Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Sound of Manufacturing

In my recent post on the Top 5 Rules of Effective Measurement Boards, Rule #5 is to meet daily at the boards. And the best method is to go to gemba and meet directly on the shop floor in a manufacturing environment. As Rick Maher points out in his comment, they love their boards for their daily meeting however "we are unable/unwilling to hold our daily meeting at the boards because the noise of the plant is too loud and distracting". Their solution is to move the boards which are on casters to a conference room for their daily meeting. Any ideas?

The public image of manufacturing as a place of smoke stacked buildings that are dark, dreary, dirty, oily, smelly, and noisy is certainly a throwback to the old days. That is not say that all manufacturing plants are a Garden of Eden, but many improvements to the manufacturing environment have taken place over the years.

In a lean journey, a strong 5-S program helps dramatically improve the working environment of a manufacturing plant. In the past, dirt and poor light were an accepted condition because that is just the way it is in a manufacturing setting. With 5-S, we changed that way of thinking. Dirt, clutter and darkness are not allowed anymore. But what about noise?

Noise is probably the last area to conquer in manufacturing. Rick's plant is probably just like many of our plants. With all the bells blaring , towmotors revving , horns honking, metal slamming, intercom chattering, air compressors churning , air hoses hissing, motors running, skids dropping not to mention people yelling, music blaring, saws buzzing, belts turning, conveyors squeaking, hammers banging, welders buzzing, presses pounding, tools humming and fans turning. The problem is that we are conditioned to accept this noise level as just the way of manufacturing life.

Without knowing any details of Rick's plant, I will try to offer a few improvement ideas. First, decide that noise levels can be improved just like dirt and low lighting. Start by asking the 5 Whys to get at the root cause of noise. For example: towmotors make lots of noise, why? They have loud mufflers? Why? The mufflers have holes in them? Why? they have not been replaced? Why? Maintenance has not replaced them? Why? Not listed on a PM Program.
Now we can replace the mufflers and add them to the PM program.

If you pushed the lean principles, I would ask the questions from a different point of view. Why do we need towmotors in the first place? We move bulk stock around the plant. If we organized into cells with one piece flow, towmotors can be eliminated (or drastically reduced). One noise source eliminated. So try to eliminate it before reducing it.

The overall noise issue would be an excellent Kaizen event. Form a team to root out all the noise sources and eliminate or reduce them. A sound meter can be easily purchased for low cost to measure the before and after noise levels. Set a goal for an 80% reduction in one week.

Be creative in your approach with isolating noisy equipment with sound dampening panels and eliminating metal to metal contacts (use padding, carpet, foam, plastic, etc.). Use two-way communication systems instead of a plant wide intercom. Block the air compressor noise by isolating it or adding dampening panels. As you replace tools, make lower sound levels a desirable criteria in the selection process. Have a plant wide effort for noise reduction by fixing leaks, replacing hoses, and oiling squeaks. Are all the buzzers and bells still useful? Get rid of unneeded signals. Don't get in the habit of turning on all the equipment at the beginning of the shift when some equipment is not needed. Turn off these machines when not used regularly.

I hope these suggestions help in your lean journey and reduce the noise levels. If anybody has other suggestions or experiences with noise reduction efforts in their plants, please help us by adding them to our comments. Thank you Rick for presenting an outstanding challenge!

1 comment:

Rick Maher said...

Wow, I missed 2 posts due to some traveling I was doing and a month later come to find out that one of them was about me!

Thanks so much for the ideas! Although, I think that my plant is also similar to many others in that there is a plethora of "low hanging fruit" which will provide greater benefit to be attacked before we start making concerted efforts just to reduce noise / move the daily meetings to the floor.

One thing I have found is that most things that make noise can also present a safety issue - and you better believe that I have dropped that issue on the desk of our Environment & Safety group!

One other idea that I have thought might work would be to take a page from the UPS book and cut our currently 10 (which always seems to turn into 15) minute meetings in the conference room down to 3 minutes. Cut the fat on the meetings and get to work!

Thanks again for the suggestions!