A New Look

Yep, I changed things around a bit here and splashed on a new look.  It’s a bit cleaner and (I hope) a bit better organized.  I hope it suits.

Full Disclosure about Book Reviews

From time to time, in my posts, I’ll mention books I’ve read.  I also do book reviews.  Generally, I provide links to Amazon in case a reader wants to purchase the book right then and there.  Well, it turns out that, by joining with Amazon affiliate program, I can get a small commission (4% up to 10%) whenever somebody does this. I figure I’ll make about $10 a year this way…if I’m lucky.  But I also figure there’s no downside.

Why do I bother to mention this?  If I’m making money from something you do (buying a book from Amazon), you should know about it.

OK, that’s it for barely relevant news…back to the good stuff.

Good Examples of 5S

I’m putting together a workshop in Workplace Organization and Visual Factory (aka 5S….but I’m not crazy about the term 5S because, like so much of  lean jargon, it doesn’t really tell me anything).  I’m always looking for good photos of  WOVF examples.  True, there are lots at my own clients but I get shy about asking permission and all that.  So, I go looking across the web for photos.

I just found a good batch of photos at 5S Best Practices.  Check them out, especially if, like me, you need good examples like these to show others what WOVF is all about.

 

Comments to Posts

You know, I get hundreds of comments to the posts I write here.  (At the moment, theres a backlog of more than 1400 comments.)  The problem is, all of them (so far as I can tell) are spam.

That means that there might be a few legitimate comments that I’m not seeing that aren’t getting posted because I don’t want to wade through the backlog.  Especially given that, within a few days, it would be right back where it is now.

I’m going to figure this out eventually (I think there’s a way of attaching one of those Captcha widgets that make you type in the fuzzy numbers), but until then, you probably won’t see your comment below a post.

I’m always eager to hear what you have to say, though, so, for the time being,  use the contact page anytime you just have to respond to a post.

New Name for the Blog: Lean Manufacturing Update

You’ll notice I’ve changed the name of the blog to Lean Manufacturing Update. The reason is shamelessy commercial…I’m hoping it shows up better in web searches. After all, if you were looking for info on “lean manufacturing”, would it occur to you to search on “agile manufacturing”? Exactly.

I still like the term “agile” better than I do “lean”. But I hope I’ll get to say that to more people by changing the name of my blog.

Back to the Future…

I used to have this blog on the regular Godaddy blog software.  They bagged the blogging business, pretty much leaving me in the lurch.  So now I’m on WordPress, hosted by Godaddy (I’m still trying to figure it all out).  The worst part about it all…I lost all my previous content.  Yeah.  All of it.  I had some good stuff there, too.

I’m not sure if it was my fault for not doing…something, or Godaddy’s fault for not telling me to do something.  Or maybe there wasn’t anything  that could be done, I forget.

I did this series on how to implement lean, step-by-step, that I was always proud of.  It was well received (if the Godaddy site stats were to be believed).  I’m going to do it again because, well, again, it’s good material and because I’ve updated my approach.

So, come back here every so often and see what I’ve added.

Lean Manufacturing Principles: The System is Perfectly Designed to Get the Results it Gets

I used to work for a large steel producer. It happens that the large steel producer would lose coils of steel that it had made for customers.  Now, I lose my keys once in awhile but I coil of steel is seven feet tall and weighs several tons.  How do you lose something that big?

Here’s how it happens:  a coil of steel gets produced and needs to be moved out into the steel yard.  It’s supposed to go into a specific bay so it can be retrieved again later.  But when the material handler gets there, another steel coil is in the bay.  Now the material handler has a problem:  does she take the offending coil out of the bay and put the right one in?  Does she just drop the new coil into another bay?  Does she take it back to the supervisor and tell him that there’s already a damn coil in the damn bay he told her to take this one to?  The choice with the mildest short term consequences is to drop the coil in another bay and make a mental note to correct the problem later.  But she forgets and by the time someone else comes to retrieve that coil…it’s lost.

I contend that this happens because the system is designed so that it happens.  You might think, “Wait a minute!  Nobody sat down and designed the process explicitly so that coils of steel would get lost!”  Maybe not.  But nor did anyone sit down and design a system that explicitly prevented coils of steel from getting lost.  So, the system was designed to allow coils of steel to get lost.

This principle has several corollaries:

  • If you’re  don’t like the results, look first at the system.
  • If you don’t like the results, it’s not the people, it’s the system.  And if it does turn out to be the people, look at the systems for hiring, training, and performance feedback.
  • If you don’t like the results, change the system.

Too often, lean methods are implemented as if the system was OK but the people just needed a little help doing things differently (shadowboards are a great example of this).  The bedrock of lean is a system of production that’s very different from the one you probably have now.

What the heck is a “standard rate” and what’s it good for?

I got into one of those not infrequent “lean discussions” recently that focused on “standards”.  Now, the first thing that anyone discussing standards needs to do is to define terms.  I’ve found that, when using the term, some folks mean “standard practice” or “standard operating procedure”, as in, “It may or may not be documented, but it’s the way we’re supposed to be doing it.”  Other folks mean about the same thing but it’s not “standard” unless it’s documented.  Other folks will be using the term to mean “standard or target performance at a task or function” as in “The standard for this part on this machine is 150 pieces per minute.”  I’m going to focus on that use of the  term “standard”.

This discussion started as most do…why can’t our operators just produce to “standard”?  Often in these discussions, I find that managers actually are most pleased when operators perform at better than standard but they learn that they dare not wish for that.  Just as often, these discussion involve some disparaging of such standards as exist:  “They’re all wrong.”

My position is that, for the reasons alluded to above, standards in most manufacturing operations are almost (almost, mind you) meaningless.  I’ve seen standards that were never met, ever, while other products or parts had standards that were exceeded by several hundred percent. (It’s always struck me as odd that a part that runs regularly at “850% of standard” doesn’t seem to generate much discussion.  I guess managers figure they’re making money on that part, so why fuss about it?  My response is that, if that standard is that far off, why would we assume that any of our other standards are correct?)  I’ve seen too many situations where meeting the standard was seen as solely the operator’s responsibility.  In some of these cases,  a list of operators and the average rate they ran each day was posted.   Jim ran at 55% yesterday so Jim didn’t perform well.  Andy ran at 105% so he ran very well.  But the report doesn’t tell you that Jim fought bad material  or bad tooling all day and Andy ran for only three hours at that rate, after which his machine went down.

Too often, the process for setting standards is faulty and the process for assessing and updating standards is often missing altogether.  (I one heard a story about a standard being set by an engineer’s off-hand guess at what the production rate for a new part should be.  And that remained the standard for years.)  So, supervisors and operators alike tend to ignore them for the most part.

I’ve sometimes, just to be provocative, argued that most manufacturers could just toss all their standards out and be as well off.  I’m not actually sure that’s the case, mind you, it’s just that I don’t see many examples of manufacturers being helped by their out-of-date standards.  Even if standards were updated, it might only further encourage the “let’s blame the operator” approach.

So, what, if anything, are standards good for?  To my way of thinking, they’re helpful in establishing a schedule and that’s about it.  If I need 1000 widgets and the “standard rate” is 100 per hour, I know I need to schedule ten hours (or so) to make those widgets.  If we “run at rate”, I know we’ll stay on schedule.  If not, I know we’ll fall behind and I’ll need to be modifying the schedule.  And I can do this even if we typically run below rate by a good bit so long as we run at a consistent rate.