I always like reading about the winners of Industry Weeks’s Best Plant Awards. I especially like reading about winners from what we often think of as “rust belt” industries. That’s decidedly the case for the Accuride Wheel End Solutions plant in Rockford, IL. (Here’s the link to the story to learn more about the plant and why it won the award.)
This particular story caught my eye because an Accuride plant here in NE Ohio was a client of mine about, oh, 15 years ago back when I worked for Work In Northeast Ohio Council. That plant machined and finished truck wheels that were forged in Erie, PA. That plant also would never, ever have been able to win any kind of “best plant” award. As a matter of fact, it was the single worst plant I’ve ever worked with.
The plant floor was usually covered in water, while most of the machines had their electric panels open with fans blowing on them in an effort to keep them from overheating. Yeah, I was always pretty nervous walking around the plant. Such meetings as I had with management (the plant manager would regularly schedule meetings with us, then conveniently be “out of the plant” when the scheduled time came) showed me that the leadership team just wasn’t competent. (Strangely enough, the plant was ISO certified.)
All this is to say that I’m happy to see that Accuride (the Rockford Plant, at least) has gotten its act together. The company president mentioned in the article, Rick Dauch, was not in place at the time I worked with Accuride. (In fact, it looks as if the entire leadership team has changed. The company now has a VP of Quality and Lean) Rick’s dad wrote a book, American Drive: How Manufacturing Will Save Our Country, that related the story of his turnaround of American Axle in Detroit. Richard Sr. was an early proponent and implementer of employee participation and lean principles.
I distinctly recall meetings with the plant management team and the President and Vice Presidents of Operations and Human Resources in which we nearly begged them to consider implementing a broad array of lean principles and methods. (We were there to help develop operator task instructions.) We were pretty much ignored. It appears that it took a complete changeover of leadership to implement what my colleagues at WINOC and I were proposing 15 years ago. Better late than never, I suppose.
And that plant that we worked at here in NE Ohio? It’s gone.
OK, I don’t actually want you to altogether forget about lean. I do want you to get rid of the notion (if you ever had it) that lean is a tool bag of tricks and techniques for wringing a few bucks out of your manufacturing processes or for getting another percentage point of efficiency from your employees. There are ways of achieving those ends if that’s what you want but lean ain’t it. Rather, lean is all about creating a smooth, consistent, predictable flow of information and materials through your organization. I found a couple of good articles that reinforce my thinking that I want you to check out.
I’ve often said that lean is NOT cost cutting. Maybe a better way to put it is, lean is one thing…cost cutting is another. I found an article that provides a few good examples of cost-cutting that aren’t lean. And that’s not a bad thing. Continue reading “Cost Cutting vs Lean”
“I frequently hear 5S advocated as some sort of “clean up, fix up” campaign, an “easy way to get started with lean”, raise morale, impress investors, impress customers, and, in general, create the appearance of a “world-class” company (whatever a “world class” company may be).”
In the last post, we recommended posting charts at each work station to gather information about production and performance that would be used to identify and solve problems. Remember, the purpose of these charts isn’t simply to gather data that will be used later by your resident black belt (though it certainly could be). The purpose is to identify and address problems in real time, in other words, lean problem solving. So we’re interested in gathering as little information as possible in as “user-friendly” a way as we can and still get good problem solving accomplished.
Lean efforts will be successful to the degree to which we have operational excellence in the shop. Inventories and costs will decrease to the extent that we can reduce downtime, scrap, delays, scheduling problems, die problems, and equipment problems. There’s no value in a value stream mapping and no good in pushing a pull system unless we also address those problems that will keep them from being effective. Supervisors and operators need to be actively involved in problem solving.
As I’ve mentioned, I’m getting started on putting more material on YouTube. Here’s my latest…it’s an overview/description that answers (one hopes) the question, “What is Lean?”
I hope you’ll get a chance to check it out. I think my own definition, while not brand new and “never-heard-of”, does take a bit of a different slant from that of many of descriptions. And, as you might imagine, I like my description better. So, go take a look!