Thursday, September 09, 2004

Quick Advice on Flow

Quick Advice on Flow

This morning, a request for help appeared on the NWLEAN mailing list.  Here's the essence of it:


I am currently in the process of trying to convert our assembly lines towards a one piece flow format.  Our current lines are in a state of disarray we call n "globism." 


Globism is the preferred method of assembly by the operators as it allows them to build up large amounts of WIP onto trays, pass them to the next operation and then begin filling another one.  This method not only ties up inventory we may need for other products, but it also generates a mismatch of product that they manually try to rectify towards the end of the day.<snip>


How can I promote a constant flow of product through the line (where everyone passes their work forward at the same time)?


How can I keep my buffers from being dissolved?


If they do get dissolved, how do I regain them?


Any other advice you can give me?






So I jumped in.  I don't know if they will publish my response or not, but here it is anyway:


Jeff, you are in a wonderful position.  You can improve this.


Remember that perfect, single piece flow is the ideal situation.  Therefore, any time you see a disruption of single piece flow, you have an opportunity for improvement.


Which means you must first SEE the disruption!!  Pick one area and instruct your staff to STOP when they have no work to do, either because the next buffer is full or the previous buffer is empty.  Sound an alarm...give them a small whistle to blow...turn on a flashing light.  Then, have the supervisor and a technical person go to that place, right then, and see, for themselves, what stopped the flow.  And fix it, right there. 


Until you start disrupting things, stopping the line IMMEDIATELY when it does not flow, you will never get there.  And it will get worse before it gets better.  And this is the path.


Utilize your staff's good knowledge to get to flow. 


Read Norman Bodek's book "Quick and Easy Kaizen" to see how to do this.


Remember that one of the twin pillars of Lean is Autonomation--the immediate detection and correction of errors.  And the four steps of Autonomation are a) detect the error b) Stop c) correct the immediate problem d) install a countermeasure.  


Do this over and over. 


And start today.


I hope you find this helpful, as you look at your own quest to find flow. 




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