Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Open eyes, open mind

It takes open eyes and an open mind to start the process of setup reduction. The psychology of observation tells us that in many cases, especially those we are familiar with, we mostly fail to see what is in front of us. We fail to notice, we fail to pay attention to what we see.

Observing a setup, either recorded or live, there is a lot going on. It is easy to assume that we know what it is that is taking place. Even when we analyze a video tape of a changeover process, assuming it captured the salient activities, we tend to write down what we think is taking place.

It takes an open mind to question each and every activity – is it necessary? why is it done this way? why is it done at this point? Especially when these questions are asked by someone on the team who has not done the setup personally, or is from outside the immediate area, especially if it is someone from the office, or someone without subject matter expertise, the questions may sound silly to those who are familiar with the process. It is especially those familiar with the process who need an open mind. The typical reaction is to want to explain an activity as making sense, as being the right thing to do.

It may take extensive 5Why, or Fishbone, or other root cause analysis, to determine whether an activity is actually needed, or whether it is done in the best way.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A story about setup

When North American executives started going to Japan to tour plants, having heard of the “Japanese miracle”, one of the things they wanted to see was quick die change. Many did not believe that the Japanese were telling the truth about press setups in less than ten minutes, when their own best efforts were not yielding anything like it, and their own people were telling them that it was impossible.

One group of executives invited to see such a die change, and to be present at a specific stamping press in the plant they were visiting 11 am, when the next die change would take place. Since they were not paying very close attention to the time, they got to the press about 15 minutes late, and all they saw that day was some cleanup activities around the press, which by that time was already making parts. Astonished, they asked what had happened. They were told that, as scheduled, the press was changed over precisely at 11 am. They believed that 11 am was just a target, not a fixed time in the daily plan. They were informed that, had the setup crew waited for the executives to arrive, the rest of the day would have been thrown out of whack for a large number of people who depended for their work on parts flowing from the press in precise quantities, at precise intervals.

The lesson they learned was that quick changeover exists in an environment of precision and standardization, that it is not an isolated aspect of the production system.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Role of skill

A key issue that will be confronted when reducing setup is the role of skill – and those that possess skill. The skill in question is the ability to get a piece of equipment or system to function properly after it has been changed over. As was discussed, many setups suffer from variability in both the tooling and the machine. Those with skill in setting up have the ability to quickly get settings correct, under the specific operating conditions of tooling and equipment. Material also suffers from variation, as does the environment, and all of these factors must be put into harmony by the skilled setup person or team.

SMED strives for a setup that requires no adjustment, no measuring, indeed, for a simple procedure that has been completely standardized. The skill that was formerly required to set up will no longer be needed to achieve a successful changeover. To speak to the concern that we normally feel when we take away the skill and replace it with standardization, it should be said that that skill must be “vested” in the setup – the knowledge of the factors of variation must be made explicit, and eliminated from the setup. How those who have performed the setups are involved in reducing the changeover time can be key to how well this reduction in achieved. Of course, engineers and others can study the elements of the setup, and determine how to control them, but such studies tend to be lengthy, and the results slow in coming.

What about afterwards? It has been said that no one will help to improve a process, if the result is the elimination of their job. First of all, the key result of setup reduction is not elimination of labor. Labor is simply just not that big a part of the total cost of production that it should be pursued as a primary goal. Of course, the history of industrial societies is one of less and less labor required per unit of output. So, labor reduction is inevitable. What needs to be understood, however, is that some of the labor saved needs to be used elsewhere to maintain, and improve, the new system created through improvement processes such as SMED. It is prudent, then, at the outset of a SMED program to assure those involved in changeover, be it operators or dedicated setup resources, that there will be no layoffs or terminations as a direct result of the program. Normal turnover, training programs aimed at those who have the ability to gain new skills, and other ways of redeploying people, are the best way to allay fears about involvement in SMED.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Standardization is not just for tooling or the element that is being exchanged. It applies to what is not being exchanged, the machine or permanent element. Adjustment becomes necessary if the exchanged element, or the permanent element, or both, have variation in performance. It is especially difficult to get right if both are varying from one run to the next.

Standardizing the tooling or exchanged element will not eliminate adjustment if the permanent element, a machine, system, or program, is not stable and standardized. There is thus a link between SMED and TPM, between setup reduction and maintenance. Wear, vibration, and other kinds of drift from the design condition all create problems that must be dealt with during setup. This kind of instability is particularly troublesome, because they cause the internal aspect of the changeover to take more time. If the condition is not known, or not dealt with during scheduled maintenance, then it must be dealt with, whether directly, or provisionally, during changeover. The second approach is, unfortunately, more common, because of the rush to get back up and running. Thus, the problem is faced again and again, with no chance for standardizing the internal setup procedure.

Careful observation is required to disentangle the sources of variation. Preventive maintenance and equipment improvement are necessary to eliminate variation in the permanent element of the production system.