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Success doesn't always breed more success.

Success doesn't always breed more success

Jim Butler, Manufacturing Technology Associates, Ingleside, IL, is a manufacturing consultant implementing continuous flow manufacturing (CFM) techniques to a wide variety of industries. His experiences at XYZ Corp (ficticious name) illustrate the proper and improper implementation of CFM methods.

"When I was first called in," he recalls, "it was to an atmosphere of layoffs, divestitures, and pressures to improve productivity. Line X was somewhat continuous flow - batch lots moving in tote pans to various workstations by a central roller conveyor. However, periodic shutdowns due to shortages encouraged line workers to stack tote pans of partially finished components near and even on the conveyor, turning it into a mini-warehouse and completely obliterating its purpose."

Over three months of analysis, Butler talked with upper management, manufacturing engineers, and line workers. The last were the most critical, he says, "because these are the people `living' on the line who really know its day-to-day problems. It was critical to establish rapport with them, both for informational purposes as well as to earn their trust and cooperation."

Line X management, MEs, and line people were committed to meeting goals without cutting corners. Workers were frequently updated as the line was fabricated and installed, and then formally trained. As a result, Line X was up and running six months after the initial analysis began. Efficient workstations were integrated with the conveyor, stations queued to compensate for routine backups, product came off the line every 30 sec, and six-month productivity was up 80%.

With this success, XYZ management turned to Line Y, a premiere product line at the same facility. More complicated, it consisted of two conveyors twisting, turning, and crossing over each other. "They called us in once again," Butler reports, "but this time, only to recommend and install the hardware and fixturing. Line X had bred overconfidence in all of us, and the initial engineering analysis period was largely by-passed. Line Y management didn't realize the preparation that had gone into Line X. I also thought initially the wealth of information from Line X would suffice.

"My perception changed quickly when we found that information from the previous year didn't match current conditions - information that would have come from line workers. However, since we were now dealing with a liaison engineer who dealt with a supervisor who sporadically contacted line workers, the earlier rapport of Line X was never established."

Although "Increase efficiency!" was the battle cry, says Butler, well-defined goals and realistic milestones weren't set, and deadlines danced like a yoyo - from an initial 22 weeks, to 10, and then pushed back as problems mounted. "In five months," he recalls, "we saw four liaison engineers and numerous supervision changes. Adding to the chaos was a premiere-status attitude of `Don't tell us what you did on Line X - we do things differently here."'

Despite all these challenges, Line Y achieved a 40% productivity improvement, Butler reports, at a cost of a lot of excess time and effort. While Line X enjoyed consistency, patience, worker rapport, and a thoroughness at all levels, Line Y saw chaos, underfinancing of strategic areas, major delays, and problems going unaddressed. "Although these mistakes are obvious in hindsight," he explains, "they are mistakes routinely made by organizations seeking to implement more efficient production systems.

"Proper CFM techniques lead to rapid start-up, self-paced, with high-quality, visual production feedback, flexibility, low inventory, and rapid throughput. The magnitude of the efficiency increase depends on a number of seemingly simple, commonsense steps to create the right communication and accountability to get the job done."
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Title Annotation:Management Update; implementing continuous flow manufacturing techniques
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Words:595
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