Going Lean alone

July 12, 2007
There is a common misconception today that the only way to adopt Lean Manufacturing techniques is to hire a consultant who leads the way.

Robert L. Clippard
Executive Vice President
Clippard Instrument Lab Inc.
Cincinnati, Ohio

My company didn't approach Lean this way. We decided to do it ourselves and began by educating all of our 250 employees on the basics. We started by attending local seminars, reading numerous books on the subject, and visiting several other manufacturers in various stages of adopting Lean practices, most notably the Georgetown, Ky., Toyota Motors plant.

An enthusiastic and informed group of believers emerged, urging our company to adopt Lean. Our team of Lean Champions developed a Lean Simulation seminar based on a similar program they had attended. The goal: Demonstrate the advantages of onepiece flow in the construction of our typical products.

Three or four instructors led each of twenty 4-hour classes of 10 to 15 people, an investment of over 1,100 man-hours in less than a month. The first class was a mix of production and office workers who did not seem impressed with that honor. At the end of the session, however, we heard only positive comments. Word spread quickly, and by the end of the third class, we began seeing requests from employees who wanted to get into an earlier session.

Each person was assigned a role: Production Control; Stockroom (2); Trucker; Assembly (2); Tester; Finished Goods Shipper; Customer; Supervisor; and Manager. The simulation had them building three

different valves with red, green, or black pushbuttons, each with a different set of fittings and bracket orientation. Participants maintained meticulous records of all production activities.

Our marketing department said customers would buy one valve every 15 seconds with an average product mix of 60% red, 20% green, and 20% black, represented by a deck of like-colored cards in those proportions. Because actual buying habits never match averages, customers shuffled the deck before each round.

In the first of three 10-minute rounds, teams produced batch sizes of eight pieces, which we would learn was less than optimal. When a random defect showed up in the process, all work stopped so we could check in-process parts before continuing. Work in process stacked up while people sat idle.

All the while, instructors asked pointed questions such as, "What are you going to do about that?" The majority of people quickly caught on and began firing off helpful suggestions: "Move the stockroom and assembly functions together;" "Eliminate one table;" "Make smaller batches;" and so on.

When asked if the simulation mirrored what happened on the plant floor, answers began to apply to the real world. When an improvement was obvious, we asked, "Why are we doing it the old way?" Inevitably, the answer was "We've always done it that way."

Our response: We all need to constantly think of better ways to do our jobs and act on them. Clippard Instrument Lab Inc. (www.clippard.com) is a maker of miniature pneumatic products.

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