Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Lessons from Toyota Industrial Equipment

The Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM) plant in Columbus, Indiana has more lessons for us as we continued our tour last Friday. Although you can never learn all that you want in just one day, a simple glimpse really, it was enough to spark my critical lean thinking into high gear.

One of the most striking things you see at this plant is what you don’t see. That is the almost complete absence of cardboard boxes and other dunnage typically found in manufacturing plants. All the parts are delivered to this plant in reusable/returnable containers. The same goes even for parts shipped in from Japan. It was interesting to see that the sides of the returnable containers from Japan were dual colored to visually display two difference orientations. The first orientation lets the totes stack, one atop the other. The second orientation allows the same totes to nest within each other to provide better density on the return trip.

Seeing this return container design makes the engineer in me imagine all kinds of possibilities that I may have not though possible before. It also makes me wonder if we should aggressively pursue the use of returnable containers, even to China. Everybody tells us it is too expensive and not logistically practical so we just ignore the possibility. Does anybody use returnable containers with their China suppliers?

The leaders of this plant are extremely proud, and rightly so, of their contribution to conservation of resources and their stewardship of the environment by becoming a landfill free facility. With the universal use of returnable container and a strong recycling program, TIEM does not send any waste to landfills. How many of our plants can say the same?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing

I spend today, touring the Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM), facility located in Columbus, Indiana. Although this facility has been open since 1990 and within an hour drive of my home, I never had the opportunity to take an inside look at their operation before now. Thank you Toyota for opening your doors so we can learn.

Some of you may wonder if this company is part of the Toyota Motor Company or just a company using the Toyota name in a licensing agreement. Although they don’t build cars, they actually are part of the Toyota organization and follow the Toyota Way.

A few facts first:
99% of all the Toyota lift trucks sold in North America are manufactured in Columbus, Indiana.
Over 800 employees work to produce almost 30,000 trucks per year.
Over 60 different models are produced of electric lifts, 3,000 – 12,000 lbs and internal combustion lifts 3,000 – 17,000 lbs.
The facility covers 880,000 sq ft on about 101 acres of land.
The operations within this facility include metal fabrication, welding, powder coating, assembly and distribution.
Three main lines assembly lines currently run at various Takt times from 4.5 minutes to 33 minutes, adjusted monthly.

Now the lean lessons:
Each area holds a morning meeting (called “Asaichi Meeting”) for about 8 minutes to discuss the day’s schedule, safety issues, quality concerns, improvement ideas, company news and take attendance.

Right after this meeting, all the Team Leaders gather together to help each other face the challenges of achieving the daily production requirements. This meeting goes for about 6-8 minutes with attendance being the primary topic. Depending on who’s missing, the team leaders quickly agree on shifting associates to fill the gaps. A skill matrix chart helps them determine which associates have the required skills to fill the needs.

The Team leaders will reconvene every two hours during the entire shift to make sure everybody stays on the same page throughout the day.

The area will meet as a group at the end of the shift to review issues of the day. This meeting was called the “Yuichi Meeting” or pm meeting.

The meetings were conducted in front of the respective area’s measurement boards, called “Team Leader Control Boards” listing all the metrics like attendance, 5S, Kaizen newspapers, Defect lists, etc. The kaizen newspaper lists problems, the temporary countermeasure, the permanent countermeasure, who identified it, the planned date of completion and the actual date of completion. They also use the PDCA circle to visually show the four phases (investigation, find root cause, implement countermeasure, and standardize).

Each line has a master andon board that displays the daily production target, the actual number of units produced, lights for each workstation, the anticipated overtime for that day and a running time of any line stoppages. The workstation lights are yellow and red. When the yellow light flashes, it is a signal for needing help within a Takt Time. The red light signifies the line is stopped. In addition to the flashing lights, music is played. The line I observed played “It’s a small world” which I listened to several times today.

A cool idea was the formation of a kaizen group. This kaizen group consisted of 10 shop floor associates on a 6 month rotational assignment, all on a voluntary basis, to focus solely on helping implement kaizen ideas. They build carts, make labels, work on fixtures or work aids, etc. Really, they do whatever they can to get these ideas implemented.

Where do the kaizen ideas come from? They come from all the associates who are asked to come up with 3 ideas per associate per month (Think quick and easy kaizen). While Toyota encourages associates to implement their own improvement ideas, sometimes they need help. That’s where this kaizen group steps in.

There were more lessons that I will share in follow up posts but this will give you enough to think about for now.

This facility was not as organized or spotless as the Toyota Lexus plant I visited in Japan but none the less, a great plant to see the Toyota Way in action without having to go all the way to Japan.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Push versus Pull

"Under a push system, there is little opportunity for workers to gain wisdom because they just produce according to the instructions they are given. In contrast, a pull system asks the worker to use his or her head to come up with a manufacturing process where he or she alone must decide what needs to be made and how quickly it needs to be made. An environment where people have to think brings with it wisdom, and this wisdom brings with it kaizen (continuous improvement)." - Teruyuki Minoura, Senior Managing Director, Toyota Motor Company.


"Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before." -Shigeo Shingo

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Prepare your Mind

“A relentless barrage of “why’s” is the best way to prepare your mind to pierce the clouded veil of thinking caused by the status quo. Use it often”
-Shigeo Shingo

Very early in our process improvement training, we are taught about the 5 why technique in problem solving. I have learned in my kaizen efforts, by simply asking why, numerous opportunities for process improvement can be found, potential root causes identified and countermeasures created.

In this quote from Shigeo Shingo’s book “Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking”, we hear about asking why again but for a different purpose. We can use the why questioning to prepare our minds. Think about that for a moment. By preparing our minds first, we break our mental barriers with the status quo. Until we do, we are not ready to realize, implement or accept any improvements.

What better way to prepare our minds than by asking why. Isn’t the process of asking why, the core essence of human development? Throughout human history, most of our progress can be linked to someone asking why (or why not, in some cases). Even as children, asking why is a central part of our mental development process. Asking a relentless barrage of why’s is a great way to open our mind, just ask any 3-6 year old.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Work in Progress Virus

As I take my Gemba Walk at a client site, I see a virus spreading at epidemic speeds in the offices and shopfloor. The virus is a simple “Work in Progress” sign posted above a work area, usually above a pile of material or individual workstation. What once started as a plea for fairness during 5S audits in one area has now spread across the entire organization.

Apparently, someone did not like getting a poor score on their 5S audit. Instead of using kaizen to improve it, they argued that the designated area should not be counted because it was in a constant state of disarray as a result of doing work. When a 5S auditor went along with the scheme, the “Work in Progress” sign was born as a free pass to overlook this area in a 5S Audit. Just like a virus, the “Work in Progress” signs started showing up everywhere. It is not a surprise to see the popularity of the signs. This approach is certainly easier than making an actual improvement but the wrong approach. (I did like the turtle to describe the flow).

Isn’t every square inch of our facility a place to do work with some stuff just moving faster than other stuff? Why don’t we put a sign over our front door declaring the whole building as work in progress and skip the 5S audit entirely? Don’t laugh. This was actually done over an entire department work area as a joke and the Auditor accepted it!

On our lean journey, it is easy to fall into traps like the immune “Work in Progress” designated areas and even boldly call the signs a visual management tool. Don’t be fooled. The lean principles are to be applied in every process, every function, and every square inch of our organization. There are no free passes, my friends.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lean and Six Sigma's Effect on Complex Organizations

Last Wednesday night, I attend the APICS Chicago Chapter Monthly Professional Development Meeting to listen to Praveen Gupta, President of Accelper Consulting and author of many books including Six Sigma Business Scorecard and Virtually Stat Free Six Sigma, on his topic, Lean and Six Sigma’s effects on complex organizations.

Praveen’s insights on the applying improvement strategies in our increasingly complex organizations were thought provoking. From his point of view, our limited success in getting results from our improvement activities rests mainly on our approach (which has also gotten more complex) and not understanding the purpose behind our activities.

In his presentation, Praveen expanded on the book, The Goal, in modifying the goal of business from making money to the goal of business is to sustain profitable growth. In order to sustain profitable growth we need three things.

1. Any process improvement approach like Lean, six sigma, Lean/Sigma, etc.
2. A business scorecard to measure what we value.
3. Growth not dependant on Mergers and Acquisitions, but driven on innovation.

Praveen challenged us to avoid some of the traps of our current improvement approaches like:

1. Corporations not measuring sigma levels.
2. Leaders avoiding accountability of improvements activities to the bottom line.
3. Too much statistics entering into Six Sigma at the cost of product/process knowledge.

Praveen Gupta’s message for success:

“Standardize intent, customize methodology, utilize the right mix of tools and reduce the number of measurements.”

For more thoughts from Praveen Gupta, check out his long list of books, and look in Quality Digest Magazine for numerous articles he has published.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking

I just finished reading a truly great “new” book that explores the thinking process of making improvements, “Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking” written by Shigeo Shingo, published by Norman Bodek (PCS, Inc) and Collin McLoughlin (Enna Products Corporation). Actually, this is not really a new book since it was first written by Shigeo Shingo in 1958 but has never been translated in English before now. The official release date of this newly published English translation is set for October 15, 2007 and you can pre-order your copy here.

Knowing that the book was written back in 1958 caused me to wonder if any of the information would be relevant to today’s lean journey but after reading this book, I was not disappointed. Unlike the other great Shingo books which were more lean tool driven, “Kaizen and the Art of Creative Thinking” focuses on the thinking portion of problem solving, making improvements and meeting opposition to the guardians of the status quo. There are a great number of improvement examples in this book to clearly explain Shingo’s points which I found extremely helpful and entertaining. Some of the information has been written about before but there are plenty of new insights to make this book a must read for those of us on our lean journey.

The book confirms what I already knew to be true from my early days in lean when Shigeo Shingo taught me the SMED system. Shigeo Shingo is a genius and has a gift for teaching.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What can I do Today?

Being overwhelmed is a common feeling on the lean journey, especially as we become better at seeing all the wastes. When faced with long kaizen newspapers and seemingly endless kaizen opportunities, we ask the wrong questions like “How am I going to get this all done?”. We might think we don’t have the manpower or time to work on all these kaizen projects and employee suggestions with our current workload.

As a lean thinker, we change the way we look at those same kaizen opportunities. Ask the right question, “What can I do today?.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Emotional Side of Lean

As we navigate our way in applying the lean principles within our own company cultures, value streams and business processes, it can sometimes feel like we are strapped in backwards on a roller coaster with a blindfold over our eyes. We experience a huge range of emotions and feelings in a short period of time including fear, panic, pain, excitement, hopefulness, uneasiness, pride, adrenaline rushes and frustration. Taking the path on a lean journey can be an extremely overwhelming experience.

There is plenty of technical information on the tools and concepts of lean but very little on the emotional side of lean. We tend to brush over the emotional issues associated with a lean transformation as nonexistent because this lean stuff is simple to understand so how hard can it be to just do it.

There is also a tendency to look down on anyone caught up in these emotions as wimps. In my earlier days on the lean journey, if we questioned any of the lean changes in our company we were called concrete heads or barriers. And anyone who did not get on board quickly found themselves looking for a new job.

In reflection, it was good to push us on the lean path because some of us would have never taken the first steps. We over came our emotions, struggled to get it right and eventually found ways to make it work. But I think it would have been a far better journey if the emotional side of lean was recognized.

By recognizing the emotional side of a lean transformation, we take the time to help employees mentally and emotionally embrace the lean approach. Some people easily embrace the lean approach while others struggle to accept it. When you have employees who hesitate making some of the lean changes, don’t tell them to trust you or just have faith. Unlike religion which is faith based, the lean approach is better accepted based on experience, experimentation and education.

Tell them, show them and let them learn by doing. Be a coach, providing endless encouragement and even a little pushing, to build confidence to go forward. Just like when our child first learns to walk, as parents, we cheer, encourage and praise our child’s attempts to take a single step. Even as our child stumbles and falls, we continue to cheer and extend our hands out to support them. Before long our child is taking several steps. We celebrate the success, taking pictures and videos. With more confidence and experience, our child learns to walk. Helping others on the lean journey should be no different, one step at a time.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lean Tools for Maintenance & Reliability Conference 2007

There are several great lean conferences scheduled this fall including the Lean Tools for Maintenance & Reliability Conference set for October 1-3, 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio. Some of the great speakers lined up are from companies like Harley Davidson, Honda, Toyota and BMW to present case studies focusing on TPM, OEE and other lean maintenance topics. This is a great opportunity to learn more about lean and network with people who are currently on the lean journey. As a bonus, I am honored to have the opportunity to present some of my lean insights and experiences in one of the sessions. I hope you can join us.