Lean Is In the Simplest Things

Workplace organization is fundamental to any lean manufacturing implementation.

Some time ago, I was having a discussion with an operator about workplace organization.  During our conversation, the operator pointed to a fixture that was stored on the floor under a piece of equipment.  He told me that the fixture was heavy but there was no other place to store it.  The circumstance was an ergonomic injury waiting to happen.

The solution was actually pretty easy:  buy a small lift table to keep the fixture on.

Read any text about lean and you’ll get to the chapters about takt time, kanban, poke yoke, maybe even heijunka.  You won’t often find the chapter that tells you to make certain that all tooling and fixtures are easy to get to, easy to maneuver,  easy to put away.  But until you listen to your operators and help them eliminate or, at least, reduce the frustrations they deal with every day, they aren’t going to be interested in anything else you say about lean.

Our Latest Industry Week Article: A New Twist on “Going to the Gemba”

Ron Jacques and I have made a pretty good writing team over the past year or so.  Ron has a long and varied career in manufacturing.  The guy has a million stories!  (He’s also, if his stories are any evidence, a damn good manager of manufacturing operations.)  Our workflow has been that he gives me the stories and I turn them into articles; we’re the Lennon and McCartney of lean writing!

Our recent article provides a twist on the rightfully honored idea of “going to the gemba”.  The lesson is…use all of your senses!

We’re pretty sure you’ll enjoy this one.

We’re pretty sure that you’ll enjoy the others we’ve written over the past several months that I haven’t posted here on the blog.  I’ll provide links to those articles, one at a time so that I don’t overwhelm you, over the next few months.

Lean Uses All Senses

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.

A Video You Should Watch About the GM Lordstown Plant

I just started reading Rude Awakening: The Rise, Fall, and Struggle for Recovery of General Motors, written by Maryann Keller.  It was published in 1989, so it’s not a new book by any stretch.  A lot has happened to GM in the past 31 years.  But it’s an interesting read for anyone interested in learning more about how big companies manage to screw things up in spite of having lots of resources at their disposal.

At any rate, the book discusses the bad days at the nearby (to me) Lordstown plant back in the 1970’s.  That led me to the interwebs to learn more about  all that, where I found the 1973 documentary Loose Bolts. (Click on this link.)

It’s about 30 minutes or so long and worth a viewing.  The production values aren’t great but the interviews with some of the workers and supervisors at the plant are interesting to hear, especially given that they took place shortly after the three-week strike at the plant.

As one learns more about the conditions and management approach at Lordstown, it’s hard not to conclude that GM purposefully created intolerable conditions expressly for the purpose of engendering a strike.


Accuride Plant is an Industry Week “Best Plant” Award Winner

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.

An Article You Should Read About A Great Company: Talan Products

Yeah, it’s kind of easy to say Talan Products is a great company…after all, they were smart enough to hire me to help them implement their lean initiative several years back, right?

Seriously, I can vouch for the fact that, just as this article says, Steve Peplin and Talan Products practice their values every day.

I teach a course at Kent State in which I hold forth that a strong, positive culture provides a strategic advantage for the organization.  Talan Products is strong evidence for this assertion.

Read and enjoy!

How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: Simplify and Solve – Value Stream Mapping and Team Problem Solving: Part 7

Six months ago (yikes!) we were talking about how to develop and use Value Stream Maps.  We had gotten to the point where we had put together a pretty good “Current State” map that included performance data.  We said we’d look, in more detail, at the map and the data we had put together before we went on to creating a “Future State” map. And here we are…a mere SIX MONTHS LATER!  So, let’s get going.

Continue reading “How to Implement Lean Manufacturing: Simplify and Solve – Value Stream Mapping and Team Problem Solving: Part 7”