How Toyota Introduces Tech

Over the years, I’ve resisted linking to “outside” articles other than my own.  I always felt that I should provide original content.

I’m revisiting that decision because, of course, there’s a bunch of good literature out there that’s not my own.  Sharing such of that literature as I become aware of with you strikes me as a way this blog can add value.

This article is a good example.  I’ve been reading a bit about Industry 4.0 and digital transformation lately.  Most of it is interesting stuff but too much of it presents technology as intrinsically “good”.  This article, published by my friends at Industry Week, reviews Toyota’s more enlightened approach to tech.

The starting point is this: where are real needs that technology can address to help achieve your goals? This is a question of pulling technology based on the opportunity, instead of pushing the technology because it is the latest fad.

Enjoy.

When the Toyota Way Meets Industry 4.0

 

The Goals of Lean

This is the first in a series of short videos that will review my take on the goals of Lean.  Spoiler Alert (sort of): You’re not going to hear anything about cost cutting!

A Lesson in Visual Management

Check out the video below. You don’t have to watch the whole thing (but you probably will…it’s an interesting video, to say the least) just enough to get a sense of the action and dynamics.

The flight deck is obviously a VERY risky place to be. Everyone MUST be where they need to be when they need to be there or the shit will hit the fan.

The first thing I noticed is that everyone has a bright color jacket on. Each color is for a different role. Each role has specific duties to carry out.

I tell my clients, “Workplace organization and visual management allows you to tell, at a glance, whether your processes are in control or not.” This video illustrates that axiom clearly; we can see how someone on the flight deck could tell at a glance if someone else was in the wrong place at the wrong time, potentially putting themselves and others in danger.

It works to make a high risk circumstance like the flight deck a bit safer. It works to keep your own shop floor safer and more productive.

Don’t Think About Industry 4.0 Until You’re Lean

First, let me say that nothing that follows is intended to disparage Industry 4.0. Digital technology has the potential to change manufacturing for the better in many ways. 

That said, there has been a lot being written about Industry 4.0. Much of what’s been written is confusing. There aren’t any clear, widely agreed upon definitions as to just what Industry 4.0 is in the first place. One article I read stated that there are more than 100 different definitions of Industry 4.0 in the literature. 

This means that it’s difficult to discern just what Industry 4.0 is and what it is not. I’ve seen a wide array of examples of what Industry 4.0 is. I’ve come to conclude that the thermostat on my dining room wall is as good an example of Industry 4.0 as exists; without any intervention on my part, that thermostat senses the temperature in my house and turns the furnace on. When the ambient temperature gets up to a certain point, that same mechanism turns the furnace off. If anything qualifies as a “smart” system, this should. 

So, is this what Industry 4.0 is all about? Many of the reports I’ve read say as much. And that’s OK; helpful technology doesn’t have to be based on the latest and greatest digital advances. In fact, applications of simple technologies might provide as much or more benefit than those of more advanced technologies.

Let me provide another example of a “self regulating system” (a term I see often in the literature) that doesn’t involve any advanced technology at all. A client had a cell that assembled components for their product. The cell assembled about eight different versions of the components. All versions went to the assembly lines, where the final product was put together.

Prior to the company’s lean initiative, work orders from Production Scheduling told the cell what version to make, how many, and when. Quite simply, this approach didn’t work. For example, the assembly lines would be short of Version 1, while stacks of Versions 2 and 3 sat in inventory. Still, Production Scheduling would direct the cell to make more of Versions 2 and 3.

Then the company changed its approach. It bought some racks to put into the cell.  Sections of the racks were labeled so that containers of the different versions of the component went to specific sections of the rack, i.e., containers of Version 1 components always went to the same section and so on for all eight versions.

The cell was given these instructions: When you see a section is empty, make more of that version. When the section is full, quit making it. Period. The computer that fed the daily work orders from Production Planning was…turned off.

The new process was self regulating. It used no technology more advanced than shelves and labels. More importantly, it was effective in keeping the lines running while reducing work in process inventories. And it did so better than the legacy “computer-driven” system did.

Is this, then, an argument against Industry 4.0? Not at all. It is an argument for taking a close look at all your processes and engaging your employees in simplifying and improving those processes before you invest heavily in technology that might not pay off for years, if at all.

Years ago, I worked with a company that extruded PVC conduit. One plant was experiencing high scrap rates. A bit of analysis showed instances where a line ran eight hours of scrap before it was shut down. When a team looked into the problem further, to ask why the extruder wasn’t shut down immediately when scrap was being made, it found that the lead techs needed time to figure out what was wrong and then to make corrections. 

Let’s stop for a moment and consider what the Industry 4.0 solution might be. Sensoring the extruders so that material temperature, extruder speed, and other relevant variables were constantly monitored and sent to motor controls that changed machine parameters so that perfect pipe was always produced was a possibility. Installing controls that stopped the equipment when scrap was being produced was another possibility. 

The plant operators and leads came up with a less expensive, less complex solution: A lead would work on an extruder that was producing scrap for no more than two hours. If he or she hadn’t solved the problem within two hours, the extruder was shut down for maintenance to do a complete inspection and review. Period. Scrap at the plant dropped significantly because there were no more “eight-hour scrap runs”. 

Most of the waste, delays, scrap, and errors that occur in your operations aren’t due to lack of appropriate technology. They are due to poorly designed systems and bad practices. Your supervisors and operators are far more aware of the both the sources and consequences of problems in the processes in which they’re embedded than are a whole posse of hardware and software experts.  Teach your associates the fundamental principles of lean manufacturing, show them some examples of it, and turn them loose. Once you’ve done that, your applications of Industry 4.0 will be all the more effective.

Six Sigma Had a Demise?

I happened across an article, just a couple of weeks ago, about the alleged demise of Six Sigma.   (Read the article here.) Now, I’ve never been either a huge fan or a detractor of Six Sigma.  I myself am not a Six Sigma any-kind-of-belt but I took a fair amount of statistics in college and grad school, some of it pretty advanced.  All to say, I’m aware of both the utility and the limits of statistical tools of the sort Six Sigma practitioners use.  I’m also aware that Six Sigma isn’t just a bundle of statistical tools, rather it’s an overall approach to analyzing and addressing variation of both processes themselves and the outputs they deliver.  Finally, I’m aware that, the only thing the media like better than boosting a particular management “fad”  (and I use that term cautiously, mainly because I don’t like it.  It’s most often used by lazy journalists writing the sorts of articles I’m about to refer to)…is tearing management “fads” apart.  The article in question isn’t quite the latter but it is a good example of an article that gets a lot of stuff wrong as it makes the case that Six Sigma is, perhaps, passe`.  Mind you, it’s not a bad article…in fact, it’s well worth reading.  But…well, let’s take a look at the article in a bit of detail and I’ll go over some of my quibbles.

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“But What If We Don’t Need Workplace Organization?”

I was talking recently with a very smart distribution manager at one of my clients.  We’ve been very involved with Workplace Organization and Visual Management all over the organization and especially in manufacturing.  That fits my usual modus operandi.

The manager was telling me that his folks are getting a bit bored with these phases and are starting to wonder what the purpose of all this “lean stuff” is given that a strong focus on Workplace Organization doesn’t do much for them in the warehouse.

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