November 15, 2016 / bottlenecks, continuous improvement, industry news, KPIs, lean manufacturing, material costs, productivity, root cause analysis, strategic planning
The metals industry is constantly facing challenges—high inventory levels, fluctuating raw material costs, and declining shipments to name a few. To help offset the challenges and meet customer demands, industrial metal-cutting companies have long turned to continuous improvement practices to reduce downtime and boost productivity.
In fact, continuous improvement is an essential practice for today’s metal-cutting organizations. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, the difference between a metal-cutting company that survives versus one that thrives is continuous improvement.
One continuous improvement tool executives are incorporating into their operations is “obeya.” As defined here in a blog from visual solutions provider Graphics Products, obeya (also spelled oobeya) is a Japanese term for “big room” or “great room.” In lean manufacturing, it is a dedicated room that is reserved for employees to meet and make decisions about any production challenges.
According to the blog, the idea behind obeya is for employees to collaborate easier and solve problems faster by having a central location to meet, share, and discuss key information. Benefits of using obeya include:
- Efficiency – Leadership can save time by brining visuals, data, and other vital resources together in one place.
- Focus – Project leaders can focus on the right issues faster by having the right team members in the same room at the same time.
- Collaboration – Employees can easily work together in real-time across disciplines, saving time and improving communication.
Like other lean practices, obeya is part of the Toyota Production System (TPS), which also includes 5S, Kaizen, and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). According an article from IndustryWeek, obeya is also referred to as the “brain” of TPS and is often called the “Adrenaline Room” at Toyota.
“We call it the Adrenaline Room because we are trying to encourage our manager to address the day, every day, urgently, to improve the output to our customers, internal and external,” Scott Redelman, senior manager, production control and logistics at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, told IndustryWeek. “So if we think about each process or each person—even within our four walls—as the customer, how do we aggressively have the adrenaline and the energy, the sense of urgency to quickly react and grow together to make that improvement for the customer? We have to have the adrenaline to do it.”
Industrial metal-cutting companies have also benefitted from obeya. As described in IndustryWeek, ball-bearing manufacturer Timken created an obeya at its Shiloh, N.C. plant four years ago to help meet sudden growth at the time. The company also added an obeya at its Honea Path, S.C. plant earlier this year. According to operations manager Robert Porter, the investment is paying off with productivity improvement year over year, even in down years.
Obeya, however, isn’t just placing your managers in a room and hanging charts on the wall. To ensure obeya is an effective tool, the Lean Enterprise Institute suggests managers focus on a few key issues:
- Customer complaints. Reviewing customer complaints keeps the organization focused on the customer, as well as the end product. The obeya is the space where employees can find ways to improve the process, product, and value the company offers.
- KPIs and objectives. Track key performance indicators (KPIs) and clearly display the overall objective. Have manages report on performance improvement progress and discuss ways to achieve the goal faster.
- Future changes. Post planned changes in the obeya so that everyone can start thinking about possible challenges or problems the change may create.
While there are many continuous improvement tools available, obeya has proven itself valuable. In fact, Toyota considers it one of its lean pillars. Industrial metal-cutting companies that are looking to stay ahead of the competition in today’s challenging market can experience the benefits of obeya too.
What lean manufacturing tools are you using to improve your metal-cutting operation? Is obeya one of them?