Matt Hrivnak

Kaizen: There's always another future state

Archive for the 'Kaizen' Category...

Filed under Kaizen, Lean

One of my favorite shows on TV in the past few years has been ‘Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’ on BBC, and now on FOX.  After the second or third episode that I saw, I started thinking that each episode seemed to be very much a kaizen event:  quick bursts of energy focused on problem solving and imrovement.  Ramsay’s goal in each of the episode is generally the same:  to turn a poorly performing restaurant into a successful one.  Along the way, he encounters a number of different obstacles from inexperienced owners and egotistical chefs to poorly designed menus with too many choices.

 

The three or four days (according to the show) that Gordon Ramsay is in his transformational role always begin with Gordon sampling a few dishes during lunch time and then providing feedback (always negative, because let’s face it, it’s TV for one thing, and secondly, these restaurants would have customers if the food was good).  Later in that same day, he will attend the dinner seating; stalking and observing the kitchen operation and customer reactions.  At the end of that night, he meets with the entire restaurant staff and delivers his bad news.

 

The second day starts with Gordon introducing the staff to new dishes that he has created to: a) standardize the menu with fewer, but higher quality choices, which also allow for the use of pull systems and easy inventory control measures, b) provide the staff with the taste of food that is possible from the same equipment they already use, and c) to simplify the dinner service for that night offering these new items as specials.  Additionally, he will often take some of the staff members to visit successful restaurants in the area to observe the differences.

 

Between the second and third day, Ramsay’s staff of decorators does a make-over on the restaurant with new paint, table settings, etc.  This provides a fresh new standard for the restaurant going forward, and something for the employees to maintain.

 

In the beginning, many of the owners and chefs do not see anything wrong with their business, but still admit that they are losing money and need help.  Throughout the process, they eventually open their eyes to the problems and begin the difficult process of changing.

 

While this show lacks the team participation aspects of a kaizen event, it still shows the drastic positive changes that are possible within just a few days.  (He still manages to listen to all of the concerns of the employees and incorporates them into his new ideas.) The changes may not always be permanent, but a lot of the simple standards Ramsay puts in place seem to stay put; preventing the restaurants from falling back to their unsuccessful ways that led them to the show in the first place.

 

Here’s the link:  http://www.fox.com/kitchennightmares/

 

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Filed under Kaizen, Lean

Yes, that’s right, the new hit CBS show ‘Undercover Boss’ is an engaging, and often times touching, CEO gemba walk.  Albeit sneaky, the gemba walks taken by these CEO’s are just as illuminating as the walks done by lean practitioners and kaizen event participants everyday.

 

For those unfamiliar with a gemba walk, it is a walk (i.e., plant tour) taken by managers (or lean participants) to GO AND SEE the actual work as it is being done today.  This removes all of the confusion and distortion of facts that is inherent in multi-level management situations.  The individual that is performing the walk will typically have a goal in mind at the beginning of the walk.  For example, they may want to look at a particular area, or at a particular type of chart that is used throughout the plant in various locations.  In addition to this goal, they will often ask questions of the supervisors and operators.  The most common would probably be “How often does that happen?” and “Is your supervisor aware of this issue?”  During a gemba walk, one can uncover many more issues than sifting through production reports and printouts.  There is no substitute for GO AND SEE.

 

While some of the ‘Undercover Boss’ show may seem staged, the overall show is terrific and you really have to applaud these CEOs.  Each of them has been very understanding of their employees and at the true issues causing many of the problems they encountered.  Once the CEOs took the chance to GO AND SEE, they started the process of improvement.  It all comes back to the basic question, “how can you correct an issue that you don’t know exists?”

 

‘Undercover Boss’ is fantastic and I encourage anyone that is looking to improve their operations to watch a few episodes just to get familiar with the overall idea of the gemba walk.  Now, one thing to keep in mind is that on the show, the employees do not know that the CEO is the person they are working with.  On a gemba walk, there are no secrets.  The people taking the walk should (at least some of them) be known to the employees being observed.  Otherwise, you will create distrust within the organization and your lean efforts are doomed to fail.

 

Here’s a link to the show:  http://www.cbs.com/primetime/undercover_boss/

 

Now, GO AND SEE!

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Filed under Economics, Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle, productivity

I haven’t posted in quite a few months because I’ve been extremely busy.  My wife and I moved into our new house in April and it’s been nonstop working since then; working on and contributing to surveys, articles and books, performing actual work, house work, yard work, visiting family, etc.  

 

I’ve been doing some work in the past few months with MassMEP.  These guys are great.  They perform a lot of Lean training and facilitation of Kaizen events, and generally, help companies start a structured Lean journey that can be followed once MassMEP has finished its onsite work.  Like most manufacturing support entities, MassMEP gets the majority of its funding from the state government; in their case, Massachusetts.  They’ve been plagued lately by budgetary concerns as the MA state government was going to be appropriating money meant for MassMEP (and others) to pay off debt that the state has racked up.  This is, of course, a prime example of the pitfalls of big government and a major injustice to all of the companies in MA.  Each company pays into a Workforce Training Fund that is specifically setup for workforce education, which includes things like Lean and Six Sigma training.  So, if the MA state government would move those funds to other debts, it hurts the MA companies that would take advantage of the program in two ways:  First, they lose that money they are paying into the program.  And second, they lose out on the thousands/millions of dollars they could save (or grow) had they been able to get the Lean Sigma training and implementation.  A lot of manufacturers have already been to the state house to fight for the Workforce Training Fund money and it seems to have paid off so far, but there is still more that needs to be brought back that was put in by the manufacturers.

 

Lastly, I’ve been working on a lean simulation file that includes a basic template for setting up and running a lean simulation in a classroom setting.  I’ve been asked countless times for something like this, so I’ve been sitting down a few hours a week to put something tangible together that can be shared by anyone to explain and really showcase the benefits of Lean to their colleagues and company executives who need convincing.  More on that in the future, and when it is complete, I will post it on this site.

 

-MH

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Friday, August 14th, 2009

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle

Bringing 5S home…Organization, The Visual Home/Office, and 5S

How organized are you?  The information covered on the next few pages will change your approach to organization forever by bringing 5S home.  Many shows on cable television are based on this thinking, whether they come out and say it or not.  What I’m talking about is the organizational standards created by Toyota, and now used throughout many companies.  In fact, when most companies begin their Lean journey, they start with this:  5S.

5S is the acronym for this organizational program because there are five steps and each begins with the letter “S”.  The Japanese terms for these are:

  • Seiri – tidiness
  • Seiton – orderliness
  • Seiso – cleanliness
  • Seiketsu – standardization (standards)
  • Shitsuke – sustaining of practices

 

When translated into English, they are commonly shown as:  Sort, Set-In-Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.  Let’s start bringing 5S home.

 

SORT

Just as it sounds, you need to pick and choose what you want to keep and what you can get rid of.  The main point is that you want to separate the needed items from the unneeded ones.  I know I could have used words other than “needed” and “unneeded” but that is the main point of this – keep only what you need!

 

In manufacturing, a good rule of thumb is the 48 Hour Rule:  if you don’t need to use it in the next 48 hours, get rid of it, or put it back in its place.  In bringing 5S home, this rule works well when organizing a kitchen, garage, or workshop, but you can expand the time frame depending on your particular project.  Some people say a month, others 6 months, and some even say years.  At any rate, the main thing is:  if you don’t need it now, and you don’t need it soon, statistics say that you probably don’t need it at all.

 

A second good motto to follow is:  When in doubt, throw it out!  SORT is the hardest step for anyone that is a pack rat.  People in my family, I won’t say who, have a very hard time getting rid of things.  They, like many others, believe that they have something that is salvageable and that someday it will be worth a lot of money.  However, for the majority of the items out there, that is not true.  Of course, every once in a long while you’ll find a 1909 baseball card worth $500,000 or maybe even an original copy of the Constitution in the back of an old frame, but chances are, it’s worth little to nothing.

 

To make SORT a little fun and perhaps, even a little fulfilling, try some of these ideas:

 

1)      The classic yard/garage sale.  This is a great idea because once people see that no one wants to hand over cash for their junk, they are more apt to let go of it.  Also, an added bonus is that anything that sells:  gets the item out of your hands AND gives you some extra spending money!

2)      Another version of the yard sale is the online auction.  Join any of the major auction sites and list as many products as you want.  If it sells, then good, you get money and you get rid of it.  It not, then you know it’s time to throw it away – move on.  The only downside is that you will have to pay a small insertion fee up front on most of the sites.

 

I like this option the best, because it really allows you to see that if no one in a world of 6,000,000,000+ people wants to buy your stuff, who else is going to be willing to buy it?  Get rid of it!

3)      Give as much of it to charity as you can.  The Salvation Army and Good Will Stores always have need for old clothes and household goods.  Just make sure they are in good condition.  They will also accept children’s clothes and toys.  The best benefit of this option is that you can claim your donations when you file your taxes for the year in which the items were donated.  When you bring items to the donation site, ask one of the employees there for a donation claim form.  You fill it out there and they keep a cop and give you one for tax filing.  They will also give you a guide that it to be used for estimating the value that you should claim based on the items donated, the total number of items and the overall condition of each item.

4)      The last creative idea for sorting when bringing 5S home – if you have children – get them involved.  They love to help out, and the lesson of letting go will really grow with them as they get older.  A lot of American children have way too many toys as it is.  So, an idea here is, explain to them that some children have no toys at all and that they should give a few of their extras to those less fortunate.  This will be rewarding, not only for you, but also for your children, as they will learn to share.  And all this will contribute towards ridding your house of clutter.

 

One more thing about SORT – Don’t forget to recycle anything that can be re-used!

 

SET IN ORDER

Now that you’ve sorted out everything that you no longer need, it’s time for SET IN ORDER.  This step is really the first step towards bringing 5S home.  It covers a broad range of areas, but the message is still the same:  arrange items in a set manner so that they are easily accessible, returnable, and at the same time, out of the way.  One term that makes it easy to remember is:  A place for everything and everything in its place.

The basic premise is that by arranging things in a logical and accessible manner, you will be more efficient in your actions, and over time, more apt to keep order because it will be evident when something is missing or out of place.  Uses for this stretch from a desk in an office to a workshop in the garage to the refrigerator, and even to things like a bathroom or laundry closet.  So, now that we’ve only retained what we actually need, let’s arrange it.

 

There are a few key ways of organizing to use here:

 

  • Common use items (i.e., items used together)
  • Arrange by Frequency of Use (i.e., storing items that are used most of the time in an easily accessible space)
  • Arrange by Sequence of Use (i.e., storing items in the same sequence as they are used)
  • Bulk area that an object occupies

 

The first one is pretty self explanatory; arrange items that are commonly used together.  In most cases, this is already done.  Looking at a house on a macro level, this would be the different areas of the house and what they contain.  In the garage or shed, people generally keep tools for upkeep and improvements.  This is the same for the kitchen and the bathrooms.  On a micro level, you would look at only one of those areas, like the garage.  Here you sort it into subgroups; like tools for yardwork and tools for housework.  That is why grouping commonly used items is usually the first way we arrange things.

 

Another way is to arrange items by frequency of use.  The more you use something, the easier you should be able to retrieve and return it.  Just as that sounds, you want to store things so that they are more accessible than other not-so-frequently-used items.  Some good examples of this:  In a bathroom, you use hand soap every time you visit, but you only use the shower/toilet cleanser once a week, so you’d store the hand soap on the sink and the cleanser in a closet or cabinet somewhere within the bathroom.  Working in your garage, you use your hammer and screwdrivers for 80% of your jobs and your jigsaw for only 20%.  Same deal here, you’d store your hammer and screwdrivers easily within reach, while the jigsaw would lie tucked neatly away in its own home until you need it.

 

Does this sound like common sense?  Well, it is, but too many times people forget the power of organization.  Okay, back to the organizing.

 

The next way to store is by sequence of use.  This may sound like storing things that are commonly used together, but it’s not quite the same thing.  This takes it all one step further.  While it’s true that most of these items are used together, the sequence they are used in is the driving force in their storage.  A basic example from manufacturing that I can use to describe this would be working on a hamburger assembly line that makes burgers with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup.  So, if the work goes from left to right, you’d store these items in this sequence, left to right:  bottom half of the bun, hamburger patty, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and finally, the top bun.  That example may seem a little hokey, but it gets my point across.  Again, there are so many different cases in which you can apply this method.

 

Finally, another way to store things is by the bulk area an object occupies.  The bigger something is, the harder it will be to store in one of the previous methods.  For anything like this, simply create a home for it and store it there.  Common examples are lawn mowers, laundry baskets, kitchen appliances, large mixing bowls, etc.

 

Now, we’ve learned how to store in order, let’s learn how to give everything its own home.  Some common methods for creating “homes” include:

 

  • Labeling
  • Outlining
  • Color Coding

 

When bringing 5S home, I really take labeling to the extreme.  Every where that I have worked, I was required to “5S” my desk.  Because of this, I had labels everywhere!  And because of that, I was able to stay organized.  If you look at my desk you’d see labels that said, “stapler”, “calculator”, “notepad”, etc.  Now, when I tell people this, they generally give me a weird look and don’t understand why anyone would do this.  And many other people in the office often felt this way as well – until they started working at their newly “5S’d” desk.  That doubt quickly turns around, and many can’t go home at night until they find their missing stapler.

 

Let’s get started, here are some tips for Labeling:

 

  • Use a label maker – it is much neater than hand writing and provides labels that are easy to remove
  • If possible, put a label on the item itself and also on the spot that it occupies.  If it is missing, you will know instantly and if someone else finds it, they will know where to return it.

 

A second way of creating “homes” for objects is thru the use of outlining or shadow boarding.  This is primarily affective in areas that you can use paint or permanent marker.  A good, real world example includes the use of lines to create parking spaces.  An at home use is generally done in a home workshop (but can also be done with utensils and items in the kitchen).  This would be your typical shadow board.  Basically, tools are hung on a pegboard or wall and then either outlined or the shape of the object is painted on the board.  So, if you remove the hammer, you’d see either an outline of a hammer or a silhouette of one.  If it is missing, it will be very evident.

 

Another good way to practice SET-IN-ORDER is color coding.  You can use color coding throughout your house, office, tool shed, etc.  Some people consider this part of the 4th S (Standardize), but it really fits in well for both steps.  Color coding really gets things organized because it is one of the only ways to make something visually distinguishable, which again is that Visual Factory aspect of Lean.

 

Some people think that I’m crazy when I suggest color coding certain things, but we grow up surrounded by colors telling what’s what.  For example, stop lights, green means go, red means stop, and yellow means slow down except for in New England where it means speed up, no matter how far from the intersection you happen to be.  Red is usually a sign of a problem or warning.  At any diner in the U.S., decaf coffee is poured from the orange rimmed pot, while regular coffee comes out of the black (sometimes brown) rimmed one.  And my favorite example, casino checks/chips.  Throughout the gaming industry, casinos generally use the following color code:  $1 chips are white (or blue), $5 chips are red, $25 are green, $100 chips are black, $500 chips are purple, and $1,000 chips are orange.  Then they add more colors on the edges to help indicate how many are stacked together.  With these edge spots, they can also look down from any camera in the casino to see if someone was paid too much or not enough, and in some cases, they use these spots to prevent cheating and quickly identify losses due to cheating.  From the examples I’ve just shown, color coding has a reach, far beyond manufacturing facilities.

 

In industry, color coding is usually used to distinguish one production line’s tools and materials from another.  Here each area, line or cell will be given its own color.  Tools, jigs and dies will be the same color as they area it is used in.  So, if another area loses a tool, it can be found and easily identified by any other area.  This also comes in handy when workers tend to take each others tools.  No one wants to be working in an area with red machinery and tools, and be using a yellow wrench.  Anyone can see from a distance that this tool does not belong to them and that they have obviously gone against policy and stolen someone else’s tool.  This same concept can be really affective if applied in a home.

 

For anyone that has multiple children, you’ll find this particularly useful for bringing 5S home.  Assign children a certain color that they use to identify themselves – but be sure that you let them pick it!  (If you have more than one child that wants the same color, ask them to give a second choice that can be used as a minor color.  E.g., John and Jim both want yellow.  John also likes grey, while Jim like black.  So, here you could give John yellow with a grey stripe, and Jim can be yellow with a black stripe).

 

I know you might be thinking that this seems crazy, but for younger children it really helps them identify their own things and take care of them, while at the same time they learn to respect the belongings of others.  Common things to try this with:  tooth brushes, lunch boxes, toys, tools, clothes, etc.  Remember, most children like the fact that they have their own color and that they picked it, so many see this as a game rather than a way of keeping them organized.

 

Aside from children, color coding works well for most household areas.  Some items are already color coded when you get them, like salt and pepper shakers that you use in the kitchen.  Here are some basic ideas to get you oriented with color coding:

 

  • For chemicals, like cleaners – use bright colored stickers such as red or green to indicate very harmful ones from lighter, safer chemicals.  You can also use a simple color sticker to represent any products with bleach or ammonia.  Make chemicals that react strongly together have two different labels, and create a small reference chart to remind everyone to not, for example, mix the red and green ones.
  • Stickers in the kitchen can tell you about the seasoning or taste of something.  I like to use this on wine bottles.  If you think about salsa containers – they have green for Mild, yellow for Medium, and red for Hot.  Well, I do the same thing for wine that I store in my house.  After opening and tasting the first bottle of a case, I am able to put a sticker on the back of the bottle that depending on the color, reminds me that this has a “smooth, mellow” taste or a “spicy, dry” finish, etc.
  • Create a schedule for sticker colors to use in the fridge and cupboards.  I like to put 8 different stickers on the items in my refrigerator and cupboards.  Items in the cupboard get a date within that sticker as well.  Each sticker is a different color and represents a different week over two months.  I do this so that when I go to use something in the refrigerator, I know whether it is good or bad.  I have a tendency to leave things around and they go bad.  When I started doing this, I was able to not play the guessing game and keep my refrigerator only filled with items that are still edible.  You can put a date on the sticker if that helps you too, but the main thing is still that it enables you to identify the good items vs. the bad items.

 

More and more companies are using color coding outside of their plants as well.  Most notably, within the past few years, Target has recreated the prescription pill bottle.  I’ve always said that they “5S’d” it, since they looked at it from a customer standpoint, took out the waste and put in more value added features.  They improved the human factor side of the product and most customers responded favorably.  Each family member is given a color, so that each bottle is distinguishable by sight, they’ve made the font bigger, more organized and detailed, but still readable, drug facts and warnings.  They’ve succeeded in aiding in bringing 5S home for anyone that receives prescriptions from Target.

 

Another good use of color is from the computer and consumer electronics industry.  All of the components that connect to the back of the computer are color coded so that the peripheral connector matches the connector on the computer.  Some people said it was brilliant.  I just say it’s simple, common sense.

 

SHINE

The 3rd “S” in bringing 5S home is really something simple:  SHINE.  All this means is to clean up and make things sparkle or shine.  This is sometimes referred to as Spick and Span as well.  The point is the same, however, once we have SORTed and SET-IN-ORDER, it’s time to clean up what’s left.  During SHINE, there are three main goals:

 

1)      Getting the area or workplace clean

2)      Maintaining its appearance

3)      Installing and using preventive measures to keep it that way

 

Here are some common practices to help achieve this:

 

  • Painting
  • Lighting
  • Removing clutter
  • Dust collection
  • Minimizing leaks and spills
  • Conducting routing maintenance (i.e., preventive maintenance)
  • Use of root cause analysis

 

There are many more that I could list, but you get the point:  CLEAN UP!

STANDARDIZE

After cleaning your separated items, it’s now time to STANDARDIZE everything.  STANDARDIZE can be done in a variety of ways, which will include some of the SET-IN-ORDER process like color coding and visual identification practices.  In industry, STANDARDIZE is used to make the 1st 3 S’s “unbreakable” by installing a system of standards that is to be followed by everyone within the organization.  This is where roles and responsibilities are handed out and training occurs to get everyone used to the 5S vocabulary.  Also, a lot of emphasis is put towards the use of visual factory techniques – color coding, checklists, and labeling that reinforce a “copy as you see it” approach.  In bringing 5S home or to a home-office, the same techniques and approach work well.

 

Here are some strategies to get to standardization when bringing 5S home:

 

  • Use 5WHYs and 1 HOW – Keep asking WHY until you get to the root cause and then ask HOW to fix it.  Some very basic examples:

Industry:

  • WHY are you spending half your day mopping the floor?
    • Answer:  Because oil is always leaking from the machine.
  • WHY is oil leaking from the machine?
    • Answer:  The secondary gasket isn’t strong enough to hold the oil.
  • WHY isn’t it strong enough?
    • Answer:  The primary gasket is missing.
  • WHY hasn’t it been replaced?
    • Answer:  The maintenance department can’t get the screw off.
  • WHY can’t they get the screw off?
    • Answer:  They don’t have the right tool.
  • HOW:  I will have them order the proper tool, and replace it.

 

Lifestyle:

  • WHY have I gained 20 pounds in the past year?
    • Answer:  Because I eat too many bad foods.
  • WHY do I eat at bad foods when I shouldn’t?
    • Answer:  Because I don’t have time to prepare and eat well.
  • WHY don’t I have time?
    • Answer:  I get up late every morning and need to rush.
  • WHY do I get up so late every morning?
    • Answer:  I don’t get to sleep until the early morning.
  • WHY don’t I get to sleep until then.
    • Answer:  I stay up watching late night television.
  • HOW:  Ignore (or record) late night television and go to sleep.

 

 

  • Suspension of toys, tools, allowance, etc. – when people forget or ignore the 1st 3 S’s that you’ve installed, punish them this way so that over time, the system is reinforced and eventually sustained.  Bringing 5S home, like parenting, requires a lot of attention and shared respect to be successful.
  • Incorporate Poka-yokes (this is talked about in depth in another section) – means “error-proofing”  – some examples:  locks on chemical cabinets, used of baby or puppy gates, putting things out of reach, etc.
  • Eliminate as many variations as possible, examples:
    • Tool unification – use only Phillips head screws and screwdrivers on all home projects
    • Tool substitution – wing nuts instead of wrench turned bolts
    • Method substitution – eliminate the bolts and use clamps (many areas where this can apply – especially workshops or the kitchen)

SUSTAIN

Of the 5S’s, SUSTAIN is by far the hardest to fully accomplish, especially when bringing 5S home; partly because it is a never ending process of ongoing improvement, but mostly because it requires constant monitoring of the first 4S’s.  In manufacturing, it is relatively simple because you can reward or punish certain people or work areas, while in bringing 5S home it may involve only you, which in turn, requires much more self discipline and control.  Regardless of the troubles, here’s how you keep it going:

 

·         If you have children or others that are living or working in a 5S’d environment (e.g., your newly cleaned/organized kitchen), let them know beforehand that they will be required to keep it neat and orderly.  If you were able to STANDARDIZE well, then they will already have good tools to use in order to SUSTAIN.

  • Perform audits.  This lets anyone involved know where they stand and what needs to be improved.  Auditing yourself can be tough, but it does provide you with how well you’ve been able to keep it up.
  • Take pictures of the area at its cleanest point and then put them in the area.  This has the effect of putting a “fat” picture of yourself on the refrigerator when you want to discourage yourself from eating.
  • Use checklists – daily, weekly, whatever is most suitable for you.
  • Assign yourself and others involved tasks to be completed on a scheduled basis.  Reprimand when they have not been completed and give acknowledgement once completed.
  • Do as much as you can to keep it going – signs, pictures, reminders, notes, etc.  Make the awareness remain at a very high level of visibility.

Bringing 5S home is truly a powerful first step in mastering The Lean Lifestyle and one that sets the table for the rest of your improvements.  When I’ve been asked by people what were the top 5 things I did that really helped me learn more about lean, apply it more everyday and help me in furthering it in the businesses I work with, here are my top 5:  Bringing 5S home, Bringing 5S home, Bringing 5S home, Bringing 5S home, and Bringing 5S home!

Bringing 5S home…Organization, The Visual Home/Office, and 5S

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Filed under Economics, Kaizen, Lean, productivity, Six Sigma

ISO, or the International Organization for Standardization (Organisation internationale de normalisation), is an organization that is familiar to most people, but at the same time, requires much explanation.  ISO is headquartered in Switzerland and was founded in the 1940s.  It’s a standard creating entity made up of representatives from several countries that meet, form subcommittees, create and update procedures that are to be used, copied, and/or adapted to one’s business in an attempt to ‘standardize’ operations and improve quality.

Many companies see competitors that have an ISO certification banner hanging on the outside of their building or a .jpg on their website indicating that they have ISO 9001 QUALITY!!.  But what does that really mean?  To tell you the truth, no one knows for sure.  In some cases it means a lot, in others, it doesn’t.

ISO is an organization that strives and survives off of the buying and selling of the unnecessary efforts of other companies.  Each ISO system is different, not only from ISO 9001-2000 to ISO 14000 and so on, but also within each company that employs it.  It really comes down to, in a good portion of the companies, to ‘say what you do, and do what you say’.  But how far does that really get you?

In my opinion, ISO is a great help, if your company is drastically behind the times and has no means of standardization or procedure creation.  However, for most practical applications, it falls significantly short.  All of the companies that I’ve worked for that were ISO certified benefited no more from their ISO system than they did from their own standardized procedures.  In fact, many got worse with their quality levels because of all the red tape and the overwhelming amount of steps to update, change, and even implement new procedures.

Companies need to rely more on their own resources, be accountable for their own processes and procedures, and learn to become a learning organization that continually reviews and updates said procedures in a way that allows for some kind of betterment, to both their customers and their employees.  These days, there are too many companies that are spending good portions of their profits to become ISO certified and to maintain their multi-leveled ISO procedure file for the sake of saying they are ISO certified. 

For good companies that have an evolved awareness of quality and standardization, ISO is nothing more than a bureaucratic overrun of unnecessary red tape, expensive audits, and a faux selling point in the belief that ISO certification will trick your customers into thinking your quality is better.  Quality is determined by the company and its empowered operators, not by their ISO procedures.

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, productivity

One of the single most effective projects that I worked on in the past five years was also the simplest; in fact, I proposed this change in my first week of work.

During my interview, the engineering director took me for a walk through the plant.  It was obvious that a lot of changes needed to be made.  He complained, “Every time we have a defect in this cell, we have to scrap the whole lot, 50 pieces.”  I was shocked that a man with a title of “Engineering Director, North America,” could not see the solutions that were right in front of him.

My initial reaction was to ask a question, “Have you tried reducing your lot size?  Maybe cutting your lots in half?”  His response was even more dumbfounding, “What do you think that would do?”

So, I went on to describe all of the benefits of Single Piece Flow, and added the obvious fact that if the company requires the entire lot to be scrapped because of one defect, then you would only be scrapping 25 instead of 50 every time that one occurred.  He really got the point once I asked him to think about it on a larger scale, “How many would you have to scrap if you had a lot size of 1,000?”  Of course, he said, “1,000.”

When I got there, the process looked something like this:

There was an obvious disconnect between each process, even though the stations were literally five feet apart.  Each station operated as its own entity, not caring whether or not it was receiving or shipping defective products.  The operators were there simply to put in their time and collect their money.  They cared nothing for the products they were making and took no pride in quality workmanship.  If something failed at one of the inspection stations, then the entire lot was scrapped – big deal – they did whatever someone told them to do for eight hours and that was it – product or no product.

As you can see by looking at the diagram of the process, they had incorporated inspection stations.  Inspection is a large portion of waste in many manufacturing processes. Sure, it may be necessary in some instances, but the inspection should still be dealt with in-process instead of having it as its own workstation.

By having inspection as three entirely separate workstations, defects accumulated in lots of 50 waiting in queue and valuable resources were tied up in labor, fixed overhead and much desired floor space.

As a result, I suggested eliminating inspection from the process.  Well, I should say, I suggested eliminating the wasteful aspects of inspection. Because we are dealing with electrical devices that are tested to a standard, the cables must be checked during manufacturing to certify the product as passing the standard, so the inspection needs to be in there somewhere.

I suggested that we put the inspection testing equipment within the previous station’s area (i.e. the pre-inspection station, e.g. wire insertion, pre-mold, mold), to be checked one at a time as they are made.  The results showed instantly!

  • In each of the cases, the inspection operator was eliminated and added to other cells for more value added work.
  • Each of the pre-inspection stations would make one unit and test it instantly.  If there was a problem, it was solved immediately and no other cables would be tainted by the same issue.
  • Additionally, in all cases, the inspection portion of the manufacturing could be done (by the testing apparatus) while the operator was preparing the next sample.

At this point, we also rearranged the cell so that it was in the classic ‘U’ shape which cut the travel distance by 100’.  It had been segmented into two lines, with two operations being 110’ apart from another, this was shortened to 10’.

Single Piece Flow - 1st change

The bottleneck of the entire line was the Pre-Mold operation which was considerably slower than the other processes (the Wire Stripping and Crimping operations were very slow also, but each had 3 workstations, as these were inexpensive compared to a molding machine).  This was also the highest offender when it came to quality issues.  At this step, the individual wires were consistently getting snipped by the mold, causing complete electrical failure of the connector.

Before the improvements, it was easy for this process to make upwards of 200 bad cables before the Inspection station got around to discovering their was a problem! Because it was the bottleneck, it was absolutely imperative to always keep the Pre-Mold operation filled with work.  To achieve this, we setup a sequenced pull system that started with a supermarket between the Wire Insertion w/ Inspection operation and the Pre-Mold operation.  To keep the supermarket fed, we introduced FIFO lanes upstream.  The supermarket handled multiple varieties of cables because the Insertion operation was the first step in the system where product variety appeared.

In the operations upstream from there we used FIFO lanes because the product mix was entirely the same.  Each was held to a maximum storage amount; the supermarket with 5 and the FIFO lanes with 2.With the addition of the FIFO lanes and the supermarket, we were able to work at the pace of the bottleneck.

Granted we were able to speed up the processing of the bottleneck through a SMED event, which required machine design from the maintenance department, but it was still the bottleneck regardless.  To simplify things for a relatively naïve (in a lean sense) manufacturing group, we made the Pre-Mold operation the pacemaker and scheduled all work through that one point.

Efforts to justify the purchase of another molding machine for that area were just not cost effective. (As part of the SMED, we added a second bottom half to the mold which could be loaded while the current cable was being molded.  After the current one finished, the top half lifted up and the other bottom half slid into place, and the molding continued while the other bottom half was unloaded and reloaded for the next cable.)

Single Piece Flow - Final

Since we were so constrained by the Pre-Mold operation, we were able to use the same operators that ran the operations upstream from Pre-Mold to run the operations on the back end of the system.The results speak for themselves:

  • Output of quality products increased from 1.20 units/hour to 5.56 units/hour.
  • Quality problems and rework was down by 90%.
  • The number of associates went from 14 to 9, allowing those additional 5 people to be moved to areas where they could perform more value added work.
  • Associates saw the real effects of their work, taking on more responsibility and having more respect for themselves, the jobs that they perform and the products that they produce.

 

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Comments (2) Posted by matt on Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Filed under Economics, Kaizen, Lean, productivity

One of the toughest aspects of the Toyota Production System (TPS) for people to understand is why single piece flow is so important, and how it works.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve answered questions and statements like these: 

“What is single piece flow?”

“If we make one, move one, then our efficiencies will fall and we can’t have that…”

“Why use smaller batch sizes?”

“How will smaller batch sizes help?  We’ll just have more changeovers and our costs will go up.”

“We can’t achieve single piece flow and if we are able to, it will be too costly for us to operate that way.”

“Our customers will never get their orders if we do that because all we’ll ever be doing is changing over and setting up machines…” 

When it comes down to it, single piece flow is the best way that a manufacturing system can be set up.  Now, in most industries, systems are setup that will never allow for single piece flow in the traditional sense because of machining capacities and capabilities.  Examples of this are piece work items that are manufactured automatically by machines that have multiple machining heads that are performing the same task concurrently – something like the minting, pressing and stamping of coins – multiple dies punching hundreds of coin blanks out at one time, etc.  With time and revolutionary machine designs, single piece flow would ultimately be possible. 

In order to highlight the benefits of single piece flow, I’m going to use a list that is characterized by Liker in The Toyota Way (if you don’t own it, buy it – it is well worth the money), pages 95-97.  I’ve kept the list the same, but have added my own reasons as to why these benefits occur: 

  1. Builds in quality – this is the aspect that is most overlooked by opponents to single piece flow.  Since you are not dealing with batches, in particular, large batches, any defects can be correctly instantly or removed from the system at that time by the operator.  Defects are fixed or removed instead of being passed on.  Defects also become more noticeable and do not become hidden amongst a batch.  The most significant benefit is that any quality issues are more apt to begin and end with that one particular unit.  This happens because the defect is located, a cause is determined and a solution is remedied (PDCA in action).
  2. Creates real flexibility – because you are dealing with a lot size of 1 you can end production for that product at any point throughout the day within the number of minutes it takes for that 1 unit’s cycle time to elapse.  This is improved with the advent of SMED as changeovers are reduced and a larger mix of products can be produced within a shift, servicing more customers than a system processing larger batches of products.  If processing a lot size of 20 takes 5 hours of machine cycling time to complete, then processing a lot of 1 will take .25 hours.  In this way, you would be able to switch products and start producing something else after 15 minutes, instead of waiting 5 hours for the previous lot to complete its cycle.
  3. Creates higher productivity – operators focused on single piece flow are working on mostly value added activities leaving less time for non-value added time to interfere.  In addition to this, as each piece is processed, it can be moved onto the next workstation and processing can begin there – eventually you will get to the point where you are producing units at an output rate nearly equivalent to your slowest individual process (i.e. theory of constraints).  Also, any quality issues can be quickly removed or remedied within minutes on a single piece as opposed to reworking an entire lot, this saves larges amounts of rework time that would normally bog down a production line and utilize operators in a completely non-value added manner.
  4. Frees up floor space – because single piece flow naturally works within a cell there is less space for the accumulation of inventory between processes.  A cell is setup to maximize production floor space and improve communication between processes to improve quality and increase throughput.  There is no waste associated with defects, scrap, unneeded stacks of raw material, stacks of finished goods waiting for the next process – none of that because as soon as inventory is created (in the form of 1 unit) it is absorbed and processed by the next station and so on, down through the line.
  5. Improves safety – single piece flow means that there is no need for large batches to be shuttled back and forth, over thousands of feet within a production facility.  All of the processes are arranged in a cell with minimal space between them.  Again, inventory does not build up and will not require movement, batch sizes are 1 so bins and containers used to move products will be very small, allowing for operators to lift small, light packages instead of large, heavy packages that may contain multiple units.
  6. Improves morale – this is a natural phenomenom that occurs because each operator gets to see the outcome of their hard work instantly.  This instant gratification builds a passion for creating well-made, quality items.  Overtime, operators will pride themselves on high levels of quality and products that they produce because they can actually see the benefits that they add to the product – and each one they produce is, in and of itself, a unique special well crafted item.
  7. Reduces cost of inventory – simply due to the fact that you have less inventory of raw materials, inventory of WIP, and inventory of finished goods means that your company will be able to dedicate their capital and resources in other areas instead of overhead.  Additionally, any inventory that becomes obsolete because it is sitting around waiting to be processed will no longer occur.  This could mean expanding by purchasing new capital or technologies, improving existing work centers, giving more benefits, providing higher salaries to attract a better workforce.

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, productivity

Recently, I facilitated a kaizen event which was targeted at dramatically reducing the setup time of a Former-Winder twisting machine in a textile plant.  Naturally, we performed a SMED event; dedicating 3 days to the event and 2 days of prior videotaping (performed by me, under ‘normal’ conditions). A little background on the Former-Winder’s operation.  It is a machine that takes in raw material Yarns or Ends, twists them together into a strand, and winds them onto a 3 foot long bobbin.  The Yarns/Ends used can number anywhere from 2 and go up to 150 in some cases.  The bigger the yarn needed, the more raw material packages that will be required.  These raw material packages are put up onto fixtures, called Creels, that hold them while they feed out yarn.  The pictures show the creels in this case.

Raw material creel 

After loading the creels, the operator needs to install gearing that produces different levels of twist in the finished strand.  Creating a small sample allows the operator to perform a quick in-process check after changing the gears.  If it is okay, the operator puts in an empty bobbin and starts the machine.  If not, then he changes gears with engineering’s help (that’s what the ISO documentation says at any rate). Watching the video we put together this timeline, identifying the CURRENT STATE (i.e. the way in which it was currently being performed)External Setups in GREEN and the Internal Setups in RED:

  • Get & read traveler (1 min.)
  • Check prioritization (1 min.)
  • Get gears (15 min.)
  • Install gears (5 min.)
  • Return gears to proper place (1 min.)
  • Clean/grease machine (5 min.)
  • Program computer (if necessary) (1 min.)
  • Obtain/order material (45 min.)
  • Creel placement (20 min.)
  • Create material space (10 min.)
  • Get/prepare cart (if necessary) (1 min.)
  • Teardown (16 min.)
  • Return material (several trips) (9 min.)
  • Prepare & inspect creel (foam donuts, check eyelets, inc.) (2 min.)
  • Check for/install small packages (10 min.)
  • Get/install new packages (several trips) (22 min.)
  • Untie packages & feed thru eyelets (38 min.)
  • Setup distribution plate(s) (13 min.)
  • Setup wax tank (if necessary)
  • Locate & get proper die (5 min.)
  • Install die (1 min.)
  • Return old die to proper place (1 min.)
  • Feed machine (6 min.)
  • Run (.5 min.)
  • Chalk for twist (TPF) (.5 min.)
  • Stop & check TPF (.5 min.)
  • Sign off by other person (.5 min.)
  • Make adjustments (6.5 min.)
  • Run (couple minutes)
  • Stop & calculate weight/counts (repeat if necessary)
  • Check traveler for QTY (.5 min.)
  • Run Machine

—————————————————

76% Internal:  179 min = 2.98 hours

24% External:  58 min = .97 hours

Total Time:   237 min. = 3.95 hours

We then went through this list and created a ‘theoretical’ best case scenario that showcased the true Internal and External Setups.  Some of these are not even possible due to current technologies owned by the company:

  • Get & read traveler (1 min.)
  • Check prioritization (1 min.)
  • Get gears (15 min.)
  • Install gears (5 min.)
  • Return gears to proper place (1 min.)
  • Clean/grease machine (5 min.)
  • Program computer (if necessary) (1 min.)
  • Obtain/order material (45 min.)
  • Creel placement (20 min.)
  • Create material space (10 min.)
  • Get/prepare cart (if necessary) (1 min.)
  • Teardown (16 min.)
  • Return material (several trips) (9 min.)
  • Prepare & inspect creel (foam donuts, check eyelets, inc.) (2 min.)
  • Check for/install small packages (10 min.)
  • Get/install new packages (several trips) (22 min.)
  • Untie packages & feed thru eyelets (38 min.)
  • Setup distribution plate(s) (13 min.)
  • Setup wax tank (if necessary)
  • Locate & get proper die (5 min.)
  • Install die (1 min.)
  • Return old die to proper place (1 min.)
  • Feed machine (6 min.)
  • Run (.5 min.)
  • Chalk for twist (TPF) (.5 min.)
  • Stop & check TPF (.5 min.)
  • Sign off by other person (.5 min.)
  • Make adjustments (6.5 min.)
  • Run (couple minutes)
  • Stop & calculate weight/counts (repeat if necessary)
  • Check traveler for QTY (.5 min.)
  • Run Machine

—————————————————

11% Internal:  26.5 min = .44 hours

89% External:  210.5 min = 3.51 hours

 

This gave us a starting point for base lining and making improvements.  “How could we improve our current setup process to be as close to this as possible?”  First, we took all of the ‘current’ internal setups that were really external setups, and made them into external setups, changes shown in BLUEThis saved about 25%:

  • Get & read traveler (1 min.)
  • Check prioritization (1 min.)
  • Get gears (15 min.)
  • Install gears (5 min.)
  • Return gears to proper place (1 min.)
  • Clean/grease machine (5 min.)
  • Program computer (if necessary) (1 min.)
  • Obtain/order material (45 min.)
  • Creel placement (20 min.)
    • Preparation (10 min.)
    • Physical move (10 min.)
  • Create material space (10 min.)
  • Get/prepare cart (if necessary) (1 min.)
  • Teardown (16 min.)
  • Return material (several trips) (9 min.)
  • Prepare & inspect creel (foam donuts, check eyelets, inc.) (2 min.)
  • Check for/install small packages (10 min.)
  • Get/install new packages (several trips) (22 min.)
  • Untie packages & feed thru eyelets (38 min.)
  • Setup distribution plate(s) (13 min.)
  • Setup wax tank (if necessary)
  • Locate & get proper die (5 min.)
  • Install die (1 min.)
  • Return old die to proper place (1 min.)
  • Feed machine (6 min.)
  • Run (.5 min.)
  • Chalk for twist (TPF) (.5 min.)
  • Stop & check TPF (.5 min.)
  • Sign off by other person (.5 min.)
  • Make adjustments (6.5 min.)
  • Run (couple minutes)
  • Stop & calculate weight/counts (repeat if necessary)
  • Check traveler for QTY (.5 min.)
  • Run Machine

—————————————————

57% Internal:  134.5 min = 2.24 hours

43% External:  102.5 min = 1.71 hours

So, after a few hours of suggestions, some time working the setup process on the gemba, we were able to make a second pass, saving around 72%!  We designed a new creel that could have one side loaded with the current job and a second side that could be prepared for the next job.  This required a 30 day list be made up and completed because of the nature of the maintenance work needed and a few other action items that were external to the SMED event itself:

  • Get & read traveler (1 min.)
  • Check prioritization (1 min.)
  • Get gears (15 min.)
  • Install gears (5 min.)
  • Return gears to proper place (1 min.)
  • Clean/grease machine (5 min.)
  • Program computer (if necessary) (1 min.)
  • Obtain/order material (45 min.)
  • Creel placement (20 min.)
    • Preparation (10 min.)
    • Physical move (10 min.)
  • Create material space (10 min.)
  • Get/prepare cart (if necessary) (1 min.)
  • Teardown (16 min.)
  • Return material (several trips) (9 min.)
  • Prepare & inspect creel (foam donuts, check eyelets, inc.) (2 min.)
  • Check for/install small packages (10 min.)
  • Get/install new packages (several trips) (22 min.)
  • Untie packages & feed thru eyelets (38 min.)
  • Setup distribution plate(s) (13 min.)
  • Setup wax tank (if necessary)
  • Locate & get proper die (5 min.)
  • Install die (1 min.)
  • Return old die to proper place (1 min.)
  • Feed machine (6 min.)
  • Run (.5 min.)
  • Chalk for twist (TPF) (.5 min.)
  • Stop & check TPF (.5 min.)
  • Sign off by other person (.5 min.)
  • Make adjustments (6.5 min.)
  • Run (couple minutes)
  • Stop & calculate weight/counts (repeat if necessary)
  • Check traveler for QTY (.5 min.)
  • Run Machine

—————————————————

21% Internal:  49.5 min = .825 hours

79% External:  187.5 min = 1.71 hours

We looked heavily into streamlining the leftover Internal Setups and determined that most of the streamlining had already been done. These machines (literally, these same machines) had been working in this plant since the 1940s and people had come up with quicker and better ways of doing things in that time.  Of course, we are still working towards streamlining and looking for those opportunities daily.

So, some team work, some more aware operators and better methods will allow us to service the internal customers of this process a lot faster, in the exact quantities they need and that means we can service a much greater variety of product lines within the same timeframe as before!

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, productivity

Although SMED was clearly developed during the 1900s, there are several cases from throughout history that can be referenced when trying to explain SMED.  The very basic idea of SMED, i.e. preparing and completing External setups while the machine/process is working on the current job, while streamlining Internal setups, etc. (if you are new to SMED, check out my article SMED…What is SMED?), can be seen in common processes that are around us.

The most common of these, which is more or less the cliche reference now because it seems every Lean trainer uses it, is the quick changeover of tires witnessed by Nascar and Indy racing fans at every race.  When you think about changing a tire, you think of several elements, like:

  1. Getting your tools
  2. Loosening 4/5/6 nuts
  3. Jacking up your car
  4. Pulling off the old wheel
  5. Putting on the new wheel
  6. Individually picking up the nuts and resetting them
  7. Tightening the nuts
  8. Putting the old tire in the trunk
  9. Putting your tools away

I assume it is something like that for most people.  Now, the quick connection they make here is that in an auto race, the pit crew is completely ready with their power tools, 1 guy jacks up the car, another takes the a) in cart racing, 1 (and only) nut off while maintaining it in the tooling head, b) in Nascar, the nuts are fixed to the wheel so only tightening is required, another guy removes and replaces the tire, and the nut(s) is tightened, etc.  You can see how that works.

Well, when thinking about SMED, there is a better example that I like to use.  So far, I’ve been a little on my own referencing this and some of my professors had a hard time grasping the concept of this being related to SMED.  Eventually, they saw my point and some of them use it in their classes to this day.  Unfortunately, this is not the most pleasant example of a SMED because of the nature of the resulting action, but it really gives a solid example of SMED.

Since the beginning of firearms, reloading has been a critical, essential, and frankly, a crucial aspect of warfare.  For any of you who are not that knowledgeable when it comes to the evolution of the gun, I’ll fill you in.  After the first couple hundred years of firearm development, the gun was stuck in a period of lackluster progression.  At the time of the American Revolution, muskets, a smooth bored muzzle loading rifle was the most widely used rifle in the world.  Due to the loading nature of the musket, a well trained infantryman could fire about 3 or 4 shots per minute.  Looking at this from a process standpoint, this gives us (assuming ~3 shots/minute):

  • Setup time:  20 seconds (includes aiming)
  • Cycle time:  ~1/10th of a second

The process for loading a musket, looks something like this:

  1. Stand the musket on its butt end, with the open barrel facing the sky
  2. Get out the gun powder (from a powder horn)
  3. Pour the required amount of powder down the barrel
  4. Put the powder horn away
  5. Get out the ball (i.e. bullet) (from a snap enclosed pouch)
  6. Put the bullet in the barrel
  7. Pull out the rifle’s ram rod from its casing on the side of the barrel
  8. Stick the ram rod in the barrel and push the bullet fully down
  9. Put the ram rod back in the side casing
  10. Pick up the musket
  11. Cock the hammer (which contains a piece of flint for creating a spark)
  12. Get out the powder
  13. Pour some more powder on the flash pan
  14. Put the powder horn away
  15. Aim the rifle
  16. Pull the trigger and hope the flint sparks and ignites the powder, firing the gun

That’s a lot to accomplish in 20 seconds. A small pictorial of an American Revolutionary War soldier is below (source:  http://www.americanrevolution.com/images/ContinentalArmy.jpg)

Like many processes, loading a rifle was held back because quicker changeovers were not possible due to technological issues and lack of progress in that area.  Slowly, the technology did improve and the flint-lock hammer was replaced with a preloaded percussion cap (like the kind you can buy in a toy store that makes a loud pop) that could easily be placed on a pin, before being struck by the hammer. 

 

This removed the clumsly action of pouring small amounts of gun powder into the flash pan while attempting to hold your composure.  Around the same time, ammunition companies began packaging the gun powder and the bullet in a paper encased packet that required the soldier to reach into only 1 compartment instead of 2.  The soldier would simply pull out the packet, bite off the end, and stick it in the front of the barrel.  So, after removing these small, but time consuming external elements, the process looked something like this:

  1. Stand the musket on its butt end, with the open barrel facing the sky
  2. Get out the paper packet
  3. Bite off the top and place the rest of it in the barrel
  4. Pull out the rifle’s ram rod from its casing on the side of the barrel
  5. Stick the ram rod in the barrel and push the bullet fully down
  6. Put the ram rod back in the side casing
  7. Pick up the musket
  8. Cock the hammer
  9. Get out the cap
  10. Place the cap on the pin
  11. Aim the rifle
  12. Pull the trigger

This type of rifle was used extensively around the time of the American Civil War.  At the same time, bullets were being improved through new packaging techniques that encased the bullets and powder in a metal shell that could be loaded into a moveable turret as you would expect to see on a revolver.  Much like the one pictured below:

 

It took another 25 years or so for this technology to be moved from pistols to rifles, but eventually, the rifle went from muzzle loaded to a pump action carbine to a bolt action rifle to the extremely fast firing machines guns used today.

With the development of the encased bullet, there was no longer a need for a percussion cap and the loading process looked something like this:

  1. Preload a small batch of bullets into a ‘clip’ (does not need to be done during battle)
  2. Attach the clip to the gun (again, the first clip can be done during down time)
  3. Aim the rifle
  4. Pull the trigger
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4, as necessary

So, as they do, things progressed and eventually you end up with a mechanism like we see today.  Almost all of the external setup elements have been removed from the gun loading process, however, there is always room for continuous improvement. 

An Uzi (shown), can fire up to 1,200 rounds per minute (rpm)!  That’s 20 rounds per second or .05 seconds per bullet!!  Some machine guns are capable of firing at rates up to 3,000 rpm.

By advancements in technology that allowed external setup times to be reduced and internal setup times to be eliminated (and the streamlining of all other internal setup times), firearms have seen a throughput increase of 40,000% (using the musket and uzi as examples – (1,200 rpm / 3 rpm) x 100%)!  That kind of increase is unheard of in most manufacturing operations, but can be seen from time to time when dealing with automation.

 How about that for an example of how much improvement you can get from a SMED?!

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Comments (2) Posted by matt on Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, productivity

How to calculate OEE: 

OEE stands for Overall Equipment Effectiveness and is the most comprehensive calculation used to determine how effectively you are utilizing your equipment.  It is an important part of total productive maintenance, can help better calculate efficiency losses, and is useful when incorporated into the cycle time calculations.

In order to calculate OEE, you will need to collect some data:

  1. PERFORMANCE RATE – The Performance Rate is calculated by looking at the actual operating speeds of your machines in comparison to the operating speeds that they were originally designed for those machines or the products being run on them.
    • Product A was designed to run on Machine 1 at speed setting 10, the highest speed possible.  Due to the machine’s old age and fragile state, it can only run safely and produce good versions of Product A at a speed setting of 6.  The Performance Rate would then be 60% (i.e. 6 / 10
  2. AVAILABILITY RATE – The Availability Rate is calculated by measuring any production losses due to downtime from equipment failing, breaking down, etc. as a portion of scheduled manufacturing time.
    • Machine 1 runs 36 hours for every 40 available manufacturing hours due to breakdowns.  The Availability Rate is then 90% (i.e. 36 / 40).
  3. QUALITY RATE – The Quality Rate is calculated by determining the amount of losses due to quality issues like scrap and rework as compared to the total parts processed.
    • Machine 1 ran 100 pieces of Product A, but only 98 met the quality specifications.  The Quality Rate would then be 98% (i.e. 98 / 100).

 Now, once you have these 3 important measures, the calculation of OEE is very simple:

          PERFORMANCE RATE  x  AVAILABILITY RATE  x  QUALITY RATE

Using the examples from above (Performance Rate = 60%, Availability Rate = 90%, Quality Rate = 98%):

          60%  x  90%  x  98% = 52.9%

 Essentially, the OVERALL EQUIPMENT EFFECTIVENESS (OEE) is the % of effective use that you are getting out of your piece of equipment.  It is a compounding, thorough look at your true equipment uptime as a percentage of your total available manufacturing time.  This metric is important for loading workcenters and determining capacities because you are completely aware of a particular machine’s (or machine type) total ‘real’ uptime.

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, Lean Book Reviews

‘Lean Lexicon, a graphical glossary for Lean Thinkers’

Compiled by the Lean Enterprise Institute

While this is not your traditional style of book, the ‘Lean Lexicon‘ contains so much great material that I just had to post it in a book review.  This book is just what it says it is, ‘a glossary for Lean Thinkers.’  Whether you are new to Lean Manufacturing or consider yourself an expert, this would should be in your Lean library.  The book is sorted in alphabetical order, and setup so that related topics point to one another, which makes for easy connections between lean tools and applications.  Also, another beLean Lexiconnefit is the inclusion of historical figures such as the Kiichiro Toyoda, Sakichi Toyoda, Shigeo Shingo, and Taiichi Ohno.  It lists everything you could ever want to know about Lean (at least from a basic definition basis), including some lesser known topics like A-B Control, Chaku-Chaku, Demand Amplification, Kaikaku, and Capital Linearity.  These are the types of topics that hold Lean together and are known to Lean experts, but often overlooked by rookie Lean implementors who stick to the mainstream tools like 5S and SMED.

 Overall, there is very little that this book could be accoused of lacking, and I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.  Add this book to your Lean library and pick up a copy for your coworkers or employees so that you, and they, can reference topics in the midst of a Lean transformation!

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Monday, April 14th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle, Six Sigma

What is Kaizen?  Many people that are new to Lean Manufacturing will at some point end up saying, “Kaizen?  What is Kaizen?  What do you mean by Kaizen?  What does Kaizen do?”  Several terms and definitions come to mind when talking about Kaizen.

On page 24 of The Toyota Way, Liker comments, “Kaizen is a total philosophy that strives for perfection and sustains TPS on a daily basis.”

Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning “Change for the better” or “improvement”.  It is most commonly translated into English as “Continuous Improvement”.  Kaizen is one of the forerunners in Lean thinking and requires discipline and constant re-evaluation.  It works on the basis that nothing can ever become perfect.  There is always something that can be improved.

Kaizen on a company scale can mean several things.  As part of a continuous improvement culture, most companies hold what are called Kaizen Events.  These are generally an activity that remove people from their daily tasks and place them on a team, to accomplish a goal within three to five days.  These are highly targeted projects with achievable results, such as moving machines so that they can work closer to one another for continuous flow, or designing and implementing a new queuing system for a specific purpose, or a SMED event (What is SMED?), etc.  No matter what the goal is, the process is relatively the same:  Plan, Do, Check, Act.

Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) was developed by W. Edwards Deming and introduced in Japan in the 1950s.  It is based on the Scientific Method and is a precursor to Six Sigma’s DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, & Control).  This is how PDCA breaks down:

  • Plan – Develop a sound, well thought out goal (that can be achieved with moderate effort) and how to achieve it.
  • Do – Implement the ideas and/or changes needed to achieve the goal, including training.
  • Check – Review what you’ve done; be critical, but not negative.
  • Act – Depending on how the Check step went, sustain these results or perform the whole PDCA cycle over again.

You can see that this is pure continuous improvement as the cycle can be completed over and over again.  In the Toyota Production System, they have slightly changed this language to be Plan, Try, Reflect, and Standardize.  Different verbiage, but same expectations of process and results.

Typically, most Lean training and resources define two types of Kaizen:  System or Flow Kaizen and Process Kaizen

A System or Flow Kaizen deals with an entire value stream being evaluated for opportunities of improvements and will usually include action from several levels of management. 

A Process Kaizen is a concentrated improvement of a single process (or groups of the same type of process).  This type of Kaizen will usually include a cross functional team dedicated to improving that individual process.

Both of these types of Kaizen are abundant in any successful Lean enterprise, and are at the very heart of those organizations.  Working within a company that needs help implementing Lean can begin to wear on your mind, especially if you are the agent of change.  For my entire professional career I’ve had to take on this role.  You push and push everyday for changes because you can see the waste sitting all around the plant and office; in stacks of wasted inventory and DMR’d materials to frivolous steps in product development processes.  It’s tough to keep a positive attitude. 

Over time I’ve learned to incorporate the idea of Kaizen into everything that I do.  I make it a habit to say this word to myself over and over again at different times during the day.  While at work, it keeps me in the moment and opens my mind to thinking that everything can be made better if we just apply ourselves a little bit more.  Now, I tend to Implement Then Perfect which is a good, offset definition (sort of) of Kaizen, where as early on in my career I would spend too much time pondering possibilities instead of just doing.  This creates better outcomes and makes you think on a Results Driven basis, which is really the way you want to think – you will constantly grow and improve – just like a company that is maintaining a strong Kaizen mentality.

On a personal level, use Kaizen to improve you life and it will work its way into your professional career.  Incorporate it into your daily life with exercise, eating habits, vices, etc.  If you want to start working out, start small and build from there – add a little bit everyday.  That’s small, incremental improvements that work.  If you eat too much, try to eat 1 less bite at 1 meal every other day, and eventually move up to 1 bite for every meal, everyday.  If you smoke and want to quit, cut back slowly and your body will respond favorably.  These methods work for you and the same type of stepwise improvements drive positive changes in your company.

If you know someone who claims to be perfect – they’re not.  Even a lot of the most successful people will tell you that they are not perfect and that that belief is what got them to where they are today – and it keeps them there.  You maybe thinking:  “Won’t that thinking just make me depressed?”  The truth is, no, it won’t.  Once you allow yourself to see the flaws that are holding you back, you will be much more likely to overcome them.  A good motto that I try to live by is:  Always be happy, but never be satisfied.  That is the essence of Kaizen.  That will bring continuous improvement to your life.  That is Kaizen.

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Filed under Economics, Kaizen, Lean

While working in a textile factory in the early 1900s, Sakichi Toyoda saw a problem with the way the textile looms ran:  if one of the threads broke, the machine would continue to produce bad product until an operator noticed that the break had occurred.  Improving upon this, he developed a self-monitoring device that stopped the loom when one of the threads broke.  This produced dramatic improvements in quality, as well as freed up operators that had previously spent much of their workday watching looms for quality.  That particular invention is still used in many textile operations around the world, as well as in most manufacturing processes in general.  It wasn’t the particular application that was important; it was the overall idea.  This idea was later termed Jidoka, and when translated into English, literally means “automation with human intelligence”.  This idea would become one of the two main pillars of the Toyota Production System (TPS), and is still in use in every Toyota operation and process.

The second pillar of TPS was developed by Sakichi Toyoda’s son, Kiichiro, and is called Just-In-Time.  In the 1930s, Kiichiro, the founder of the automotive branch of the Toyota group, theorized that he could keep the entire production process stocked with needed goods if the previous operation would respond to the precise needs of the downstream process.  This thinking dramatically reduced the amount of time operators spent waiting for parts to work on, while limiting the amount of the waste in the process.  He would continue this idea by working closely with suppliers to level production and ultimately, reduce all excess inventory levels.  Jidoka and Just-In-Time were both developed before the start of World War II.

After the war, one of Toyota’s executives continued the development of TPS and is credited as the chief architect of the system that is still in use today.  As chief of production, Taiichi Ohno developed TPS into a company wide cultural experience which required each associate to participate.  In many American factories, then and now, operators were reluctant to add their input and often feared change.  Conversely, Ohno praised change and suggestions from everyone.  During his tenure (and with the assistance of the famed consultant Shigeo Shingo), Toyota invented many “tools” which would come to encompass much of Lean Production.  Two such tools, 5 S and Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED), have been written about extensively, and are often some of the first steps a company will take while trying to implement the system.  Over the years this developed into the idea known as Kaizen, which when translated means “continuous improvement”.  This idea still stands as the overall image of Toyota, as they are always re-evaluating every process, from order taking to final inspection.

After the publication of The Machine That Changed the World, companies began to familiarize themselves with Lean Production and the toolset became common knowledge.  The overall concept of Lean is what prompted this blog.  As you will read throughout this site, Lean is not an idea, it’s a way of life.  It is about embracing change and being able to look inward and realize that there are always improvements that can be made.  Once a company adapts this kind of thinking, they are consistently able to find themselves improving in all areas, from on-time delivery to quality!

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean

Lean works.  Lean is right.  Lean is good.  Lean consistently proves its worth through continuous, stepwise gains for companies brave enough to take on the challenge of looking within themselves to correct deep founded issues with their status quo and historical patterns of behaviors.  So, why doesn’t Lean help every company that implements it?

The truth is, Lean doesn’t work for some companies because THEY (i.e. the companies it doesn’t work for) don’t allow it to work for them.  And that is why Lean fails.

Recently, something caught my eye that I’ve known for quite a few years now.  It was refreshing to see, but only because misery loves company and in terms of Lean, is still rather unfortunate news.  The annual survey from Lean.org read like this (July 2007):

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Survey: Middle Managers Are Biggest Obstacle to Lean Enterprise

Nearly 40 percent of those polled cite middle management resistance, according to Lean Enterprise Institute

Cambridge, Mass., July 18 — Middle management resistance to change is now the number one obstacle to implementing the innovative business system known as lean production, according to a new survey completed by nearly 2,500 businesspeople and conducted by the Lean Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit management research center.

Middle management resistance was cited by 36.1 percent of respondents in LEI’s annual survey about lean business system implementation in the U.S. The top three obstacles to implementation were middle management resistance (36.1 percent), Lack of implementation know-how (31 percent), and employee resistance (27.7 percent).

Last year, backsliding to the old ways of working was the primary obstacle to introducing lean management principles, followed by lack of implementation know-how and middle management resistance. Backsliding dropped to sixth place in this year’s survey.

“Applying lean management principles exposes problems in traditional business systems, which often is threatening to middle managers in the problem areas,” said Chet Marchwinski, LEI communication director. “To get middle managers on board with the lean transformation, organizations must transform the metrics and behaviors for judging their performances.”

For instance, traditional financial metrics often need to be removed from day-to-day management decisions about key processes. Instead, operating managers have to learn to help employees look for waste and remove it.

Since 2003, LEI has surveyed managers and executives annually about the key obstacles they face in transforming their companies from mass production to lean. The latest results are based on 2,444 responses to an opinion survey distributed electronically to the 77,200 subscribers to LEI’s monthly e-letter. Respondents were asked to select all applicable obstacles from a list of 12 possibilities. Members also were polled on industry trends and the implementation level of their lean transformations.

 

I guess there is an obvious sense of naivety on my side for thinking that Middle Management Resistance would eventually go away, but that would be assuming that there isn’t a general ignorance and lack of a kazien mentality (i.e. betterment, continuous improvement mentality) exhibited by most managers.  Managers do things because they believe that they know what is best.  “It’s always worked that way, so why try to change it.” 

There is comfort in familiarization and docile activities that typically bog down managers.  Lean requires a huge, cultural change that breaks down the barriers of the common ways of looking at things.  It also requires a great deal of involvement from everyone within an organization.  This is especially true for the CEO (or senior staff entirely) AND the lowest ranking members of the company.  Middle managers are the glue that holds these groups of people together.

I could go on forever on this topic and describe to you how this all ties into the Theory of Constraints and The Goal, departmentalizaiton vs. cellularization, etc., but I’ll just give you a few sentences.

Middle managers have their hands tied.  Too often, they are bound to their traditional metrics and methods of thinking.  This leads to production managers and supervisors pushing for their employees and workcenters to be producing at 100% capacity just for the sake of running production and keep uptime on par with traditional company goals.  This just creates over production, mismanaged inventories, misinformed operators, and in the end, a complete resistance to Lean Thinking.  In the end, for too many middle managers, production trumps Lean and Six Sigma because it’s all “ship, ship, ship….this product is a rush….ship, ship, ship”.  It’s rather ironic that all of these managers’ practices are the very nature and source of their need to have a always rushing mentality.

 An open message to all managers:  Study Lean, sign up for seminars or conferences, make an effort to earn that paycheck you receive for your work.  Ignorance is bliss, right?  WRONG.  In manufacturing, ignorance is a sin.  It represents the cognitive acceptance of absolute failure and is ultimately detrimental to your organizations’ success and continued growth.  It’s time for you to quit calling Lean a fad or referring to Lean tools as buzzwords because you are too lazy to better your thinking, better yourselves, better the people that work above and below you, and most importantly, to better your company. 

Lean works.  Lean is right.  Lean is good.

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean

What is SMED?

If you are like the thousands of people working for a company that is moving towards implementing Lean Manufacturing then I am sure that you’ve heard some very unique terms and acronyms being thrown around.  The most common of these are probably 5S (Five S), Kaizen, J.I.T. (Just-In-Time), Poka-yoke and SMED.

In this post I am going to talk about SMED.  What is SMED?

Well, SMED or S.M.E.D. stands for Single Minute Exchange of Dies.  During the formative years of the Toyota Production System, Shigeo Shingo was determined to reduce the setup time associated with the car body molding process.  (Like many manufacturers, Toyota had traditionally been in the trap associated with Economic Batch Quantities, and originally would produce enough to justify the setup cost).  After some initial trial runs, he was able to create a process that could be incorporated by all operations.  This led to more and more setup reduction events that were eventually cataloged and rolled into SMED.

To fully understand and utilize SMED, one needs to be aware of the entire process related to changeovers and setups.  The classic definition of changeover (from so many sources, over so many years, I don’t know who to give the most credit to, but mostly Womack, Jones or professors of mine from some time ago):  The process of switching from the production of one product to another on a machine by changing parts, dies, etc. measured as the time elapsed between the last GOOD piece of the previous production run and the first GOOD piece from the production run after the changeover.

Notice that the word good is capitalized.  Most people I have worked with and around will, from time to time, negate this fact and try to remove it from the equation.  This is a sin as, depending on the process, adjustments and teardown times can amount to a large portion of a changeover.  Below is the typical breakdown of a changeover/setup by time spent on specific tasks:

Preparing tooling, materials, fixtures, etc.     30%
Adding/removing dies and tools                      5%
Centering/dimensioning tools                          15%
Processing trials and making adjustments    50%

Typically, a SMED is a planned Kaizen event that lasts for several days (usually no more than five) concluding in a presentation to senior management officials.  The team that is compiled to perform a SMED should be associates pulled from all aspects of the company.  For example, one of the SMED’s that I was involved with included the plant manager, two supervisors, two operators from the process (from 1st and 3rd shifts as selected by their supervisors), an operator from another area, a sales/marketing person, and myself, representing engineering and facilitating the event as the team leader.  That number of team members is right around the maximum that you should have working on one event.

The targeted area or type of machine group should be video taped ahead of time by the facilitator of the event.  This is an essential part of the SMED and will be used throughout the process as well as in the final presentation to show the results.

I typically take the first day of the SMED and use it to introduce the team to some of the concepts of Lean and drive home the SMED process and all of its elements.  The most essential part of this training is defining the two aspects of a changeover:  Internal and External setups.

Internal setups are any aspects of a changeover that MUST be completed while the machinery is stopped.  In most cases, these things will be process steps like installing a die, changing gears, flushing/purging a hopper, lubricating interior moving parts, etc.  Notice the keyword in this sentence is MUST (hold that thought for a second).

External setups are just the opposite, anything that MAY be performed or changed while the machine is running.  These are all of the things that should be done prior to the actual changeover and include arranging required raw materials (hopefully from a supermarket or Point-Of-Use (POU) inventory and not a warehouse across town), notifying a material handler to take away the completed product, loading payoffs or racks that feed into the machine, etc. 

As I said before, notice the MUST statement regarding Internal and the MAY statement regarding External.  How often do you think people will do something when you give the option of MAY

A lot of the time, operators will know that these types of things should be done before the machine stops running, but they don’t do them because there is no attention paid to have long it takes them to changeover.  Once it is brought to their attention and made part of the process (everyday) and most importantly, measured, they will start to make much more of an effort.

During the training, I will go over the SMED process with the entire team and answer any questions that each team member might ask.  The process, once understood, is very straight forward.  Actually, like a lot of the practices built into Lean, if you look at changes made during a SMED you should always be able to say to yourself, “Well yeah, that’s what I would have done because that’s common sense; get the materials while the previous job is running, do this and that, etc.” 

While we’re on the subject, the SMED process is as follows:

1) Record current state setup conditions and practices

2) Separate internal and external setups

3) Convert internal setups to external setups

4) Streamline the entire setup process

Now, when I have my team there and have gone through with them, all of the training necessary, we start by watching the actual process.  We always start by taking a walk out to the operation, looking at all aspects of the operation and paying close attention to operator movements, physical space limitations, raw material stores, etc.  After which we return to the SMED team area (usually a dedicated conference room for the week) and watch the entire changeover process that was videotaped earlier in the week.

To be cont’d….

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Comments (3) Posted by matt on Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Filed under Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle

“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”

– Shigeo Shingo (Toyota)

I’ve decided to start posting some of my favorite Lean related quotes to help pass the message on.  Now, some of these are from recent years while others go back to the golden age of Mass-Production-Only manufacturing, i.e. the Before Lean or Old Testament of manufacturing. This one is from the man, the myth, the legend Shigeo Shingo. 

For those of who are unfamiliar with him, he’s the famous Industrial Engineer brought into Toyota in the 1950s by the great Mr. Taiichi Ohno who had heard of Mr. Shingo’s influential and successful seminars on methods of manufacturing.  In the years following, Mr. Shingo introduced the ideas behind such great concepts as Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) and Poka-yoke (i.e., mistake proofing).  Here’s the quote:  “The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”

What can I say? He was right.  Whether you look at this from a manufacturing perspective or even a lifestyle perspective, eventually you have to recognize that he was spot on.  This quote is very straight forward, but carries a significant message.

I often refer to this quote to point out that this is really the 8th type of waste left out by Ohno’s 7 Wastes (Overproduction, Defects, Transportation, Waiting, Inventory, Unnecessary Motion, Overprocessing/rework).  Waste that goes unnoticed can quickly multiply into bigger problems that manifest themselves at inopportune times; often, this occurs months or years after the birth date of this unseen waste.  Waste is like a cancer.  It’s there the whole time, but sometimes just can’t seem to notice it.  In some cases, it’s because a person does not want to see and acknowledge the waste.  Other times, they simply can’t see it; they really don’t understand what waste is and they really can’t recognize it.  In either scenario, you can’t eliminate or fix something that is not known to exist.

Now think about that in a manufacturing setting.  No matter how you slice it, waste is waste.  Many a times, before a company is exposed to Lean the waste is rampant and the management has no idea of all the money they are letting waste away (no pun intended).  This also means that the majority of the people working under these managers can’t see the waste either. In the end, this simple idea of hidden waste evolves into a much deeper issue for me.  The more and more I think about it, the more my mind moves towards striving for continuous and sustainable improvement.  What wastes do I see at work everyday?  What wastes do I see in my life everyday?  Moreover, how can I get rid of these wastes and make everything perform better? So, look around you.  Find the most dangerous kind of waste.  Eliminate it and improve.

 

“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.”

– Shigeo Shingo (Toyota)

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Filed under Economics, Kaizen, Lean, Lifestyle, Six Sigma

The United States is in trouble.  Being a relatively young nation, it is still developing its own identity; which to this point has been one of adventurers and risk takers.  This is something that one would expect from a nation made up almost entirely of immigrants, as leaving one’s home country requires those types of traits to allow for such thoughts.  This frontier’s man type of attitude is one characteristic that has always led to great accomplishments as a result of such verifiable risk taking.  However, with all of this success comes arrogance, expectation, gluttony, and worst of all, lackadaisical-ness.

It wasn’t always this way.  After the World War I, the United Stateswas riding the victory bus all the way to Prosperville, but then the wheels fell off and we were stuck in the middle of the Great Depression.  That should have been the first sign that our independently spirited behavior was leading us in the wrong direction.  This fact was forgotten, however, on December 7, 1941 when warplanes from Japan performed a devious preemptive strike on our naval base at Pearl Harbor.  The following years led to the country coming together to fight the Axis of Evil, and along with that came production on a scale that had never been seen at any point in history.  Because of this, the United States went onto success, not only in the war, but also inside of its own borders. 

The Great Depression had ended.  No more soup lines and government cheese.  It was time to go to college on the G.I. Bill, and have some kids.  We had survived the biggest threat to the known world in recent history.  Let the party begin.

The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of television, the space program, and most of all civil rights.  Within this time, Americans familiarized themselves with many comforts developed from technology discovered during World War II.  One such invention was the use of microwave ovens in the home.  No longer would the family cook have to slave over a hot oven all day.  We could cook our meals in minutes and eat them while enjoying our favorite television program which showcased people that were just like our closest friends and neighbors.  Everyone was becoming identifiable.  Celebrities were becoming more iconic, and so, the great American ideal of merchandising was born.  More and more regular citizens began to purchase products not simply on the fact that they needed them for some common use, but more because their favorite celebrity supposedly swore by it.  This generated a feeling of belonging for some, but for others, a feeling of envy.

With such a huge rise in home ownership, Americans were living side by side in a manner never that was never really developed before.  Homes were now being built and setup in curving neighborhoods with every other house looking the same.  And once again, the American people’s ability to take a common characteristic and turn it into something completely over the top had succeeded:  If your neighbor had it, you had to have it.  Of course this envious character has existed in human nature since the beginning of things, but nothing had been developed into such a hate machine as this.  And so the American spirit worsened, and we turned from a nation of “I need” to a nation of “I want”.

This all continued to worsen during the 1970s.  The Great American Consumption Machine rolled on and on.  Automobile manufacturers started developing cars that were no longer to get you from point A to point B with a few creature comforts included.  You could now get a car with an engine big enough that you could out race anyone in your neighborhood.  Americans were becoming increasingly more self centered, and the “gimme gimme gimme” attitude continued from infancy into young adulthood.

This was the crucial point in American society when certain individuals began to realize the downward spiral we were taking.  Since the end of War World II, Japan had been rebuilding, and in their traditional way, rethinking and continuously improving their ways.  The American unions, along with the Great American Consumption Machine, were causing increasing prices for consumers, which affected everything from food to automobiles.  Like Japan, other countries were taking notice.

The formation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960, allowed those countries to establish exporting policies as well as oil prices.  The United States never really a felt a serious pinch from this until 1973, when during the Yom Kippur War, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) decided that they would no longer export petroleum to countries that supported Israel.  Coupled with that threat was that at the same time, OPEC decided to quadruple the price of oil.  All of the highly industrialized nations, including the United States, attempted to put forth measures to prevent future shortages and price run ups.  This held over the American people until the early 1980s.

Seeing an open market and piles of money awaiting them, Asian manufacturers began to increase their exports to the United States.  Along with their pennies-per-hour-manufacturing-costs and significantly lower prices, they brought their compact automobiles.  Since the oil crunch of the 70s, several groups within the U.S. were pushing the idea of smaller, more fuel efficient automobiles with a higher regard for the environment.  So, as Americans do, we followed the head lemming and moved towards the Asian edge of the manufacturing cliff.  While the quality was not great from American manufacturers, it was even worse from most Asian companies.  One of the few exceptions was the Japanese automobile giant Toyota.  However, the quality aspect of things never seemed to matter to the American society as a whole.  True to form, they were consistent with their previous trends of purchasing and went with what was of lower cost.  And so, many more Americans began losing their jobs, as companies that were started and grown in the U.S. decided the only way to compete was to move operations off shore.  After all, wasn’t it the American labor policies and rights protections that had led to this run up in wages and costs?  Apparently, most of American companies felt this way, and the life of the ordinary American worsened.

It was during this time that two of the most significant publications in American history were released.  First, starting in 1984, people were introduced to Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s book The Goal:  Excellence in Manufacturing (later called The Goal:  A Process of Ongoing Improvement). the goal cover The book, a work of fiction, led readers into the concept of the Theory of Constraints through an easy to read novel setting.  While this book has had great impact and has sold millions of copies (over 3 Million in fact) worldwide, it is virtually unknown outside of the manufacturing world.  This sadly rings true for the second publication, especially since it had a far greater message.

After a five year, five million dollar study, Massachusetts Institute of Technology associates Daniel Roos, James P. Womack, and Daniel T. Jones released their groundbreaking work The Machine That Changed the World:  The story of Lean Production.  Between the covers of this book, they explained much of the same message I am trying to convey with this site, but strictly towards manufacturing.  Most importantly, they detailed how Toyota could produce cars with a third of the defects of American cars, using half of the factory space, half the operator and production time, and consequently, about half the cost.  While recording their findings, they coined the term Lean Production, which is still used today when discussing the topic.  Again, just like The Goal, this book gained much acclaim from the business and manufacturing world, but received very little coverage in the American mainstream which was centered around soap operas, game shows, and “Who shot J.R.?”  The one good thing that has materialized from these two books is the acceptance that as Americans, we need to change our ways if we wish to continue our lavish lifestyles.

Around the same time, as previously mentioned, American companies were not only losing ground on the fact of cost, but their quality was driving consumers to move towards lower priced goods produced offshore.  At Motorola, Bill Smith was pioneering a new quality initiative to reduce defects that would later become known as Six Sigma.  The name is derived from a statistical metric that measures defects as a percentage of total production.  It states that when a company is operating at a Six Sigma level, it will produce no more than 3.4 defects for every 1,000,000 parts produced.  Just like Lean Production has done for manufacturing, Six Sigma is still increasing quality of American products as more and more companies familiarize themselves with the program.  Because of this, Americans slowly became more and more comfortable with American products; technology continued to advance.

With the rapid movement of technology resulting from the unparalleled advancements of the computerized age we currently live in, Americans have become lazier and lazier.  When you thought about dinner in the past, you’d expect to eat a couple hours later.  Now, it’s almost unthinkable to have to wait that long.  If you want a hamburger, you’re in and out in five minutes at your favorite drive-thru window at the local fast food restaurant.  Or if you’re looking for some pampering, you can go to any of the thousands of chain restaurants and dish out some extra cash to have your food and drink brought to your table.

Along with the growth of fast food is the growth of the American Value System.  I will touch more on this in later, but here’s a preview.  We, as the American culture, have for some reason come to the conclusion that more is always better, especially when it has a cheaper per unit cost than buying what we will actually consume.  One of the sources for this thinking comes out of marketing and getting people to buy as much as possible.  Another source is most likely the rise of “discount” clubs which allow consumers to purchase large quantities of goods at a lower per unit cost, if the consumer is willing to pay an upfront cost as well as purchase in quantities greater than those normally found at regular retail outlets.  For Americans, this is true for almost anything, from underwear to food to toiletries. 

The same idea can be said of our lives today.  With so many advancements and creature comforts, why do so many Americans say they don’t have enough time for things?  Yes, people have children and jobs and responsibilities, but then again, so did our parents, and all of our ancestors.  We have built ourselves up so much that our quality of life has decreased.  Television and other people’s affairs take up more of our lives than what is actually important.  Cell phones are literally almost a dime a dozen, children don’t even know the history of their own country, and most adults find refuge in some sort of drug, whether it’s been prescribed for them or it’s been purchased from a liquor store or the corner drug dealer.  And as is our tradition, we cover the problems up instead of actually confronting them.

So, as technology is improving our lives in many ways, it is ultimately moving the American consumer further and further away from what is really needed.  At this point in time, American manufacturing is swaying from stable to unstable and back again as companies shift operations from Asia to China to the U.S. and abroad.  Gas prices have never been higher, causing other basic costs to rise, and how are the American people responding?  Not by solving the problem, but by name calling and the pointing of fingers.  On this blog, I offer simple solutions to help relegate a small portion of the overall problem by making Americans understand that we are the cause of many of our problems based off of the way we live and how we consume. 

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Comments (0) Posted by matt on Monday, March 17th, 2008