Tag Archives: TSSC

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.

Value Stream Wrapping

Gazing into a microscope as a college sophomore, I sketched the innards of a single-celled critter as part of biology exam.  I knew what I was looking for, but according to my professor, was a bit lazy transferring my observations to paper.  The result: no points for my illegible artwork.  I pleaded my case: “I’m not an artist.”

“Observation without sharing,” the prof replied, “has no value.  Practice your drawing.”

Thirty years later, I recalled the professor’s admonition as I stood in my company’s machine shop scribbling my first value stream map on a sheet of notepaper.    A few weeks before, our consultant from TSSC (Toyota Supplier Support Center), Bryant S, had given our improvement team a short tutorial on what he referred to as material and information flow diagramming, or M&I for short.  (M&I was Toyota’s name for what we now call value stream mapping.)  Drawing about half a dozen symbols on an easel, Bryant explained, “Here are few M&I symbols that you can use to share from a TPS point of view what you observe on the shop floor.  Take paper and pencil with you to the floor, and record what you see.  Your objective is to describe the current condition there in relation to the ideal TPS condition and then develop a realistic target and improvement plan that will fit on an 11×17 sheet.”  (Today this plan-on-a-page is referred to as an A3, a nifty way to capture and share what we see.)

My homework was to complete an A3 in my machining department using M&I diagramming. Regrettably, my artistry had not improved remarkably in three decades, so I cleverly (so I thought) transferred my observations to an excel worksheet using Microsoft drawing symbols to approximate the standard notation that Bryant had provided.  I anxiously awaited his return visit to show him my high tech rendering.

Bryant smiled when he first saw my handiwork.  “You should spend more time observing, and less time making it pretty.”

“I’m not an artist,” I pleaded, “and this is the only way I could fit my observations onto a single page.”

“If you can’t fit the key points of the observation on a single page,” Bryant responded, “maybe you’re missing the key points.  Keep it simple.  It doesn’t need to be artwork, but the process should follow a few simple rules.  It’s a means, not an end.  Bryant sent me back to the drawing board with advice:

  • Keep it simple – pencil, eraser, and a single sheet of paper.
  • Keep the TPS ideal in mind.  (He wouldn’t tell me explicitly what this ideal was, but based on hints, I took it to include perfect quality, exact quantity, lowest cost and immediate delivery.)
  • Take it to the workplace and observe directly to understand the gap between current and ideal.

Fast forwarding to 2012, I have a little better appreciation for the TSSC consultant’s concerns when I visit Lean ‘war rooms’ covered with VSM wallpaper: yards of paper roll and post-it notes; imposing but usually not illuminating.  A single sheet, yes; but a tad larger than A3 size.  Often key measures like Takt time or symbols like the push production arrow ( ) are absent, indicating a lack of interest in the TPS ideal.  How much of this scroll was written at the workplace, I wonder, and who goes to the war room to share?

I have an idea for recycling these scrolls (see right):

At the other extreme are the many computerized versions of VSM, offered as improved versions of the manual process. Today, there are hundreds of software tools designed to ‘streamline’ and ‘upgrade’ the VSM process.  Many have integrated other bells and whistles including hybrid VSM/process maps and statistical analysis techniques.  Not simple, not from the floor, almost never with the TPS ideal condition as a guidepost.  These souped-up versions of my 1996 Excel attempt run the risk, like PowerPoint presentations, of focusing resources on appearance over substance. They are pretty, but too often hidden away from most employees and the workplace, both during and after their creation.

Maybe I’m just showing my age, or maybe sometimes a pencil and an 11×17 sheet of paper is best.   What do you think?  Let me hear from you.

O.L.D.

BTW:  Speaking of sharing, mark you calendar for September 25-26, our 2012 Northeast Shingo Conference: Learning to Share.