cast cylindrical enclosure with a  threaded cover.  Design requirements stipulated eleven threads, which translated to many turns, a repetitive motion problem at several points on the factory floor.RepMadImage

Compounding this problem was the fact that covers were not truly interchangeable between enclosure bases, requiring care to avoid mis-matches and jamming. (Separating jammed covers from bases was not easy.)   The enclosure was sole-sourced with a die-caster who claimed the problem was ‘unavoidable’ and could be managed only by sorting and carefully matching the threads of cover and base.  The possibility to retool the casting at a more responsive supplier was, at least on paper, not viable.

As is often the case with these unavoidable problems, production sucked it up and sought workarounds.

First, an application of lubricant to the cover reduced the amount of  torque to affix or remove it; but the motion waste remained. Then an assembly employee submitted an idea to use a low speed nut driver  to screw and unscrew the cover.  This improvement transferred the motion from person to machine – superficial – but at least eliminated the manual strain.  Next, a further superficial improvement was made to mount the nut driver to the bench,  eliminating the hand-as-holding- fixture problem.

Adding insult to injury,  the cover was removed and re-affixed four different times as it traveled through a functionally organized factory, requiring multiple iterations of superficial improvement.  Repetitive human motion was replaced by the repetitive machine motion. From subassembly to final assembly to test and finally to labeling and packing, the cover was screwed off and on, off and on.

After a few years on the Lean journey, the four separate functions merged to a single cell, the first ‘real’ improvement, which reduced the motion waste by about 80%.  As a result of one-by-one production with operations in close proximity, operators could maintain visual control of cover and enclosure without worrying about mixing parts – fewer off-and-on’s.  But workers were still not satisfied.

“Why doesn’t the supplier just ship us covers and enclosures separately?” an employee asked.  “The supplier screws the cover on to ship to us, then we unscrew it and rescrew it to ship to the customer, and then the first thing the customer does is unscrew it again to wire the product!”

“I agree,” I said, “it’s maddening.  But we’ve done what we can do for now, and we’ll keep working on it.”

Some time later, when the old dies needed replacing, interchangeability of cover and base became a “must have” feature, a little challenging as it turned out, but absolutely avoidable.  Bases were delivered to the beginning of the cell, and covers to the end.  Only once was the cover now screwed on, the last step before packing. We rationalized this to be work, because customers had asked that the cover be affixed before shipment.

Sometimes seemingly simple problems take years to remedy, but if we persist, we prevail.    After multiple years, this particular repetitive madness was cured.

Do you have an ‘unavoidable’ problem that you’re working on?  Or maybe a superficial improvement?   Please share a story.

O.L.D.

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.