Browsing through Amazon, I discovered that my own book Lean Assembly is now available for the Kindle. It is a welcome development, but I just wish they had told me.
Amidst all the doom-and-gloom about the death of American manufacturing, the one, simple fact that’s usually forgotten is that we’re still the world’s No. 1 manufacturer. No joke, and not a typo: We produce one fifth of the world’s total manufacturing output.
The difference between how Americans once made stuff and how that stuff is made today is that manufacturing in the U.S. has reached a stunning level of efficiency that can be hard to really comprehend. Unless, of course, you visit a factory like the one that makes Herman Miller’s Aeron chair. We recently did, and saw a process which has yielded a 500% increase in productivity and a 1,000% increase in quality since 1998…
See on www.fastcodesign.com
This article quotes Paul Myerson as saying that manufacturers preferred to “lean out within their four walls before working heavily with customers and suppliers.”
While I have heard this from many sources, I do not believe it is true. Having worked both within the four walls of plants and on their supply chains, I have repeatedly seen manufacturing managers conclude that their manufacturing needed no improvement, and that all the problems were with suppliers.
Before Paul Myerson, I also wrote a book on Lean Logistics. In 2005, it was the first on this subject. But I also wrote books on Lean Assembly (2002) and Working with Machines (2007), both of which deal with what happens “within the four walls.” Guess what? Lean Logistics sells more copies than the other two combined, and I don’t think it is a better book. To me, it just means that its subject is getting more attention.
Actually, it is getting a disproportionate amount of attention, and too early. Manufacturers should focus on what happens within their walls first, and fix it. The vast majority, including many claiming to be Lean, have not. Until they do, they have no credibility with their suppliers and no business telling them how to improve.
See on www.industryweek.com
This is a section of a photograph published in the UK’s Guardian on 12/20/2011, showing four operators at work on an aircraft fuselage section.
When you examine the picture, how many do you see actually engaged in modifying the work piece?
Bodo Wiegand heads the Lean Management Institute, which is the German affiliate of the Lean Enterprise Institute. The following is a translation from German of a large excerpt from his February, 2012 newsletter, Wiegand’s Watch:
Last week I was invited to a visit a company to discuss the benefits of Lean management with its Board. On such occasions I always ask for a detailed factory tour first. This way, the discussion can be better focused on the company’s actual problems and not get stuck in theory.My short audit begins before the actual visit. Before turning into the visitor parking lot, I drive around the facility to inspect the grounds. Is it tidy? What do I see? As there marked pathways? How much material lying around? How many employees, forklifts, trucks and cars are moving around? This is my very first impression.In the actual plant tour, I know they will not show me the problem areas of the company, and that they will keep me as much as possible on a visitor path is. However, by saying that I would like to go from customer to supplier, I usually get to see what I need. So we follow the value stream from back to front.The way to Shipping usually reinforces what I have seen outside: if it is messy outside, with no marked pathways or areas are selected, heaps of materials are piling up, and cars and trucks randomly parked, what else can I expect in production?Far too few pay attention and remember that this is the company’s calling card.Now, in this case are with me the production manager and the Lean Leader. They explain with pride that they have been doing Lean for two years already for 2 years and have achieved huge success. They have set-up times in half on several machines. But we were at Shipping and I just wanted to know what products were arriving today to go out today or tomorrow at the latest. After questioning the Shipping clerk then we found that two containers that were very important and urgent were just too late.To my question on how often something like this happens, the production manager answered “Rarely”; the shipping clerk, “Every day.” After a short discussion, the production manager admitted to a delivery reliability of 80%, but he was not quite sure. To my question about lead time the Lean leader proudly answered “In general, about 3 weeks.”“How long does it take to run through a super hot job” , I asked as a follow-up.“2 days,” he shot back.My next question about how many projects he had initiated to reduce the lead time demotivated further, as he had to admit there weren’t any.Well, for me the lead time is one of the most important metrics in a company is and a priority in the execution of projects. The shorter the lead time, the higher the flexibility, the smaller the stocks, the more stable the process, the less time available to make mistakes, and the more efficient the organization.But satisfaction with a lead time ratio of 1 to 10 between hot and normal jobs in German companies is quite amazing. For the hot job to be completed in 2 days, it flows through the company without intermediate storage, is processed immediately and is carried through without pause, without waste, except of course that the supervisor personally takes the matter in hand. But why is it not always like this for all jobs? Why is the exception and not the rule?But we moved on. In assembly, the Lean leader explains that they have built up an assembly line, but that it still cannot work to the takt time, and that they have therefore built up behind the line an assembly rework shop for quality problems.Hello? – Has he really understood Lean?But even outside of the assembly line you could not overlook the signs of chaos. You saw pallets with several items pulled from the supermarket, but by the pallet-load rather than in the quantities necessary for assembly. The reason was simple. The storage space in the supermarket was insufficient and the supermarket was just too full.The degree of Lean manufacturing and Lean understanding was close to zero.Next, I turned my attention to the order fulfillment process. But there, also, they had no clue where to start with takt time, bottlenecks, and inventory. The information boards were full of outdated figures on revenue and absenteeism. Two departments were reasonably tidy and provided with standards that were not followed. Brooms and tools had assigned shadows, but were not actually available. Employees were running around for no apparent reason, or talking in small groups. The production manager didn’t know the supervisor’s name, the clocks were off, some windows broken and lamps without bulbs, etc., etc.[…]To avoid any misunderstanding, as I walk through a company, I don’t pretend to understand everything, but I try to get an overall impression. Those of you who walk through production daily must know how to see and should focus their attention on a different theme every day to be a good shop floor manager. But beware! It is a difficult, thorny path – but it’s worth it.
We have all learned that overproduction is muda, and that production must follow the takt of customer demand.
Is there a lean way of dealing with falling sales ? Should we just adjust production to customer takt time or stabilize sales by giving rebates ?
Is it important to level sales and give some stability to production or should we just adjust the production takt time ?
You question implies that takt time is only a function of customer demand. It is not. When you calculate it, you divide your production time by the demand, which means that it is as much a function of how long you decide to work as of how much you have to produce. Without any change in customer demand, you double the takt time by working two shifts instead of one.
The takt time of a production line is the time that elapses between two consecutive unit completions when the line runs. It is not the rate at which customer orders arrive.
So how do you respond to falling sales?
You have to distinguish between fluctuations in sales, for which you should not change the pace of production, and major changes, for which you should.
Once you have set up a large assembly line to work at a takt time of 57 seconds, changing it to 60 seconds is a major effort, involving the balancing of tasks among stations and adjustments in part supplies. In car assembly, unless you are hit by something like the Fukushima earthquake, you don’t do it more than once in four months, even if you are Toyota. During this period, you use heijunka to respond to fluctuations in mix, and adjust overtime for fluctuations in total volume.
If you have a major downturn, you have to reduce production, and the challenge then is to do it without going bankrupt while retaining the work force you spent so much time and effort developing.
It is in such times that having your money tied up in inventory can bankrupt you. When the recession hit in 2008, management in manufacturing companies suddenly took an interest in working capital, but it was too late. Downturns come brutally, and it is when they occur that you must be ready.
Keeping your work force intact and prepared for the next upturn is just as essential. So you stop using temps, cut all overtime, go on four-day weeks, or three-day weeks, and use the available time to solve nagging engineering problems, experiment with new technology, etc. I remember an auto parts plant in Japan, in which recession time had been used by a team to build in-house a pick-to-light system with their own AGV out of Creform. Even though they did not explain it, you could tell that they would know exactly what to require from vendors and how to deploy this technology when the upturn came.