Tag Archives: SMED

Tools or Culture?

With our annual Northeast LEAN Conference just a few days away, I want to relate a personal story about the theme of this year’s conference,

The Integration of Tools & Culture:

The first two books I ever read about Lean were Zero Inventories by Robert Hall and Japanese Manufacturing Techniques by Richard Schonberger.  In 1985, these definitive academic works were among just a few sources of information about what was then referred to as Just-In-Time, or JIT for short.   As I was just starting to manage a factory at that time with inventory turns of less than one (really), these JIT “how to” books seemed like the solution to my problems.    I owe Hall and Schonberger a debt of gratitude for their early reports about technical aspects of Toyota’s incredible improvement system.  But, for me, the single most important shred of information from these academic texts was a footnote in Hall’s book that referred to a then unknown industrialist by the name of Shigeo Shingo.  Hall cited Shingo’s book, A Study of the Toyota Production System: From an Industrial Engineering Viewpoint.  This book presented the technical aspects of Lean in a context of revolutionary concepts and principles.  The original 1982 version was a crude translation from the Japanese, but reading it created a sense of excitement about a wholly new way of thinking about work.   To be sure, Shingo’s explanation of tools echoed reports from Hall and Schonberger, but as one of the key inventors of TPS, Shingo shared a deep understanding that was grounded in unique personal experience and wisdom of a creator.  While he is most often remembered for introducing technical concepts like quick changeover and mistake-proofing, Shingo’s greatest contribution to my learning was in providing an integrated image of TPS, a system that was both technical and social science – tools and culture.  One could not exist without the other.  Beyond that, he conveyed his personal struggles to overcome what he referred as “conceptual blind spots” of his clients, Toyota among them.  He gave us the Law as well as the Gospel:  Lean is an immense opportunity but equally a daunting challenge to rise above status quo thinking.  “Keep an open mind,” he reminded us.  According to Mr. Shingo, management’s #1 job was “volition,” i.e., a passionate commitment to creating an environment that favored improvement. These were lessons that supported my organization and me as we learned new tools and unlearned old concepts at the same time.

Today I’m often asked, “What do we work on first, tools or culture?”   I answer, in context of the Toyota Production System, neither has substance without the other.  They are two sides of the same coin. We need to learn them together.   Our 2017 Northeast Lean Conference is dedicated to reinforcing that message.   Lean tools are essential as means for improvement; Lean culture is essential to enable us to see beyond the status quo. If you haven’t already registered, here’s a link with more information:

http://www.northeastleanconference.org/about-ne-lean-2017.html

Hope we see you next week in Worcester, MA for a couple of energizing, informing and inspiring days.

O.L.D.

Good Witch or Bad Witch?

GlindaA recent comment from a business friend, call him Tom, who manages a small factory, reminded me of a scene from The Wizard of Oz.   “Our president is an accountant by training – but,” he added, “she’s a good accountant.”

“So, what is a good accountant?” I asked.

“Well, you know,” Tom said, “she thinks that numbers are important, but what’s more important is the story behind the numbers.  She understands accounting, but she also has taken time to understand the business, especially our Lean efforts.  On more than one occasion she’s supported us at a time when a bad accountant would have just read chapter and verse from GAAP standards.”

“So then, what’s a bad accountant?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t have the time to describe that right now,” Tom replied.

After this discussion I took few minutes to jot down traits of a bad accountant for myself, all from instances that I’ve personally observed.   Before proceeding however, I hasten to add that good accountants are numerous and have on occasion been know to be heroic.   But there are still some status quo controllers out there whose myopic and archaic views are dangerous for lean implementers.  Here are a few traits to watch for:

A bad accountant…

  • Stays in his/her office.  Wants to be seen as ‘above the fray.’
  • Reads reports and computer screens (and the Wall Street Journal.)  No direct observation.
  • Sees him/herself only as a scorekeeper.  Takes no responsibility for business performance.
  • Understands accounting only.  Does not take time to understand other functions or the business as a whole.
  • Sees accounting as a rigid science.  Follows GAAP standards without question.
  • Heard saying: “The auditors will object.”   Is quick to object to new ideas and uses the auditor threat to quell objection.
  • Thinks that a positive inventory variance offset by a negative variance elsewhere is good enough as long as the net is zero.
  • Believes that shipment spikes at the end of the month occur because production only works hard at the end of the month.
  • Slashes inventory requisition quantities as a means to reduce inventory.
  • Encourages inventory run down at period ends to improve turns.
  • Thinks that set-up reduction means amortizing long set-ups over similar parts.
  • Treats inventory as an asset and employees as a variable expense.

These are just a few traits that come to mind.  Can you add others?  Is your accountant a ‘good witch or a bad witch?’  Let me hear from you.

O.L.D.

BTW:  Only 111 days until the 2013 Northeast Shingo Conference.

Too Happy Too Soon

Our machine shop was assisted by Toyota Supplier Support Center in 1996 to reduce set-ups on our CNC lathes.  TSSC had already helped us in a downstream final assembly department, and now we were endeavoring to provide just-in-time delivery to that department from machining.  After some study we were able to determine that one lathe could produce sixty-six different parts for this downstream customer, nearly all that were needed.  [There is a prequel to this story regarding early struggles we had in machining before TSSC arrived.]  While there were clearly families of similar parts within this group, the challenge was to be able to run quantities of five to fifty pieces in the exact order of need, irrespective of ‘set-up efficiency.’  We were given a target by TSSC of 8 minutes per set-up, a daunting drop from our then current average of 90 minutes.   I knew we could do much better than 90 minutes, but I was privately skeptical of 8 minutes.

With TSSC’s help we analyzed current set-up activities in detail, breaking minutes down to seconds.  Simple preparation steps like bringing material to the machine and gathering tools had a big payback. These were the steps that companies often refer to as the “low-hanging fruit.”  Soon, set-ups were under 40 minutes.  We dropped lot sizes proportionately and, most importantly, on-time delivery for this machine shot up.  A machine that had always been behind, now had extra time available.  For the operators, who had been roundly criticized for an inability to get parts to assembly, this was a big deal — something that spurred them on.  We were like a football team that, after years of losing seasons, was now going to the super bowl!   When our teacher, Mr. Ohba, visited, he was pleased with our progress, but reminded us of the eight-minute goal, and challenged our operators to use their knowledge and creativity to find many small improvements.  Seconds mattered.

Three more weeks passed with operators chipping away at time wasters. Each time a set-up was made there were more ideas.  One operator suggested that tool holders, which were each mounted by four bolts to the turret, could in fact be secured with just two.  The remaining two holes were replaced with guide pins to make it easier to position the tool blocks.  We tried it; it worked. (The equipment manufacturer, incidentally, said it wouldn’t work.)  In the process of pushing the envelope on set-up reduction, we began to realize the possibilities for improvement were much greater than we had initially supposed.

By the time of Mr. Ohba’s next visit, set-up times were under 20 minutes with high reliability.  About this time, operators decided to expand the pilot project to an adjacent lathe, replicating many of the lessons they had learned on the BNC.  This seemed like a good idea to me also.  Why not deploy what we had learned?

On the day of Mr. Ohba’s visit I greeted him enthusiastically in our company lobby with the words, “Things are going well.  Set-ups for the BNC are now below 20 minutes and we’ve expanded the pilot to include our LN22.” The words had barely left my mouth when Mr. Ohba turned on his heels and headed out the front door.  “Good luck.” he said.  “You won’t be needing our (TSSC’s) help any longer.”  Flabbergasted, I followed him to the parking lot.  I could see that I’d made a fatal mistake, but had not yet figured it out.  “I’m sorry,” I blurted out.  “What have we done wrong?”

Mr. Ohba stopped, turned to me and heaved a sigh.  “You’ll never be better than 20 minutes,” he said. In an instant I reflected on the miraculous change that had occurred in our machine shop over the preceding weeks and realized that I’d inadvertently short-circuited that process.  I apologized once more, apparently with enough anguish that he reconsidered and followed me back into the factory.

TooHappyPicHad my mistake not been brought to my attention, I might very well have never understood the problem – and we would never have gotten to the eight minute changeover – which we achieved several months later.  The moral of this story is that managers like me can become mesmerized by early results – or sometimes intermediate results – and lose sight of the environment that makes these possible.   I was ‘too happy, too soon’, a behavior that plateaus individual and organizational development.

How about your organization?  Have you had a similar experience?   Have you ever been too happy too soon?

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.