This is a good time to expand on the lesson learned from the custom shop that I referenced a couple of issues earlier. You might recall the introduction to the eight-person custom shop where the staff decided to organize their workplace to eliminate clutter and create flow.

I described how prior to the event the eight employees operated as individual islands of activity in various locations in the shop. Jobs always had to be moved several feet between processes and tool sharing/borrowing was general practice.

Throughput was one completed project every two weeks. Once the clutter was removed and the processes were connected to create flow, throughput increased to four completed projects per week. It is probably hard to understand how that much improvement could come about by simply organizing the workplace. I’ll do my best to paint the before and after so you can visualize how it evolved.

Before organization 

The custom shop occupied one part of a building that had been expanded many times over several decades to meet growing demand. The expansions were mostly small additions of around 20,000 square feet each with little consideration given to how one addition connected to the other or how work would flow between a new addition and the rest of the facility.

The custom shop was housed in two of the expansions with part of their processes done in the main facility about 200 feet away. To access the main facility where panel saws and veneer operations were located, employees had to negotiate a convoluted maze of narrow aisles and choke points. Once at the saws and veneer presses, the custom work had to get in line with all of the excess work-in-process to wait its turn.

Timely completion of custom projects was further hampered by a lack of sequence planning to ensure daily demand completion. The planning process, or lack thereof, is a subject all its own that you can find out more about in the archives (Sequencing Production to Meet Demand) so I won’t dwell on it here.

Batch backlogs 

This plant worked on a weekly batch process, which means that something not needed until Friday might be run before the demand for Monday and what was needed last week might not be done until next week. Like every other department, the custom shop always seemed to have the right quantity of work for the day, but not all of the parts necessary to complete a job, so they were continually behind and relied on expediting to push things through. Late delivery was the norm, and there seemed to be no way to get out of the hole they were in.

The two additions that the custom shop occupied were built and equipped at different times. When the second one was added none of the original equipment was moved to better accommodate flow. Parts would start in one building, move to the other, and then back again and again until finally ready for assembly. Tools that were needed in one area always seemed to be in another area, which required an exasperating search or a lengthy delay waiting for the tool to become available.

Custom projects were usually large library workstations or bank-teller counters that required a lot of floor space for assembly. Excess work-in-process caused by an accumulation of slow-moving projects meant that space for assembly was at a premium and had to be created by moving equipment, work in progress, and accessory support items out of the way. Rearranging work spaces added time and cost to the process, but didn’t add any value to the completed project.

Lean improvements 

Lean training was presented in several iterations with two of the custom shop employees at a time attending a session together so work didn’t come to a complete halt during training. The initial training covered three key areas - identification and elimination of the Seven Deadly Wastes; Set-up Reduction; and Workplace Organization. At the end of the training, I challenged each person to take something they learned and apply it immediately in their personal work area.

Most of the participants chose to begin with 5S, which is what the first two custom shop employees did as well. However, they enhanced their 5S process by deciding to co-locate their individual areas and work together as a team. As they 5S’d their area, they removed unnecessary items and procured tools that could be dedicated to the new process, thus eliminating the need for sharing/borrowing across the shop.

Value of teamwork 

Since the rest of the custom shop employees hadn’t attended lean training when this new team concept launched, they were skeptical and apprehensive about moving in that direction on their own. Once the rest were trained the lights went on and they better understood the dynamics of working together in teams, not only to organize the work place, but to flow the work as well. Each two-person team was responsible for all of the processes involved in completing a project, which enhanced quality, ensured uninterrupted flow of parts and sub-assemblies, increased throughput, eliminated excess work-in-process, and increased employee satisfaction and pride of ownership.

Getting parts through shared equipment in the rest of the plant was improved through the implementation of daily production schedules. Weekly batches were eliminated and each department was responsible for completing a clearly defined daily bucket of demand in a predetermined sequence. Daily schedules included the demand from the custom shop so waiting in a long queue was eliminated. Achieving the daily production planning objective was another opportunity to apply the five steps of workplace organization. I will go into that detail in future articles.

If you are struggling with late deliveries, excess work-in-process that is consuming scarce cash flow, low employee morale, low margins, and dissatisfied customers, give me a call. I can get you moving toward your objectives instead of continuing to drift away from them.

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