Thursday, March 27, 2008


BOHICA is not a new Japanese word used in lean manufacturing and it is not a cynical Dilbert-ism although it could be. For those with a military background, you may recognize it and may have even used it on occasion. BOHICA is a crude expression that stands for “Bend Over Here It Comes Again” to convey the notion, please pardon the expression, of getting …. (let’s just say treated badly) by someone else (usually someone in authority). If you will please look beyond its original rude meaning, I would like to use the same expression in a completely different context.

BOHICA still represents “Bend Over Here It Comes Again” only with “IT” being another recordable injury as a result of bending or lifting. This is a very serious, very costly and very preventable injury! No joke.

How many of us see this reoccurring injury involving bending and lifting year-in and year-out on our safety dashboards? What are the usual countermeasures we put in place if any? Is it working? How do we know?

Did you know that after colds, back injuries are the No. 1 cause of missed work? It is estimated to cost more than $90 billion a year in medical bills which is certainly a waste. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, back injuries account for 1 in every 5 workplace injuries or illnesses with more than one million workers suffering back injuries each year. One million workers….suffering…each year!

And it is not just a manufacturing problem. Two other occupational fields where back injuries occur most are in construction and health care. Yes, in the health care workplace. The six of the top 10 professions at greatest risk for back injuries are nurse’s aids, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, health aids, radiology technicians and physical therapists, according to national statistics. Greater than one third of these back injuries are attributed to patient handing. For our friends in lean healthcare, this is a worthy problem to eliminate and for reference please see “A Back Injury Prevention Guide for Healthcare Workers” as a starting point.

The motion of lifting, placing, carrying, holding and lowering are all involved in manual material handling however data shows that the act of lifting accounts for four out of five incidents of back injuries. The first thing that may come to mind is providing training to lift properly which is a common countermeasure to address the problem, “Trained or Re-trained associate in proper lifting methods.” But does that really prevent the injuries from occurring? Maybe not. According to one report, body mechanics training in proper lifting techniques has been discredited by 35 years of research.

Even Henry Ford way back in 1922, as quoted from his book, My Life and Work, said, “The first step forward in assembly came when we began taking the work to the man instead of the man to the work. We now have two general principles in operations-that a man shall never to take more than one step, if possibly it can be avoided, and that no man need ever stoop over.” Although he was certainly focusing on motion economy, I am sure back injuries were a problem for manufacturing in those days too.

It is commonly thought that no approach has been found for totally eliminating back injuries caused by lifting however this should not discourage us from finding a proper and permanent countermeasure. Perhaps Mr. Ford points us in the right direction. Prevent the action of bending and lifting to eliminate back injuries.

Potential suggestions include adjusting the heights of pallets and shelves above the knee and installing mechanical assists to 100% eliminate human effort to lift or bend. Focus on prevention by better job design with detailed study and proper countermeasures. Spend the time and effort to grasp the situation, ask the 5 whys, and check to make sure the countermeasures are effective.

A quick fix of training or re-training may help only as a temporary countermeasure but this problem demands long-lasting improvements.

As a little added bonus, here is my first haiku on this topic.

Bending over to
lift another piece again;
Snap goes my poor back.

Thanks to Jon Miller at Gemba Research for the inspiration.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Low Impact Manufacturing

There is a rising level of awareness of global warming and other environmental concerns within our society today. As more information is shared, the debate continues. As a whole, our society is remains divided on the issue. Some of us believe it is a catastrophic problem that must be addresses immediately, others believe it is more of a concern than a major problem while some of us are not yet convinced that it is a problem at all.

What does this have to do with lean manufacturing? Everything.

Our decisions and behaviors in our manufacturing process have an environmental impact. The main focus of the lean approach is to eliminate waste. We should look at the issue of our manufacturing environmental footprint with careful consideration. How do our current processes impact our customer, our employees and our society? What is our company’s environmental footprint? What improvements can we make to become a low impact manufacturer?

Without even getting into the middle of the environmental cause and effect debate, we can see a huge business advantage to reducing our energy costs and reducing the typically hidden costs of waste disposal. Energy costs alone have negatively impacted each and every one of us.

What are some of the ways we can reduce or eliminate this waste?
1. Conduct an Energy Kaizen Event where the team focuses on reducing energy and waste costs during the week long kaizen blitz.
2. Add six sigma projects to focus on energy and waste improvement.
3. Don’t hide the problem of energy and waste costs in overhead. Measure it, apply countermeasures and post results making it visible. Add it to our dashboard.
4. Add environmental impact analysis to all business decision process where it makes sense to do so. (The request for funds, new product introductions, facility planning, engineering change requests, etc)
5. Use our handy dandy lean tools (i.e. Pareto charts) to help focus our effort in the area of most impact. Is it gas? It is electricity? Is it waste disposal?
6. Leverage all employees as problem solvers (a known but little used lean principle) to help think up and implement countermeasures.
7. Celebrate and publicize our energy reducing successes! Share ideas.
8. Identify the barriers to effective recycling and remove them. Make it easier.
9. Improve lighting which is probably the fastest way to save energy where studies indicate that lighting consumes about 40% of the electricity used in commercial buildings.
10. Increase the use of natural light. For example, one of our plants has skylights in a stairwell for light during daylight hours.
11. Redesign production processes making them simply, flexible and energy efficient.
12. Replace old motors with right-sized, high-efficiency motors.
13. Monitor and reduce peak loads.
14. If you have not already put one in place, add TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) to your operation.
15. Recycle and reduce paper usage. Eliminate unneeded reports, presentation, etc. Make two-sided documents the norm if you do print.

At Batesville Casket Company, we eliminated the printing of all kaizen training presentation material that were previously handed out at every event to every team member. The typical handout would be anywhere from 100 to 300 pages in a three ring binder which just ended up on somebody’s bookshelf. Our new approach is to provide access to the information on our computer network and hand out small pocket guides instead. Major savings in costs and reduction in paper usage!

As a manufacturer, what is the typical stereotype of our industry? Dirty or Clean? Greedy or Giving? Environmental hazard or environmental friendly? We have a golden opportunity to take a leadership position on this highly debated issue. Following our lean thinking, just ask ourselves, “Is it the right thing to do?”

Green Belts Going Green

I attended a report out by several newly certified six sigma green belts from the Pratt Corporation in Indianapolis, Indiana where two of the projects were going green. Instead of your typical customer quality focused projects, two individuals focused on the issue of waste disposal costs for the company.

Using the DMAIC approach to problem solving, they clearly defined the scope of the problem, performed the analysis and implemented countermeasures with dramatic results. One project focused on increasing the use of custom sheets to reduce scrap without increasing costs by clearly defining the “standard work” in making the decision to use custom sheets. The second project improved the scrap recycling process. Together, the net results were an 80% reduction in landfill waste disposal volume with a cost savings of over $80,000.

In addition to the positive results, several new projects were formed as a result of their data. The company is now targeting 100% elimination of landfill disposal waste.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Good Layout is in the Details

When faced with making improvements like the lean challenge of minimizing the floor space used by a process, we should proceed with careful consideration along with critical thinking. In the zeal of a kaizen blitz, many details not thought through could easily cripple our process. In the aftermath, costs would certainly go up but more importantly customer satisfaction would decrease.

Our recent kaizen event that reduced our floor space for three lines by 42% in a one week period was no exception. Despite the short time frame, we understood the need for careful consideration before jumping to solutions. The majority of our week was not involved in moving the lines or getting them up and running. We spent the majority of our effort trying to understand the current situation and planning.

Moving the lines is actually the easy part and for most of us the fun part. It only took a few hours to physically move the equipment with the help of a small group of associates we borrowed from another part of the plant. This was followed by Maintenance and contractors hooking it all up.

The real challenge is trying to get the team to focus on the current situation and resist the strong urge to start moving the lines immediately. After all we did have some previous time studies, Standard Work Combination sheets for the lines, CAD drawings of the area, demand patterns, listing of all the components and model profiles along with team members from the area to help us. What more do we need?

All this information was good however I still encouraged the team to go to gemba and see for themselves. We conducted our own time observations of the work and looked for every detail possible that helps us understand the current process as completely as possible. When the team was satisfied with the information, we started generating a potential layout.

We did not end up using our first layout. Why? In first draft we created more questions than answers so we went back to gemba. A good layout is in the details so we continued the cycle of seeking understanding and planning before action.

We originally planned to move all the lines the second night but the team came to the conclusion that we did not understand the current situation enough at that point to make the move. Wisely, we delayed the move to continue the process of learning.

By focusing the majority of our effort on grasping the situation first, the action of moving was fairly uneventful. No firefighting, no frantic emergencies, no heroics and no customer disappointments.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Just Right Size It

One of the challenges in kaizen is getting people to see beyond their perceived boundaries to what is possible. One example is using right sized equipment. Many times we end up buying the best value of equipment for the money with as many bells and whistles possible, just in case we need them in the future. With this thought process, we end up with larger equipment with unused capabilities than what we actually need.

Driven by our “finance thinking”, we can take advantage of our newly acquired, multi-purpose machine by herding more parts to it. How many of us have actually searched for parts to load up the capacity of these types of machines? This helps pay for the machine and proves (on paper, at least) that we really needed it. Agreed?

Using larger equipment including workbenches, tables, fixtures, etc beyond what is the absolute minimum required for the current process is muda. Many of us understand this concept and attempt to use the right sized equipment principle. As lean thinkers, we also prefer to utilize small, dedicated machines to prevent process bottlenecks and separate our process flows.

A perceived boundary we struggle with in using right sized equipment is only seeing what is offered. Most equipment manufacturers do not customize their equipment design for our particular process. As a result, we end up selecting the best off-the-shelf piece of equipment closest to our needs.

Here lies a great opportunity. The two best alternatives are to 1) build our own equipment or 2) Modify off-the-shelf equipment to fit our needs.

As seen in the above photo, at Batesville Casket Company, we believe in right sizing equipment to our needs. It took a moment to realize (see the possibility) that we were not limited to the standard table saw size. In this example, we cut down (modified) a table saw to reduce the foot print to the smallest as possible for this line. This is just one kaizen implemented helping us reduce the overall floor space by 42% a few weeks ago.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

It’s Easier to Float Downstream than Paddle Upstream

As I guided our kaizen team this week focusing on productivity and 5S of a weld cell, an important lesson from day one training was reinforced during our time at gemba. When making changes, it is better to include the process experts in the analysis and experimentation to gain buy-in (and get good ideas), especially if they are not official team members. P.S. Don’t forget to include experts from all shifts.

The team worked the day before with the first shift associate on finding a home location for the universal tool (a hammer) used for adjusting the fit up of parts in the weld fixture. Yes, I know this is muda to have to adjust parts and we noted it for future kaizen. After a couple of experiments, an agreement on a location was reached and a new tool holder for the hammer was added to the weld fixture. It provided simple access and was within easy reach. So the kaizen team ran off to the next improvement, right?

Not so fast, my fellow kaizen blitzers, when the team returned to gemba this morning, the new hammer tool holder had been removed. It was later found on top of a nearby work table. The improvement was undone.

Needless to say, some of team members were upset, a little on the angry side and certainly frustrated. A few of the kaizen team members quickly gathered around the scene of the crime and started to resemble a mob with pitch forks and hay sickles. They were in search of the criminal who had the nerve to undo their kaizen.

Of course, they wanted to round up the usual suspects and get management involved to seek corrective action. It was deduced that the weld associate on the night shift was the most likely suspect. Just wait until he reports for duty tonight!

What would you do in this situation?

As those kaizen team members working on this tool presentation were debating a plan of action, I asked them if they have previously included the night shift associate on their idea for the hammer tool holder. They said that they did not and quickly came to agreement that they should have. I then asked why do you think he did not like it and decided to remove it? Maybe there was a good reason? It is better to not jump to conclusions and just simply ask the weld associate what was the problem?

The kaizen team did exactly that and after a calm discussion with the night shift welder, the team learned that the tool holder placement made it difficult to weld a portion of the unit. Aha! Our improvement did not make it easier and better for the associate.

Now the kaizen team looked for a better location for the tool holder. It was actually more difficult that initially thought. I asked the team where the hammer was normally placed and they showed me a ledge on the weld fixture as the most common location. I asked if that was true for all shifts. They confirmed it. I suggested that it would be easier to float downstream than paddle upstream

With the notion that maybe a designated tool holder/placement on the ledge where all the associates preferred to place the hammer might work better, the kaizen team did some more experiements. After a few more trys and input from all shifts, a home location for the hammer was incorporated on the ledge. Kaizen success!

Kaizen Planning

One of the keys for success for kaizen events is planning. All the tasks of setting the proper scope, selecting a good mix of team members, lining up support resources, getting the planned materials and tools, collecting all the relevant documents (standard work combination sheets, layouts, etc) from the target area, organizing all the training materials, etc, can help determine the success or failure of any kaizen event.

But sometimes our plans crumble when it hits the light of the real world. As stated best by General Binford Peay, US Army Gulf War Leader, “Planning is priceless. The plan itself is useless.”

Last week, we completed an outstanding kaizen event in our Chihuahua, Mexico plant despite the fact that our kaizen event was not even close to our original plan.

Let’s back up a bit. Last month, I travel to our Chihuahua plant to accomplish a couple of items including setting the scope for a kaizen event with our plant leaders. We reviewed the target area, assessed the scope, calculated the expected results (target goals) and lined up resources plus all the other planning tasks needed for a successful kaizen event. Everything was all set and ready to go, that is until the week before the event.

At the request of the Plant Manager, our target area was changed to a completely different part of the business to better support our strategic plans. Both events were seeking productivity gains and shop floor space reduction however that is where the similarities ended. On top of that, the goals for the new target area were more aggressive (instead of looking at just one line we increased the scope to three different lines) but all we needed to do was provide a blueprint for the recommended changes.

So what do you do to be successful? Cancel the planned event or go forward as originally planned? Put the new target area on deck for the next scheduled kaizen event in order to completely plan it out? Switch gears and go full speed ahead with the new event without the benefit (luxury) of time to plan it all out?

We chose to adapt to our changing environment, switch gears and focus on the new target. Instead of canceling our previously planned event for the week, we just postponed it a month. With some fast planning, we altered the make up of the team, quickly lined up some resources and boldly moved forward.

Last week during the kaizen event, we continued the same motto of “Plan then Adapt”. Instead of just providing the blueprint (layout and line balance), we experimented with some layout changes that did not required air or electric modifications on the first night. Based on this success, we convinced our guidance team to allow us to go forward with the real move. By mid week, we moved two lines overnight and started them up on time and running to takt time the next day. The third line required additional experimentation that postponed the actual move until Friday. End result for all the team’s hard work and flexibility was a 40% reduction in floor space and 30% productivity improvement.
Kaizen planning is important however our dynamic work environments demand that we are more flexible. The leadership skills required to be successful are the ability to plan quickly and being able to adapt once our plans come in contact with the real world.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kaizen, Eat, Sleep

Over the past few weeks my daily standard work has been simplified: kaizen, eat, sleep. The results have been fantastic along with great learning opportunities for both the teams and for me. Fortunately, I did have breaks on the weekends to travel home and recharge my batteries. The down side is that my schedule left no time to blog about my experiences. I hope to get back on track and share a few lean lessons from my recent flurry of kaizen activities.