Brad Cairns explains 'Buffer Management,' a way of keeping the panel saw operator delivering pieces to the edgebander at the right pace.

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Cairns will bring this approach to Lean Management  to an April 11 conference track at Cabinets & Closets 2017 near Chicago. Cairns, who runs Signature Wood Systems in Ontario, also directs the Center for Lean Learning. Here's how Cairns describes his workflow technique:

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge fan of buffer management. So I wanted to walk you through a quick process of how we get from our saw to our edge bander and the improvement that we're going to make on that process.

We have only one conveyor that goes between our saw and our edgebander. The rule for operators is to cut until the conveyor is full; and then to stop cutting, and move up to the edgebander to continue workflow.

The edgebander operator is finishing parts at the same rate the saw operator is cutting, all is well. He can keep cutting.

But if the conveoyr is empty, we really have an emergency and somebody from downstream in production has to come upstream to help saw operator stay ahead of the edgebander.

One of the things that we're finding is that people have a really hard time deciding when they should go to the next station; and when they should come back.

As you can see in our video, there are not a lot of visual indicators about when the buffer is full. It's really up to the operator to decide.

So we wanted to make their job a little bit easier and we'll show you what we came up with.

Bob, arguably the best looking guy in our factory,  put bright color instructions at each point, to let the operators know exactly what they should be doing, and identifying the options at each station. From a distance anyone in the factory now can see where the buffers are at.

The saying goes, "You're not lean until you're visual." And boy does it ever help to make it visual and easy for the operator to use.

One thing we've really learned is that we want our operators to stay laser-focused on what they're doing. We always used to think, "Why can't that guy manage the process - and his job - at the same time?" 

Were we wong! As management we must make the process visually easy, and making that operator's job easy. With a new focus on making the factory more visual, our operators can stay way more focused on what they're doing, and create a lot less waste. So until next time, keep it visual keep it Lean!