I want to share more of the lean transformation process at the cabinet shop in Canada described in the last article. Rather than continuing to refer to the owner as the CEO, I will call him Brad for the remainder of this series within a series. Brad sent me an email before the second visit stating that the business had been experiencing some major peaks and valleys since I left and that they were woefully behind in completing the list of tasks I expected the staff to work on during my absence. He wanted to know if their situation was unique or if I had encountered bumpy starts before. I smiled as I read his impassioned note because their situation was indeed normal. Smoothing out the periodic bumps in the road to a successful lean transformation is one of my jobs as the coach, mentor, and Sensei for change.

Based on what Brad shared in the email, I wasn’t expecting to see much progress so I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival. One of the tasks that should have been completed was implementation of the first three steps of the first 3Ss of the Goal Line Sheet from The 5S Pocket Guide by Jim Peterson and Roland Smith, Ph.D.

Organizing tools 

It was obvious that the assembly area, although not yet complete, had been improved significantly through the initial 5S effort. I didn’t get the camera out fast enough to capture the “before” picture of the assembly area, but you can see by the before and after pictures of the shadow board that a significant number of unnecessary items were removed from the area. The main difference behind the elimination of so many tools from the work area is explained below, but basically it boils down to the level of involvement in defining what tools, fixtures, equipment, etc. are necessary to successfully perform the assigned tasks.

It isn’t unusual for a CEO to micromanage the initial attempt to implement lean principles in a vacuum and impose his perception of change on the staff while thinking that he is doing the right thing by improving the process without interrupting production. However, the CEO is the least qualified person to implement change in areas outside of his own workplace because he is too far removed from the target process.

Bottom up change 

In this case, Brad set-up the “before” shadow board in the assembly area and included every tool that was in the shop rather than just those required in assembly. That resulted in needed items being stored in locations farther from their intended point of use, and it imposed a requirement on the assembly staff to maintain and account for tools and accessories that someone else might be using elsewhere in the plant. Note that the case clamps are stored on a wall some distance from the bench. Since every cabinet requires several clamps the assembly person had to make multiple long-distance trips to obtain them and then return them.

In contrast, the new shadow board was developed by the two assembly people with an emphasis on retaining only those tools, etc. that are needed in assembly with locations based on frequency of use. As you can see in the during picture, the assembly staff not only removed excess tools, but a number of the items that were removed were malfunctioning so they served no useful purpose anyway.

Team-based approach 

There were two barrier-breaking outcomes from the initial Workplace Organization initiative in the assembly area that are worthy of highlighting because they demonstrate how Extreme 5S – Workplace Organization on Steroids applies to the broader scheme of things. By documenting the current assembly process we were able to sort through all of the steps and separate necessary tasks from unnecessary tasks and also assess how two disconnected steps – door and drawer assembly – could be blended into the existing steps to create a team-based assembly operation. The dynamics of a team-based process that captures the synergy and energy of two people working together disproves the equation that 1 + 1 = 2. In a team-based process the real output is 1 + 1 = 3.

For instance, when one person was assembling cabinets using bar clamps he was continually walking from one side of the lift table to the other side fitting parts together and getting and setting clamps. With two people working together one person is working on one side of the cabinet while the other person works on the other. They also assist each other clamping and unclamping the cabinets. Co-locating door and drawer assembly with the cabinet assembly process creates continuous flow and eliminates excess material movement and operator motions.

Improving throughput 

After separating the necessary steps from the unnecessary ones, we looked at the process prior to assembly to see if any of the unnecessary steps could be blended into that operation to better balance the work content and improve throughput. We discovered one of the Seven Deadly Wastes - Waste Arising from Time on Hand, or Waste of Waiting on an Automated Process - at the CNC operation, which is the internal supplier to assembly.
Some of the cabinet parts require lengthy machine cycles at the CNC, so the operator experienced recurring idle time. Among the assembly steps that were deemed unnecessary were doweling and drawer slide attachment.

Although those steps are necessary for building a quality cabinet, they both required additional part handling and interrupted the smooth flow of work through assembly. Both of those process steps were rolled back to the CNC operation and are now done during the time the operator is waiting on the machine.

The two improvements that were implemented as a result of applying 5S thinking on a wider perspective have resulted in more than doubling the average output from assembly without increasing staff or adding any new technology. The two-person assembly team believes that they will continue to increase throughput as they meld together and fine-tune their operation.

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