Saturday, May 10, 2008

Let's Take the First Step

If you've made up your mind to give Lean for tool and die making a try, I applaud and congratulate you! But let me remind you of a critical fact--Lean for tool and die making is quite different from the high volume, low mix type of manufacturing that Toyota developed their production system for. The transition in thinking from making thousands or millions of the same few products to making only one die is complicated, but it can be done; we just have to think about applying the same techniques to our one-off products.

The Current State

In order to improve your operations you need to know where you are now. This is called the current state. Think of your shop as being at square one on a board game, competing with other shops at the same place. Some of them will roll the dice, so to speak, and jump into improvement initiatives they've heard or read about. The reasoning of the president or CEO often goes something like this: "Let's get a jump on the rest of the shops. We've read that it takes three to five years to get Lean, but we don't have that much time. We'll just do it in six months by skipping all the small, fancy, unimportant stuff. You're supposed to pick a person to be the Lean champion, whatever that is. Who's available? How about one of the designers (machine hands, diemakers, etc.); they're not so busy right now. Joe took a class in Lean last year, so somebody get him in here and we'll appoint him as the top Lean guy."

Two important mistakes occurred in this typical die shop. First, if you want to get ahead of your competition, you don't have to race into a Lean Journey because most die shops don't believe that Lean works for tool and die shops, so just by deciding and committing to Lean, you're already ahead of the pack. It's going to take at least six to twelve months to achieve significant results. Those reduced cost and lead time results, however, should be able to offset the costs of your consultant, the employees' time learning and implementing new and improvedprocesses, and the books, videos and other training materials you'll need.

Second, don't just select a Lean champion on the basis of who is available now. You should ask (not appoint) two persons who have the right stuff and willingness, then make them co-champions so that when one is busy the other can step in. A good choice would be a former diemaker who has become a die designer for one, and a diemaker or machinist who knows all of the shop floor activities as the other.

Conduct a Plant Assessment

This is really difficult to do because people will think you're saying that much of what they are doing is wrong. Don't let that happen. Approach it by saying that nothing they're now doing is wrong. There are just some better ways of doing things. Things to assess are many, but the most important is people's attitudes. This element is is called the people side of Lean. Everyone must get on board with the Lean Journey. Explain that you'll be counting on everyone to contribute ideas, questions and active participation. Their voices will be heard. So many shops have the ivory tower mentality. Middle managers such as group leaders, department managers, and even the top brass tell their folks, "I make the decisions and when I want input from you I'll ask for it."

Managers often have their little empires which they protect with their entire being. They often feel as though they're being shown-up by the consultant and Lean Champions. They may drag their feet or sometimes even sabotage the Lean effort. Watch out for this and correct it immediately. If you don't, valuable time and considerable money will be lost. People doing the actual work will follow their lead because employee reviews and the resultant impact on raises depend on the managers. Once you have everyone on the bandwagon you certainly don't want them falling or jumping off.

Data Collection

Back to the assessment: To capture the current state of your diemaking system, begin with a Value Stream Map, VSM. There are many excellent resources for this activity. Learning To See, by Mike Rother and John Shook, is a very good workbook. Rother and Shook are among the leading Lean practitioners in the world today. Their book leads you to your first and future value stream maps. In order to create the VSM you will capture data from everywhere--on the shop floor, in the office, the engineering department, and even sales. Video recording is the best way to do this. Before starting, let everyone know that videos are the best way to see what's happening in all the company's processes. If you take a golf lesson, many pros start with a video of your swing. That way, they can show you what isn't working right. Slow motion and stop action complement the lessons.

Another crucial aspect of this data capture is accuracy. Some people being videoed will work faster than normal in order to "look good," while others may slow down, thinking that they'll be pushed to work harder later. Tell all that they should work at a pace they can maintain for the entire shift. Make sure what the videos show is the normal, or actual, current state.

Your first VSM should be a very general one--say, the main five to ten processes. This map should start with the customer's request for quote, estimating, bidding, order entry, design, purchasing, build, tryout and buyoff, and finally shipping to the customer and receiving payment. Think in terms of "quote to cash." The second VSM will be composed of sub-processes within the first map. It will include the paperwork and electronic documents and communications that make up the overall process. At this point, pat yourself on the back--you've completed the first big step on the Lean Journey

Next time we'll discuss what to do with the current state map.