Job Relations, Standardization, and Problem-Solving

Lean Frontiers, Inc. is please to welcome a guest Blog Post by Tom Priest, Director of LPS at S&C Electric Company.

Structured Problem-Solving clarifies the problem to be solved, but it does not define the activities, or the required number of PDCA cycles, to close the gap to goal.

I would like to share a current goal oriented ‘multiple PDCA round’ problem-solving activity that is ‘pulling in’ Job Relations and Standardization.

The goal of this problem-solving activity was to reduce cycle time in a weld area to meet increasing customer demand.  Work began quickly to get the facts: baseline observations showed that 1st and 2nd shifts had different ways of dividing the work between operators.  Of course, each shift felt that their way of dividing the work was best!

Job Relations helped introduce the conversation about Standardization. To get both shifts to agree on the “best known method,” each shift tried the method of the other shift, for several weeks.  At the conclusion of the exercise, 1st shift adopted the 2nd shift process.  Production was improved, but the goal was not accomplished.  Furthermore, the material flow of the newly standardized process highlighted another problem.

Multiple observations on the standardized process showed that unloading and loading the fixture had variation with respect to timing.  Excess carts of prepped material entered the Unload/Load areas which caused variability both by operators walking to get their next cart, and by interference from excess carts.  These wastes needed to be addressed through another round of standardization activity: creating standard WIP and fixed locations for prepped material.  The area for loading and unloading is now completely free, and the prep team now delivers completed carts to fixed locations at each Finished Weld area.  The reduction of the material flow variability has reduced cycle time, so there has been additional production improvement, but the goal is still not accomplished.

Job Relations reminded us to talk to individuals concerned and get their opinions and feelings. Team members clearly expressed their concerns about maintenance of their equipment. These concerns were difficult to see in the baseline observations.  Over the course of checking on the two previous PDCA cycles, many more observations were conducted, which showed multiple “micro-stoppages” associated with the weld equipment (eg. 1 tensioner change, 1 tensioner swap, 3 gun changes, 4 wire changes, 6 diffuser changes, 10 tip changes).

Line Leadership is currently working with Maintenance Leadership to update equipment needs and planned maintenance schedules to address the cause of these micro-stoppages.   When the maintenance countermeasures are in place, the third round of PDCA will be completed.  Additional production improvements are expected, but the goal is still not expected to be fully accomplished!

As additional rounds of PDCA are expected, additional causes of variation have been identified to continue to drive the process of taking action and checking results.  The team estimates that it will take six rounds of PDCA to accomplish the goal, but two things are clear:

  1. Each round of PDCA helps us more clearly identify the next problem that must be addressed.
  2. Job Relations and Standardization work together to engage the team to solve the problems that they are facing.

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