Sunday, November 27, 2005

Making a Plant Hum

Making a Plant Hum

A week ago Friday, Wayne Reisinger of our local Economic Development group and I had the privilege to tour a nearby manufacturing plant about two years into a Lean transformation. They are in a brutal market environment and have a number of local factors working against them. The Plant Manager framed the situation to us as "a street fight for our very survival." And they are succeeding.

Here's what I saw as their keys.

On a foundation of 5S...

The plant was clean and orderly. Despite some inherently "dirty" processing steps, the floors shined, the equipment was in order, and tools were where they needed to be. Their tooling shop was spotless, as was the (gasp) boiler room!

On inquiry, one of their process specialists described the way in which they do monthly 5S audits. Managers rotate the parts of the plant they inspect and score each month. As a result, the habits are growing.

The result? Two key metrics flowed from this. Equipment uptime had improved substantially. Clean equipment works better. When you clean equipment, you find little problems sooner.

Safety also improved. Dry, clean, uncluttered floors are hard to trip on. The discipline of keeping a workplace clean is the same discipline that prevents unsafe actions.

Morale also goes up. Who wants to work in a dirty, unorganized pit??

...they pursue continuous flow.

The central theme uniting all their efforts was flow. How could they keep an individual order progressing through the facility, adding value?

To do this, they moved entire departments, so that, if process A fed process B, they physically moved the work group doing process A right next to process B. The product then flowed on a simple set of rollers or simple, special cart from A to B. There was remarkably little forklift traffic in the plant.

Rather than layout equipment by type (all the presses together, for example) they laid out the plant by product line. This thinking leads to understanding flow. From this foundation of thinking first about flow, managers cleared the fuzz from their vision and could then see the physical and organizational blocks to flow. Their improvement efforts centered on achieving flow.

I can’t say enough about the impact of looking at flow as an organizing principle. I’ve known this for a while but saw it in physical space in this tour. It all starts, though, with thinking differently.

I hope you can change your thinking and then improve some flow, today.

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