Thursday, July 30, 2009

You Don't Have to Be a Rocket Scientist

During our summer family vacation to the Grand Canyon last month, we took the opportunity to see Meteor Crater about 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Flagstaff, Arizona. Both my children like dinosaurs, space and nature, so it was on their list to explore during our vacation.

Meteor Crater is the first proven crater site in the world. The crater is an impressive size of about 4,000 feet (1.2 kilometers) in diameter and 550 feet (168 meters) deep. It is estimated to have been created when an iron meteorite about the size of a school bus hit the Arizona desert about 49,000 years ago.

With a highly unique surface of rock and moon-like terrain, it is considered one of the prime locations for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to conduct lunar testing. Since the mid 1960s, NASA regularly visits Meteor Crater to test rovers, spacesuits, communication systems and other equipment for space missions.

One of the stories that our guide told us as we hiked along the crater rim was about the first testing conducted by NASA in 1968 at Meteor Crater. According to our guide, the most important geology lesson taught to our astronauts was that in the formation of the crater, the impact shoots the core rocks to the surface. That means to take core samples; you don’t need to drill and should focus on collecting the rocks on the surface rim. That piece of valuable information certainly changes the action plan on collecting moon rocks.

The other interesting story was about the space equipment testing, in particular the spacesuit. Since no human has ever stepped foot on the lunar surface up that time, our NASA scientists had plenty of things to consider in designing and testing the spacesuit. Things like pressure, temperature, oxygen deliver systems, and even mobility to bend down to pick up moon rocks. Of course, safety of our astronauts is the prime concern and failure is not an option.

As the story goes, while moving about the Meteor Crater in the testing of the spacesuits for our first moon landing, one of the astronauts falls down and tears his spacesuit on the rocks. As you can imagine, a tear is considered a catastrophic failure and most likely caused the NASA team to jump into rapid problem solving mode. As a result, successful modifications were made to the spacesuit before sending astronauts to the moon.

I have not been able to confirm all the facts of this spacesuit tear story so I will speculate here. I will assume our NASA scientists most likely had developed some form of FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis) to list all the potential failure modes of the spacesuit and planned countermeasures. These countermeasures would have been considered in developing the spacesuit design specifications.

Even with an excellent FMEA competed by rocket scientists at NASA, a tear in the spacesuit occurred due to a simple fall over the rocky surface.

I consider this an important lesson in the value of going to gemba. Even if we can’t actual go to gemba, in this case, the moon, we should simulate the gemba conditions the best we can to see what happens. And most importantly, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it all out. Even rocket scientists can’t think of everything and need to see by testing things out first to get the facts. To see and understand, go to gemba.
(Photos by NASA)

Friday, July 17, 2009


“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” John Wayne

There are many traits we add to our leadership list to help us on our lean journey and courage is one of them. It takes courage to turn plans into action. It takes courage to experiment. It takes courage to try something new by removing the warm blanket of comfort that the status quo provides.

It takes courage to admit we don’t know everything, say we made a mistake and make problems visible.

It takes courage to speak up and voice our ideas or thoughts especially if they do not align with the thinking of others.

It takes courage to make decisions and do what is right.

It takes courage to keep trying, get up when we fall down and try again.

It takes courage to stand firm with our principles and values when pressured act against them.

From my all-time favorite movie “Braveheart” with outstanding soundtrack, Sir William Wallace (Mel Gibson) states “Men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.” A title of President, VP or Plant Manager does not make us a leader, only our words and actions grant us that privilege. More importantly, it is not just our prepared speeches or written memos that reveal our courage in leadership, it is in our daily actions and simple comments. It is the little things we say and do every day where our courage can be seen.

Without courage, we cannot improve.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Toyota's Two Primary Job Demands

While recently visiting the Toyota Georgetown plant, I learned that there are only two primary job demands on all Toyota Team Members:
1) Come to work on-time everyday.
2) Pull the andon cord when there is a problem.

Interesting, think about that for a moment.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Raise the Flag

During a recent kaizen event at our Chihuahua, Mexico plant, the team observed one of our interior associates repeatedly walking back and forth from her sewing station to a line side station to check on material levels. She walked over 30 steps one way and was responsible for sewing and delivering these parts along with sewing parts for the cell next to her. She was given this added sewing operation to fill in some of her available time but the process was not set up to make it easy for her to do both.

Seeing the opportunity for improvement, several of the kaizen team members worked with this associate and the line side associate to come up with a better process. The result was a simple flag made from paper and scrap wood.

The new process is simple. When the material level reached a pre-determined point, the line side associate would raise this flag to signal the need for more parts. From her sewing station, the associate can easily see the flag prompting her to sew the parts and deliver them. Once the parts are delivered, the flag is taken down.

This is another example of simple visual management to make jobs easier and better.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

To be Vertically Integrated or not to be Vertically Integrated?

One thing that is pretty noticeable when touring any of the major automotive assembly plants (GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan or Honda) is the lack of sub-assemblies being built on or near the final assembly line. Except for a parallel engine final assembly line which consists mainly of pre-mounting hose and framing, the majority of non-painted frame components are all shipped in from the outside.

When observing the automotive assembly line in action, the associates on the line assemble components directly to the moving vehicle. There are no sub-assemblies like seats, steering wheels, instrument dash boards, etc being built to the line. All these sub assemblies are delivered to the line ready for installation.

At first glance, this separation appears to make it easier to flow the final assembly process. So basically, automotive final assembly consists of delivering parts to the line, picking up parts as car passes by and installing the parts on the car. Please excuse my oversimplification; I am sure it is far more complex and challenging. Aisles are straight and wide given free access to deliver parts on both sides of the line. Is this assembly heaven?

But what about the inventory created by this separation? How far does the supply chain expand? What level of Muri (overburden) is created with the extra communication and coordination for this subassembly supply chain? If this concept works so great, why does Boeing have such difficulty in their supply chain?

By contrast, many assembly plants I am familiar are the opposite in that we are highly vertically integrated. Our assembly lines are not as straight nor do we have spacious aisles however we put as many of the subassembly processes closest to point of use as possible. This eliminates much of the WIP inventory and leadtime in the supply chain but we have our own challenges with this approach. As an example, we cut the material, shirr, sew and stuff a pillow for every casket all line side to our assembly line to the exact order by color, by fabric, by style within pitch. No inventory, no semi truck needed, and no computer system.

During the early days of automotive manufacturing, Henry Ford was extremely vertically integrated all the way back to the iron ore mines. He believed in controlling as much of the supply chain as possible to reduce the cost (waste) as possible. Over the years, the automotive companies retracted from this thinking thereby expanding their supply chain. I guess if you can find someone who can produce it cheaper than you can; it made perfect financial sense to let them make it for you so you can focus your attention on your core competencies.

But isn’t manufacturing suppose to be a core competency of a manufacturing company?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Simple Visual Management at Home

Like probably most of you, we have pets at home. In our case with the benefit of living in a rural Indiana area, we have several pets both inside and outside of our home including 4 cats, 4 dogs, 2 horses, fish and even some chickens for fresh eggs.
Our kids do an excellent job of making sure all our animals are properly taken care of on a daily basis regardless of rain, sleet or snow. But basic chores like feeding can become chaotic if you don’t plan a routine.

One of the challenges we faced was making sure all our pets are feed on regular schedule without missing a meal or over feeding. As we know from our lean thinking, both missed cycles and over production are equally undesirable. What a perfect challenge for creating a visual aid.

With the help of our creative kids, they made a simple visual indicator to help us see each mealtime: breakfast, lunch and dinner. After each meal, we simply turn the heart to show which meal was completed. Any one of us can see if the meals are on track with this visual aid. More importantly, visual aids do not need to be fancy, expensive or complex to work. Simple is better.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Honda Greensburg Plant Tour

Earlier this month, I had my first opportunity to tour the newly operational Honda plant in Greensburg, Indiana referred as HMIN. After recently touring Toyota Georgetown and Nissan Canton in the past couple of months, I was excited to take a look inside Honda. As you can image, it was an excellent adventure.

All of these plants are extremely similar in design and layout which may not be much of a surprise to some of us. All are crystal clean, highly organized and quite disciplined. Each plant has spacious aisles acting as main arteries supplying material to each station to the heartbeat of pitch.

In the Honda plant, the material along the assembly line is designated into three categories: working cart, full cart and empty cart. The working cart contains the parts currently being used and the cart is designated by blue corner tabs on the floor. The full cart contains the parts next in line for use and marked with green corner floor tabs. The empty cart is well just that, an empty cart. These parts were just consumed on the line and the cart is moved into the red corner tabs location on the floor.

All the material is delivered on carts and individually segregated by use of foam, cardboard slots or trays. Forklifts are restricted to the dock area and tugger carts deliver the material line side.
Each workstation had a posted sheet with the workstation layout of material showing part flow. Also included on these sheets are three contact names and numbers in case there are materials problems. Quite interesting is that there no other posted instructions line side…no standard work charts, no job instructions. I was told that these documents are kept in a notebook at the team coordinator line side station and standard work is audited every station, every day by the team coordinator.

Honda does practice it’s version of built in quality as part of each team member’s standard work. In short, these steps were posted on several team boards.

Step 1: Parts confirmation (confirm you have the correct part and confirm quality of part).
Step 2: Perform Process (follow all quality points to operational standard).
Step 3: Confirm quality to ship (check your own work visually, or by touch and feel).
Step 4: Prepare for next unit and abnormalities (prep parts and put abnormal parts on straggler cart).

Part of the culture at Honda Motors Indiana (HMIN) includes ALL employees wearing the same white uniform and green Honda ball cap. No one has their own private office, instead all desks are grouped in large rooms. Interestingly, every desk was completely void of personal items, paper, etc. When I asked about it, I was told that personal items on the desk are allowed however one of the work rules is to completely clear the tops of desk nightly of everything (except desktop computer monitors). Laptops go into desk drawers along with the personal items. It was strange to see so many desks with nothing on them!

In such a short time, I was only able to get a glimpse of the Honda Way. I hope to develop a deeper understanding each time I get a chance to visit in the future.