Treat problems as treasure

Aug. 23, 2007
When was the last time you heard, or said, "Thank you," when a problem was brought up?

Ulrich Reinders
Director, Bosch Production System
Bosch Rexroth Corp.
Hoffman Estates, Ill.

When was the last time you heard, or said, "Thank you," when a problem was brought up? It's human nature to avoid dealing with things that demand tough choices or seem to add to our workload. However, our company is learning to treasure problems as part of what we call the Bosch Production System (BPS). This Lean initiative focuses on eight key principles: process orientation, pull system, perfect quality, flexibility, standardization, transparent process, waste elimination, and associate involvement.

Without problems, there are no opportunities to advance. In fact, we say that if you think it is good to have no problems then you have a much bigger one — you are not improving. BPS helps create a culture that sees problems as fuel for continuous improvement. But for sustainable problem solving to work, problems must be explored and understood so that a true root cause is identified and eliminated, and not just "fixed" superficially.

This culture of continuous improvement needs workers who are both involved and empowered. Everybody who touches a value stream must be trained to become problem solvers. In our view, all major leaps forward come from empowered employees. Though it appears that the focus of this approach is largely internal, it's really on the customer. Despite the fact that we call BPS a "production" system, these Lean principles should be applied to any process and area of the enterprise, including administration. Otherwise, we may make isolated improvements but not major leaps.

Our company began implementing BPS in the U.S. in 2005, and we have already seen substantial improvements. For example, in one facility we focused on creating Flow and reduced throughput in our pump production from over two days to less than 2 hours. In another facility, we focused on the BPS flexibility principle and cut setup time of NC machines from 7.5 hours to 26 minutes. While these are isolated improvements, or socalled Point-Kaizen, these kinds of pilot programs encourage teams to move forward to the next level of System-Kaizen, or improvement of the entire value stream.

The real challenge, and what we found to be the key to success, is a willingness to change the company culture to a "Continuous Improvement Culture." It is in such an environment that problems become treasure.

Bosch Rexroth (www.boschrexroth-us.com) is a maker of industrial automation equipment.

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