Lean manufacturing and training

Training is one of the major factors that can make lean systems work or break. Some say lean starts and ends with training. If you really have a closer look at your workplace you will find many people who are performing a particular job without understanding what they do or why they do it. On the other hand many people are performing routine work in the way they used to do, without really knowing the correct way of performing that task. This is not the way lean manufacturers should working.

Anyone who is performing a particular job should know why they perform that job. What are the expected outcomes of that job. And they should know the correct way of performing that job in order to meet the standards in the most effective manner. This requires good amount of training. This training might have to be conducted by an expert on that particular subject. This might be on site training or a training done out from the working premises. Actually it is impossible to set particular guidelines for trainings. It is dependent on the situation. But how often you should conduct trainings. Who should generally should conduct trainings? Is lack of training the only course for the problems you face? Lean thinkers must go in to the root causes of these problems and find out the exact solutions.

Trainings are very effective when it is done in the workplace itself. It is best to have workers who are empowered to train people in day to day operations. But most importantly management must understand the requirement for the training. If it is really a requirement then they should look to train people. If it is something else which is creating that problem, then management have to look in to it and correct that cause.

Training people on the same thing over and over again is not a good practice. People will loose the interest on the trainings. People will start saying that they have not trained to get away from responsibility. Training people is good, but if and only if that is the requirement.

Computers and IT in lean manufacturing

Today all the industries all over the world is using computers and various software to organize their information and perform their tasks efficiently. Smaller organizations might use basic tools like MS Excel and Access based systems for this purpose. But when it comes to larger organizations they can not operate with these simple tools. Most of the big players use some sort of an ERP (Enterprise resource planners) for this purpose. Among them SAP, Oracle are prominent. Even Toyota and other leading lean manufacturers are using one or more of these software.

These software are based on the requirements of the organizations and on the operating model of the organization. This is especially true for the ERP systems where they can bring business best practices to your organization. These software are very expensive to purchase or to develop. But is it a worthy effort and investment? Specially to buy a world class ERP. Can it solve your problems? I believe we have to do many things before implementing these software and expecting efficiencies from them.

First of all any organization should have a clear operating model. Of cause all has an operating model. But you should go in to the finer details of the day to day operations and find out whether it operates in the way you intended. Many organizations on the surface operate on model they want to operate. But when you go in to finer details you will find your organization is not actually operating on the model you want. Many non value added and non standard activities are carried out in day to day operations. It is very important to correct your operating model before even thinking about computers and software to operate your system efficiently.

Lean manufacturing is a process driven system. No software or an ERP make you a lean manufacturer. You must get your processes sorted to become a good manufacturer. Without a good conceptual and practical operating model computers and software will mean nothing to you other than a heavy cost, added work and frustrated set of people.

Lean for high skilled manufacturing industries

When we think about lean manufacturing we think about car manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, chemical industries and so on. But in today’s context lean is tried everywhere and almost in every manufacturing industry. Among this are apparel manufacturers, footwear manufacturers are prominent. These industries have a considerable difference to the industries we listed before. They rely mostly on human skills in their manufacturing process. Even though they have many machinery involvements in production, these machinery are not fully automated and requires considerable human skill to operate to get the desired results.

Skill of a person is very hard to measure. It is not constant with the time and more importantly difficult to predict. Even the best skilled worker can perform badly on a given day. This provides an important additional challenge to the lean efforts.

Balancing the workloads in the manufacturing facility based on TAKT time of the facility is not simple. Additional attention must be given to the people working in the facility. With the differences of their performance, changes must be done so that the WIP accumulation will not take place. This will ensure smooth operation of the manufacturing facility. This requires application of visual controls and teamwork. Visual controls will help in identifying bottlenecks. Teamwork is required to smoothen the flow of manufacturing process without getting external help. Having multi skilled people in every team is very important in these kinds of manufacturing industries. In addition having extra machinery within work cells is not a waste in this context.

Below is an example for this kind of workload balancing.

A manufacturing unit has 5 people working in it. All are multi skilled. That is everyone is trained to do other persons job. History of this team suggests that everyone can finish their jobs in 1 minute per piece. So this team is expected to give a single piece as the output in every minute.

But let’s say person who is working in the second work station is creating only 4 pieces in 5 minutes. If this continues there will be a WIP accumulation of 1 piece every 5 minutes near the second workstation. This will reduce the output of this work cell to 4 units for five minutes.

In this scenario people in other work stations probably with some extra skill can help the second work station to pick the phase up to meet the requirement. Then the production can run smoothly. Having extra machine in the work cell is very handy here.

Application of lean manufacturing is different to different industries. Although the concepts are not going to change, execution does.

Why I don’t like the concept of AQL – A lean manufacturing view

I believe many of you in the manufacturing industry are aware of the concept of AQL or the Accepted Quality Level. This is a statistical method of quality checking. Here how this operates. A random sample is taken from a lot. This sample size is dependent on the lot size and the quality level we expect and determined with a mathematical formula. Then the sample is tested. If the check is positive, that is the number of quality defects found is less than the threshold set by the AQL procedure, then the check is passed. If not it is failed and then the necessary action is taken to rectify the quality defects.

For me as a lean thinker this is little confusing. Fist of all think as a customer. If you are going to buy clothes or some electronic items, you are not going to buy hundreds of pieces. You will buy only one. If you found that piece is damaged then what will be the reaction of yours as a customer. You are not interested on the 99 pieces which might be good. But the product you bought must be up to the quality standards you want. Therefore for you the quality you get is either 100% or 0%.

From the manufacturer’s point of view how this will affect them. How many loyal customers have turned to other brands because they have got one bad product? They say it will take years to make a loyal customer, but minutes to loose them. On the other hand this is an end of the pipe system of quality improvement. That is the quality is not inbuilt to the system. It is imparted by picking the good quality products from an average rest. This can eat up your resources and obviously incur huge costs in to your manufacturing process.

We will calculate the net effect of this concept on your organization in a later post. Remember good quality products are easy to be manufactured and cost less than the bad quality once.