Thursday, June 11, 2009

Improving problem solving

Setup reduction is an ideal way to improve the problem solving skills of everyone in the company. The problem is contained, yet, as we have seen, it involves everyone. It is also a “safe” problem, in that it is a part of a long-term strategy, and never a short-term survival measure. Finally, a lot can be accomplished without the need for capital spending.

One key to success at solving problems is developing “eyes for waste”. Whether the waste is of time, material, labour, or some other asset, close observation over time will reveal the pattern of activities that yield no value. In the case of setup, the value is a productive machine or process, with a different output from before it was stopped for changeover.

Another key to success at problem solving is measuring results. The only think that needs to be measured for setup reduction is time – did it take less this time than last? Of course, you can’t cheat – poor quality, injuries, disruption of other activities can’t be traded for less time setting up.

Some key lessons learned from problem solving for reduced setup time include:
- the value of good observation
- the value of standardization
- the value of organization
- the value of planning
- the value of measuring and tracking
- the value of training
- the value of communication
- the value of questioning

If these lessons are not learned, setups will not be reduced.

Organizations depend on problem solving for continued business success. Using setup reduction as the training and proving ground for problem solving makes good sense. And into the bargain, you get lower costs and better service.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

3C+C: Essential to Quick Setup

Quick setup helps to smooth flow and reduce inventory at s single point in the process. The justification for the effort to reduce setup time is based to a large extent on the ability to produce to customer demand that short setups provide. There are less direct, but equally important, benefits that flow from achieving consistently short setups.

Improved cooperation and coordination between groups in the organization is necessary for production to customer demand. Without the central element of quick setup, it is easy for departments and groups to work toward their own optimization and comfort. But consider the roles of selected groups and departments in ensuring that setups happen precisely when and how they need to, for inventory to be low, and flow to lead to on-time delivery:

The toolroom- This is a key function in ensuring that the tooling works flawlessly each time. The toolroom must be aware of the production schedule, and plan its work to complete the last off inspection, and any necessary repair and adjustment, in the short interval between runs.

Upstream processes – When WIP quantities are reduced, upstream processes must perform to plan, or production comes to a halt. Quality, production quantities, uptime and cycle time are all critical to smooth flow. Many point kaizens fail to deliver on their promise because they fail to take into account variability in supplying processes.

Purchasing and engineering – Standardization of tooling, purchased parts quality and availability are essential to quick, accurate setups. Cost considerations regarding tooling and purchased parts must take into account the value of quick setups in the overall cost structure of the business. The lowest purchase price or the smallest tool base are not necessarily the best choice. This approach can be difficult to accept for those steeped in departmental-specific measures of performance.

Managers and operators – It is easy to get caught up in a fire-fighting culture; after all, it is exciting (and often praised, when it “works”). But a fire-fighting culture will never achieve consistent quick changeovers, and the resultant large inventories will just cover up problems. Everyone involved and responsible for setup need to become problem-solvers, and need to keep in constant training for their tasks. Training in setups, even when a particular setup is not required, and setup competitions, are good practices.

A key element of a Lean culture is sometimes referred to as 3C+C: This means Communication, Cooperation, Consideration + Commitment (to action). From the above, we can see why. What this means in practise is that each improvement and kaizen must be communicated to, and if possible, involve, key members of affected and affecting groups.