Sunday, March 30, 2008

Guidelines For Lean Tool & Die Makers

Here are some very important factors and concepts we need to believe in:

Lean Works

Believe it. Give it a chance by soaking up as much of what you read here as you possibly can. If you don’t believe, or can’t understand, what’s being laid out for you here, let me know. I’m doing this blog to help the North American tool and die industry become competitive with even low wage countries.

Toyota’s results over the past fifty years or so are stunning. When I was a teenager, in the 1950s, Japanese products were of such poor quality that you had to buy two of everything because it broke or stopped working so easily. That all changed when they began a focused effort to improve. Deming, who couldn’t find a following in the U.S., decided to take his quality improvement ideas to Japan. His was the right solution, at the right time, to the exact problems Toyota was experiencing.

Look at where Toyota is today. In 2007 they earned $18 billion profit. The Detroit Three, in each of the companies’ best years never totaled that—together! I’ve read that Toyota currently has around $80 billion in cash. Enough to buy any one of the former Big Three, or possibly two of them. They must be doing something right.

In the early 1980s General Motors closed the Fremont, California assembly plant. It had the worst management-labor relationship of any plant. At that time, Toyota was considering manufacturing cars and trucks in the U.S. unsure whether their approach could be viable here, they decided to offer undertaking a joint venture with GM, using the Fremont plant as a test case for its unique production system. NUMMI, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., was formed and operated similar to a long-standing manufacturing model which the U.S. government has used—the GOCO, Government-Owned, Contractor-Operated plant. GM would pay the lion’s share of costs ($450 million) while Toyota contributed $100 million they had raised in California. The profits would be split between the two companies. Toyota’s incentive was to test the American manufacturing climate before committing much more cash opening a green field operation. GM’s benefit, besides the profit sharing, would be having a new manufacturing model to send its managers to, so they could learn, first hand, new ways to build cars. I believe the GOCO and NUMMI business concepts are sound, win/win approaches to mutual improvement in operations.

Lean Thinking Is A Way Of Life.

Keep your eyes and mind open to new, different things—everywhere. We watch lots of television and gather ideas. History Channels, Discovery, Learning, Science and Biography and all excellent channels to watch. Programs such as Invention, How Do They?, Modern Marvels are just a few sources for idea inspiration.

Lean works in manufacturing, we know, but it’s gaining much needed momentum in health care too. It’s been applied to kitchens—in homes and commercially, in office systems for financial, accounting, clerical and to reduce the typical blizzard of paperwork.

Embark on an endless search for the one best way to do everything. There is one best way that one individual knows or has figured out—you or someone in your company. There is one best way that a group of people know of—say, in a department. There is also one best way you can find in literature, articles, and online, in the form of websites, forums, blogs, podcasts, webinars and so on. There is one best way that a concerted effort can discover or invent. We need to use our wits to the maximum.

Simple examples include Frederick Winslow Taylor’s pig iron experiment and the science of shoveling, both of which arose out of his development and authoring of The Principles Of Scientific Management, a book he wrote in 1910. Taylor originated the study of time study, a foundation of industrial engineering. One of Taylor’s contemporaries, Frank Gilbreth’s obsession with and his development of motion study, another fundamental in IE practice went so far as to time study his method of sweater buttoning, brick laying, and even shaving, His results? Button a sweater from the bottom up to save 4 seconds; the bricklaying process was reduced from 19 separate motions to just five and masons lay three times as many bricks per hour. He actually tried shaving with two straight razors at the same time. It saved a few minutes but repairing all the resulting nicks and cuts cost him the gain and then some. The idea is to try new things. Celebrate failures too—if you don’t fail sometimes, you’re not trying enough new things.

Warning: don’t get too caught up in the one best way idea, though. My refrigerator rearranging and attempts at standardization of its shelves and drawers nearly drew gunfire from my wife.

Accept, And Even Embrace Change

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. That captures the essence of continuous improvement. If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. Simple? Yes … and profound. The definition of improvement is change for the better. Change is the key.

The Lean Journey Is A Never Ending Activity

Continuous improvement means just that. Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning continuous incremental improvement. Note the italics. The best source for ideas is your people. The folks who do the operations and tasks know them the best. However, contrary to popular thinking, they are not the best at improving them. Trained engineers and consultants have learned how to do this, so get the workers and experts together to innovate new methods.

The Lean Journey Takes Time

It won’t happen overnight. The total process for tool and die shop activities becoming a DFS will generally take three to five years. There is, however, a technique that takes the sting out of that—Kaikaku, another Japanese word meaning a leap in improvement. Often called picking low-hanging fruit, these large gains are often able to quickly and significantly lower costs and lead times enough to generate savings that will pay for the costs of the initiatives of Lean and the DFS. The costs are substantial. Besides a top notch Lean die expert consultant, there is the time employees spend learning and implementing the programs, plus the expense for training materials, courses, videos and so on. But make no mistake, the cost of not embarking on the Lean Journey can be the company’s survival and the jobs of all the employees.

That’s all for now. Come visit here again soon.