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Ask Art: What Foundational Items Must I Be A Zealot About?

by Art Byrne
September 18, 2019

Ask Art: What Foundational Items Must I Be A Zealot About?

by Art Byrne
September 18, 2019 | Comments (12)

In my experience, the owner/leader/CEO must be the company’s overall lean zealot in order to be successful. I have never seen a robust lean implementation that occurred on a bottoms-up basis.

Even with this absolute commitment, there is much work to be done.  First of all, you have to understand that lean is strategic, a better way to run the company—one that creates unfair competitive advantage. Next you have to understand that you are trying to remove the waste from your own operations so that you can deliver more value to your customers than your competitors.

Well, that’s all very nice but it sounds a bit like high level gobble-dee-gook. It may sound ok and make you feel warm and fuzzy; but what do you need to do to actually make it happen? Where should you focus? The answer here, like most things in lean, is simple. In order to go beyond your traditional batch state you need to focus on implementing the lean fundamentals:

  • WORK TO TAKT TIME
  • ONE PIECE FLOW
  • STANDARD WORK
  • PULL SYSTEM

If you drive these fundamentals in a rigorous way every day, in every part of your business, you have a very high chance of being successful. For example, if the CEO asked his management team every day, “Is everything running to takt time?”, or, “Is everything in a one piece flow?”, or “Do we have standard work in place everywhere and is it being adhered to?”, and “Is everything working to the pull of the customer?” I think you could be very successful. Of course, to begin with, the answers to all these questions will be...no. It will take you years before your team can say yes to each of the four lean fundamentals. Even so, asking every day keeps the focus on the things that are important in getting you where you are trying to go. 

But how do I actually get there? In my opinion there are several foundational areas that you must focus on to make the lean fundamentals work. In my experience these foundational areas are often overlooked and as a result the lean turnaround is slow to develop or doesn’t happen at all. To me, three of them stand out as being worthy of further discussion.

SETUP REDUCTION

The most important of these, and probably the most overlooked, in my opinion, is setup reduction. After all, how can you work to takt time, have one piece flow or respond to the pull of the customer if you have setup times in the 2-4 hour range—or longer? The long setups themselves will dictate batching almost everything. For example, if you work on a single shift, and have 3-hour setups, then changing over 3 times per week means you lose a whole day of production every week. It’s just simple math. If this is your reality, then the boys in the finance department will come up with economic lot sizes for you such that you may need to make 3-4 months worth of inventory every time you do a setup to maximize its efficiency.

Obviously, if you don’t fix this you cannot become lean. But there will be great resistance and it will come with 20-30 well thought out “reasons” (i.e. excuses) as to why setups can’t be reduced any further. Your operators and shop floor management will defend the current state. Over and over, I have seen companies start down the lean path and try and do it without a very aggressive push to reduce setup times. Instead they just put kanban cards on their big batches and say, “Yup, we’re lean.” But this is just accepting the waste that exists and limiting your capacity and ability to respond to the pull of the customer.

Even if it is understood that reducing setup time is critical for lean understanding, what is possible and making it happen are not likely to be one of your core competences. If you ask an engineer in a traditional company to reduce set up time by 50%, for example, she is likely to tell you a) it is impossible or b) she will go to the catalogs and buy some very expensive setup reduction automation. But as the chart below illustrates, at Wiremold we were able to average about a 90% reduction in setup time after a one week kaizen on a broad array of equipment.

WIREMOLD ONE-WEEK SETUP RESULTS

  • Rolling Mill 720m  to 34m              -95%
  • 150 Ton Press 90m   to   5m             -94%
  • PM Punch Press 52m   to   5m             -90%
  • Hole Cut Mill 64m   to    5m            -92%
  • 5” Extruder 180m   to  19m            -89%
  • Injection Molder 120m   to  15m           -88%

And we didn’t stop there. The Extruder, for example, got down to 3 minutes, the injection molder got down to 2 minutes, a large rolling mill went from 14 hours to 6 minutes, a large coil fed punch press went from 3 hours and 10 minutes to 1 minute and on and on. In one of my private equity companies where I was Chairman we took a 750-ton injection molding machine from 5 hours to 5 minutes. I could cite other examples but I think you get the point. And of course, unlike the catalog engineer, you can’t spend a lot of money in a one-week kaizen to get these results. The key point of all this of course is if you don’t focus your attention on reducing all your setups then becoming lean is almost impossible.

FOCUS ON THE 5S’s

The next foundational pillar for lean, in my opinion, is the whole area of 5S. Lean requires a great deal of discipline and the ability to keep going back over and over to remove the next layer of waste. As a result, if a company is not good at the basic housekeeping of 5S then its chances of becoming a lean enterprise are very limited. At Wiremold we did 21 acquisitions over the course of about 9 years, mostly using the funds we freed up from reducing inventory. Our standard work for an acquisition was to start doing kaizen as soon after the financial closing as possible. Once we were underway we continued an aggressive kaizen schedule except in cases where the 5S was very bad. In those cases we had the new company focus, with our help, on nothing but 5S for the next six months before we would do another kaizen.

Not only is the discipline of 5S important but 5S is extremely important for several other things you need for lean. Safety is at the top of this list: an organized, “everything in its place”, uncluttered work space is a much safer place to work. Organization also helps in creating one piece flow where everything needed (and nothing extra) is within easy reach. Pull systems also require organization for things like super markets of parts (small ones hopefully) and ease in replenishment.

VISUAL CONTROL

Last on my list of foundational keys is visual control. In the typical traditional batch factory, information is kept on computers in an office, but on the shop floor, in most cases there is no easy way to tell if you are on schedule or not. Things are made in batches in functional departments that are often far away from each other. They are trying to make a forecast—not respond to the pull of the customer. The focus is on “make the number” be it for the day week or more commonly the month. There is a big reliance on having lots of inventory so no one is particularly concerned about how we are doing this hour or day.

When you switch to lean and try to work to takt time, i.e. the rate of customer demand, knowing where you are hour by hour throughout the day becomes very critical. You no longer have time to “make it up later” so to speak. The big inventory buffers are no longer there so there is tremendous pressure to get it right the first time. If you start to get off track you need to take action right away. To do this you need the hour by hour visual control in place in every operation.

Visual control is also the basis of what we call daily management, or said another way, corrective action or countermeasures. Everyone needs to be involved in removing the waste, and the visual management helps everyone to see the current status at all times. The team can then come up with quick countermeasures to get back on track. In addition, visual control is a subtle but great motivator for any team. People are naturally competitive. They come to work to do a good job and will come together as a team to hit the takt time the customer requires if they can see it throughout the day. I’ve seen some great examples of this over the years.

SUMMARY

I’ve only talked about three things that are what I call foundational items for lean. I’m sure that that I will get suggestions for several others to add to the list but these to me are the most important. As you start down the lean path make sure that you put major emphasis on getting all these in place. Be a zealot on the foundational items. If you don't, you won't get very far with your Lean conversion. None of these are financial measures that traditional companies tend to focus on. They are indeed far more significant than that. They will touch every employee in some way and help them understand how they can contribute to removing waste. As a result they are key to your future financial results.

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12 Comments | Post a Comment
Bruce Tifft September 19, 2019
2 People AGREE with this comment

Focus. On. Flow. 

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Greg Lobsiger September 19, 2019

What would setup reduction look like in the service industry. Ex: The Auto Collision Repair Industry with one vehicle that needs 10 hours of work and other complex jobs needing 85 hours of work (great variation of job size).  

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art byrne September 20, 2019
2 People AGREE with this reply

Greg, I don't know what type of equipment you need to change over but cutting the time by 90% should be no problem. Your question however sounds more like an issue of flow tha of set up reduction. Toyota has a TAKT time of about one minute [i.e. a car rolls off the line every minute], there are about 33,000 parts required per car and the total elapsed time is around 20 hours. So my guess is that the times you mentioned are mostly taken up by waiting. If you established a clear flow and never let a car start down this flow unless all the parts that are needed are present I would think you could make drastic reductions in your times.

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Greg Lobsiger September 21, 2019

Thank you for the repsonse Art and flow is the issue!  Actual touch time (hands on cars), parts (correct and here in a timely fashion) and waiting between processes are definitely factors.  Building down large repairs (offline) and then transforming them into smaller repairs to enter flow seems to be our only option.  Small jobs (Ex: replacing a bumper, fender & headlight) are relatively easy to flow, its the big ones (Ex: replacing a rear quarter panel, rear body panel, trunklid and bumper) are difficult to move to the next step at takt time.  Current customer demand is Approx. 3.5 units per day at a 137 minute Takt time. I am going on the Lean Tour with LEI in a couple weeks as this should be a real eye opener and I can't wait. 

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Greg Lobsiger September 21, 2019

Thank you for the repsonse Art and flow is the issue!  Actual touch time (hands on cars), parts (correct and here in a timely fashion) and waiting between processes are definitely factors.  Building down large repairs (offline) and then transforming them into smaller repairs to enter flow seems to be our only option.  Small jobs (Ex: replacing a bumper, fender & headlight) are relatively easy to flow, its the big ones (Ex: replacing a rear quarter panel, rear body panel, trunklid and bumper) are difficult to move to the next step at takt time.  Current customer demand is Approx. 3.5 units per day at a 137 minute Takt time. I am going on the Lean Tour with LEI in a couple weeks as this should be a real eye opener and I can't wait. 

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art byrne September 21, 2019
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Greg, enjoy your tour with LEI. When you get back ask yourself what would it take to do 10 units per day vs. your current 3.5. This should help you see the waste and help you move forward. I know it's not the same thing exactly but also ask yourself how long does it take to install a rear quarter panel, rear body panel and/or trunklid on an automotive assembly line vs. what it takes you. Again the waste should jump out.

Greg Lobsiger September 22, 2019

Thank you for your wisdom Art!  It's just pretty awesome how you focus on (some would think crazy) stretch goals and inspire people like myself with this type of thinking.  It makes me stop and say, "wait a minute, what are we really doing here and how can we get from our current state (here) to our future state (there)".   I will do exactly what you said.  Thanks again for the dialogue and the time you spend writing these posts to help others!

David Brunt September 23, 2019
5 People AGREE with this reply

Greg, there are great examples of TPS applied to the auto collision industry. First look at your overall demand and separate the work into small jobs, medium sized jobs and large jobs. The large jobs are the ones your talking about here, but you’ll no doubt have smaller jobs that are often slowed down by the complexity in the shop. Next, as Art discussed, establish a takt for each type of job and establish a standard sequence for the work. You might complete one big job per week, but have the following steps - estimate (including stripping the vehicle so that this goes right first time and you don’t have add ons later), approve, jig work, prep for panel, panel, prep for prime, prep for colour, paint, refit, polish (remember polish is only necessary because of dirt in the paint - and that’s why 5S is so important!) Here we have 10 steps, so initial thought would be half a day for each of the steps, with these numbers. Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that as some of these steps don’t take half a day - most priming and painting steps for example - so you can combine the steps that fit under your takt, using a cycle time/takt time bar chart also known as an operator balance chart. Once you’ve done that you’ll also know the lead time to produce the given type of work as a flow operation. SMED is relevant in a body shop case, as a countermeasure to achieving the cycle time in an area to meet the takt. Examples include pre-kitting the area with parts you’ll fit, masking the job before the booth to save booth time etc. Remember, your booth is your physical constraint - you have to paint in a booth (usually), but the longest cycle time will be paint prep on small jobs and possibly that and the jig work on longer jobs. Body repair is a lot of fun, enjoy it!

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Greg Lobsiger September 23, 2019

David, its very obvious to me you have spent some time within the auto collision value stream.  Not sure how many Lean body shops are in the UK?   Here in the USA, there MAYBE 5-6 at best out of 36,000 body shops that are applying pure Lean.  Lots of tools and shows, but thats about it.  Pulling (true) level flow is basically non-existant here.   We have a fairly advanced system in my shop and we are making progress, but we have not used a cycle time/takt time bar chart even though I have used it in a workshop (I need to start).  We have been trying to produce at Takt per customer demand, but we have not split Takt by the type (size and requirements) of the job.  This could obviuosly be part of our issue.  We do use SMED (I feel) as much as possible.  We also have a pretty good Heijunka system for leveling inputs.  I understand you are in the UK and I am in the USA.  If I still have questions after I return from the LEI tour, might I reach out to you?  I am very humbled by time you and Art have spent with my flow issue here.  I am a third generation shop owner and I still love this industry, but we a ton of waste to remove yet.

Skip Matty September 24, 2019

Great article!  It really does a great job of explaining the importance of teh key foundational element.  Start with the basics first.  Too often companies are enamored with the shiny objects that they think will solve all of their problems.

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art byrne September 25, 2019
2 People AGREE with this reply

David and Greg, wow, this is a great exchange. To me it highlights the whole pourpose of LEI in the first place; to gather and share data on lean so that others can enjoy the benefits of becoming lean. The lean post is a great vehicle for this and it wonderful to see it working this way. Greg, feel free to get back to David or me with any future questions or thoughts.

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art byrne September 25, 2019
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Skip, thanks for your input. You are exactly correct that most companies are more interested in the "shiny objects" or what I call "silver bullet solutions." The see lean as a cost reduction plan and tend to skip the basics as that seems like it would take too much time. But, without a focus on the foundational areas you can't become lean and your cost reduction dreams will peeter out very quickly.

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