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.

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