Oct 25, 2006

Interviews you probably won't see anywhere else

Art Smalley just sent out his quarterly newsletter, which was kindly forwarded to me by Terry Begnoche of SME. Art has posted some new interviews with experts he met on a recent trip to Japan.

-Mr. Nakano former Tooling Regrind Supervisor
-Mr. Oka former Production Manager
-Mr. Jibiki on Set-Up Reduction
-Minoru Haga on Tooling Engineering
-Tom Harada on Equipment Maintenance
-Tom Harada on Jidoka
-Isao Kato Interview on TWI and TPS
-Isao Kato on Shigeo Shingo
-The Toyota Vision? European Sales Executive Yoshio Ishizaka

I strongly recommend that you visit his "Expert Interviews" page on the "Art of Lean" website and dig into them yourself. Thanks Art.

Oct 24, 2006

Who's counting?

I've been thinking about pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies, and wonder why they don't adopt a simple standardization rule. So-called "maintenance meds" for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., are usually prescribed for a 30-day period, with 12 refills. (Or a 90-day period at the mail-order pharmacies some of us have to use.)

Have you ever gotten a batch of 180 pills, with 100 in a manufacturer's container and the other 80 dispensed by the pharmacist? Or 90 pills, which were probably dispensed from a 100-pill container?

If all these meds were packaged in 30-pill containers, the pharmacist could just look at the number per day the patient is to receive and pull the amount easily. If it's two a day, pull two containers. If it's three, pull three.

Maybe the drug company would supply 30-count packages to retail pharmacies and 90-count packages to the mail-order ones.

No undercounting or overcounting. No chance of mislabeling. Less waste of packaging. Simple standard counts. Is that being done anywhere?

Oct 16, 2006

AirTran "quick turn" passenger changeover

I figure it won’t be long before anyone with any lean knowledge is going to be banned from airports. Airlines must be pretty tired of our criticism by now.

I'm in Dallas to the Association for Manufacturing Excellence conference. In the Detroit airport, I saw something just a tiny bit like lean.

As I waited for my American Airlines flight, I observed the action at the AirTran gate. At 2:20 pm, long before the AirTran plane arrived, the gate agent was telling the scheduled passengers in the "human inventory holding area" (HIHA)that AirTran was going to have a quick turn – essentially reducing changeover time between deplaning and embarking passengers. She said it would take 20 minutes and at 2:50 precisely she was going to shut the plane door.

She went on to say, “I need you to…” buy water or a drink if you wanted one because the plane was going to be full, go to the bathroom, get your boarding pass ready. She said she was going to line them up according to seat number and asked for their cooperation. These were all the external activities she had probably seen people perform during the actual changeover. (I thought she’d repeat this for later arrivals to the gate, but she didn’t.)

When the plan was docking, she reminded people what the plan was and started them lining up, directing them to an area where they wouldn’t get in the way of the deplaning passengers. I wonder how they were being shooed off the plane on the other side of the changeover. I had to board my flight before the AirTran flight hit the magic 2:50 start time, but I suspect that the quick turn was more successful than the American turn was – darn – I should have timed ours, but didn’t think of it.

Oct 13, 2006

Getting management on board

How often have we heard, "Lean won't work without management support"? It's undoubtedly true, but there must be some ways to convince "them" that lean is worth the commitment. So I'm asking you out there to share one or more ways to get management on board. And how do you pick which method to try? If we all do a good job, we'll have a Lean Directions article. I'm hoping we can compile ten ways, because that's a very nice number.

Let's help our colleagues quit complaining and lamenting if there are some solutions to the problem.

Oct 12, 2006

Be my guest

Last week I participated in a kaizen learning experience conducted by Ron Holcomb of the Lean Learning Center. Jamie Flinchbaugh, one of LLC’s founders, has been incredibly gracious about inviting editors to public training events without charge. I don’t think he does this with the goal of free publicity for the Center – his writing appears often enough to get the company plenty of visibility. I think he does this to make the lean community better by making people like me more knowledgeable and grounded so I do a good job of editing the newsletter. This is important because I get a variety of possible articles and some authors just don’t know what they’re doing. The more I know about lean in the real world, the better I can screen out the junk, and help serious writers get their message across in the best way.

Not only did the Lean Learning Center open their doors to me, but a local company opened their doors to our class of about ten people from other companies. Some of us knew nothing about lean, and some knew a lot. Our companies were diverse. Our host company had about six core people in the on-site sessions, with others drawn in from time to time.

Our class had spent Monday at the LLC’s learning facility, getting the basics of kaizen, activity maps and product-process maps. Most of the people in the class were there so they could go back and facilitate kaizens at their companies, so the training covered how to draw up a team charter, assess the possible kaizen candidates and choose the best, pick the right team members, interface with sponsors productively, teach the process and follow up after the event. It was a lot to take in. Our host company had two people in the class, who were expected to go on to be facilitators in the ongoing program.

On site, Ron led the group in mapping the current state of a bottleneck process. There was a good cross-functional team from the host company who provided the details of the process from start to finish. There was a lot of “I didn’t know you did that,” and “That can’t be true!” in the three days we spent on site.

Most companies don’t want outsiders around when they look at ugliness, particularly in a company in the early stages of lean when there’s plenty of ugly to go around. It was a leap of faith and a sign of management commitment that we were let in. (The company had the right to review the registration list beforehand and bar the participation of anyone who they felt should not come there.) The company was extremely careful to let us know where we could and could not go, and they had good sign-in and sign-out procedures to protect the confidentiality they assured their clients of.

Why did they let us in? Well, we were the “fresh eyes.” We didn’t know their process, and many of us couldn’t understand a lot of the complicated technical talk in the room. But we kept asking questions, and in explaining things to us in detail, they started understanding their own current state better and better. In fact, their process had been mapped not long before, and when the host company’s folks compared the two maps, it was obvious that outsiders had helped them get down to a more revealing level of detail.

Management commitment was good. The operations manager, the kaizen’s key sponsor, was obviously enthusiastic and in the room for most of the three days. The company also had promised that the key process owners would spend all three days in the room, unless the direst problems needed their attention. For a company that was growing fast, and depending on the knowledge of a relatively small number of engineers and technical people, this was a serious sacrifice for potential improvement. Top management came in for presentations by their teams. Some were won over to the cause, and some remained skeptical, but that’s what we expected. It was a start – a foot in the door.

The people taking the class appreciated the chance to learn about kaizen in a real-life situation. We took turns facilitating – trial by fire. I was treated like anyone else in the class, not like an observer.

Everyone left with a gain. Better skills, a better understanding of why kaizens should be conducted in a certain way, and how kaizen fits into the overall system of lean.

My point to you? Open your doors to guests. Make them work by requiring their observations and ideas. Make the lean community better, not just your own operations.

Thank you Jamie, Ron, and all the people who took part in the kaizen experience. I am so grateful to you for investing in me, and in the lean community as a whole.

Oct 11, 2006

My advice? Don't send your kid to college

Not every kid needs to go to college. Vocational high schools are not just for losers. Voc ed is not about kids making birdhouses. Today’s students will turn ideas into digital CAD designs, then translate the data into computer numerical control programs that transform blocks of metal into beautiful shining objects. These kids will compete in robotics contests. They will diagnose and repair automobiles run by little electronic devices with more computing power than a 25-year-old IBM mainframe.

North Carolina Governor Mike Easley can tell you about the new manufacturing plants coming to his state because of the skilled technicians its educational system is producing. These aren’t low-wage jobs in the dark, dangerous and dirty factories parents imagine when they think of their kid’s future. Companies like Boeing, Medtronic and Toyota, along with their suppliers are already crying out for the talent to fill open positions. As baby boomers leave the workforce, the need for technical workers will reach crisis proportion.

Community colleges are fast becoming some of the most important educational institutions around. They routinely collaborate with local employers and economic development agencies to equip students with the experience in problem-solving, teamwork and manufacturing process knowledge to keep these factories running.

In York County, SC, students at a new community college campus will be making full size physical models from the same kind of CAD data the machinists started with, except these will be made of paper and goop with 3D printing machines that are nothing short of magical. The company that produces the machines is relocating its headquarters from California to South Carolina, sharing the cost of educating these young people. It desperately needs a supply of workers who can understand the process and support the equipment that’s rapidly being acquired by forward-looking companies.

The beautiful contours and perfect fit of the sheet metal on today’s automobiles depend on the high-precision complex dies that withstand tons of force applied by immense stamping machines, thousands and thousands of times. Managers where the dies are designed complain that new college-educated engineers may have never operated a stamping press, or even seen one. Thus they don’t fully understanding the processes and lack the ability to make the tooling without its needing costly rework.

Next time you fly in an airplane, ask yourself how important it is that the engines perform as expected. Would you like to take for granted that the semi behind you on the freeway has brakes that can stop it when needed? What about that pacemaker in your Dad’s chest? Not only do you want competent engineers designing these things, you want the people who build them to know what they’re doing.

I recently met some people from the maintenance, repair and overhaul facility at Anniston Army Depot. Vehicles damaged in Iraq – some nearly demolished – are sent there. This is the most advanced military equipment in the world. It is dismantled and examined. New parts are delivered immediately or fabricated on site using laser and waterjet cutters, high-speed machining centers and stamping equipment. This is without tying up taxpayer money in big inventories of just-in-case parts.

One of the Anniston guys told me he’d tried college but decided he wasn’t cut out for it. Yet he has skills and talent most of us could only wonder at.

Go into a factory and you’re likely to see spotless floors, well-organized groups of machines, whiteboards continuously updated by workers. Any heavy lifting will be ergonomically assisted. You’ll likely see a conference room where work teams are analyzing how work is done and continuously thinking of ways to do it better and cheaper. You’ll see people throughout the plant proud and confident that fruits of their labor are competitive in price and quality with those made anywhere in the world.

No, the job in the textile mill may have gone away, but today’s manufacturing jobs are plentiful, infinitely more interesting, and requiring skills you’d never find in a college classroom. Should every kid have the chance to go to college? Of course. But there are many more paths to success and achievement than most people preparing our students for the future can even imagine.

Oct 7, 2006

The good shepherd


Most of us don’t think about sheep all that much, but I happened across a research bulletin from Australia that illustrates a woolly parallel with manufacturing:

Dr Norm Adams, Senior Research Scientist with CSIRO Livestock Industries has found that merino ewes with the biggest fleeces [for the wool industry] tend to be thinner and have lower rates of reproduction than their poorer-fleeced sisters.

“These sheep can have difficulty maintaining body reserves without a plentiful food supply and as a result can produce fewer lambs,” he said…Dr Adams said the research findings have implications for animal production as well as ensuring that lamb survival is a priority.

He said one explanation could be that their energy appeared to be going into developing a good, heavy fleece at the expense of the animal’s fitness, its fat to muscle ratio and its ability to reproduce.

“Simply put, the findings show that if we push too much for production we can muck up the sheep’s chance of reproducing.” CSIRO
The piece goes on to say that the research was aimed at genetic modification could help produce sheep that would produce yummy lambs as well as wool, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

The point is that human systems, including manufacturing, resemble nature’s. They need to be fed enough to provide robustness (regular machine maintenance), energy (human creativity) and reproduction (business expansion). Focusing only on production ain’t gonna work.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm