May 20, 2015 / bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, lean manufacturing, LIT, root cause analysis, workflow process
Successfully operating and managing a machine shop is no easy task. Despite a slowly growing economy, the challenges facing today’s machine shops are no less than they were before. In fact, this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology describes the top five operating challenges a machine shop faces in its metal-cutting operations—challenges that are universal to every operation, regardless of market conditions.
According to the white paper, the top challenge for most shops is process and workflow bottlenecks. In most cases, lean practices are a huge part of the solution. Successful managers know that in order to achieve overall success, you need to actively identify and solve production issues.
This doesn’t come easy or naturally for every shop manager, however. As Wayne Chaneski says in this Modern Machine Shop article, “It’s surprising to me the number of business owners, division heads, operations managers, and even department supervisors who just don’t know what is going on in their areas of responsibility. To such people, I have a simple suggestion: Find out!”
Put simply: Identifying the problem is the first step. The next step is finding the cause and fixing it—permanently.
One lean manufacturing tool that many shops find helpful is root cause analysis. According to LeanProduction.com, root cause analysis is a problem-solving exercise that focuses on solving the underlying cause, not just the symptoms. There are several techniques that can be used when conducting a root cause analysis, including the following:
- The Five Whys. This strategy suggests that you ask the question “why” five times with the notion that each time you ask the question, you move a step closer to discovering the root of the problem. By repeatedly asking “why,” you discover the cause and effect of the issue.
- Fishbone Diagram. This graphically depicts the results of the Five Whys. Known as a fishbone because of its shape, the diagram shows an arrow with the cause on the left and effect on the right, with various factors stemming from the cause that affect the overall problem.
- Barrier analysis. This exercise controls various factors to identify the barriers related to a particular outcome. The idea is that the barriers either prevent or detect the problem and the barrier that fails is considered the root cause.
For more information on root cause analysis, check out this article from the American Society for Quality (ASQ), which includes an educational video from ASQ Fellow Jim Rooney.
It goes without saying that there are many tools that can be used to attack the common workflow challenges a metal-cutting operation encounters on a daily basis. However, a root cause analysis is one tool that can help shops uncover “hidden” problems before they turn into a full-blown issue that effects your production, your product, your deliveries, and, most importantly, your bottom line.
May 10, 2015 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, root cause analysis, strategic planning, workflow process
Lean manufacturing is nothing new for industrial metal cutting companies. Principles based on continuous improvement, streamlining production, and machine efficiency have long changed the way metal fabricators operate. What has changed, however, is customer demand.
Today, fabricators simply must do more with less to stay afloat—cutting more in less time. For high-mix fabricators and sawing operations, the increased challenge is nothing less than daunting. With a few improvement techniques, however, increased productivity is tangible even for the most customized job and machine shops.
If you are a high-mix fabricator, below are a few strategies to help you operate as efficiently as your higher volume counterparts:
- Get on a schedule. An unscheduled fabrication shop is at the mercy of its orders, which puts customers, employees, and the bottom line at risk. According to a recent column in The Fabricator, a principle called Practical Lean can help high-mix shops schedule without the headache. Developed specifically for high-mix, low-volume fabricator shops, Practical Lean helps ensure parts and orders are received and released at a set time (as is the goal of scheduling), but it also looks at the root causes of why scheduling goes awry. See the full article here to read more about how this tool can help prevent scheduling nightmares.
- Optimize Workflow. An entire fabricator shop is made of many moving parts with various operators and several stations. However, if taken one-by-one, each process can be broken down into a set process. Take those individual processes and improve them where you can. As this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology describes, this includes analyzing equipment placement, material flow, and ergonomics. The less times an operator has to touch or move material the shop saves time and money—resulting in increased production.
- Be open and flexible. Despite changing schedules and customer requirements, it’s important to remain open with key stakeholders and flexible with the new processes you’ve put in place. This article from Industry Week says transparency with management, supervisors, and operators increases overall communication and allows the entire operation to adjust if and when needed. This leads to another guiding principle—maintaining flexibility, both figuratively and literally. Operators should be able to adapt to changing orders with their workstations, equipment, and overall shop floor layout, just as the shop should be able to accommodate more or less staffing needs and adjust processes as necessary to ensure orders remain on schedule.
While it is a challenge for high-mix shops to achieve the efficiency of high volume metal-cutting operations, it is possible. Taking time to assess, and more importantly, implement changes to processes can help eliminate downtime, increase productivity, and maybe even boost volume.
As consumer demand increases, how will your high-mix fabrication shop deal with the pressure? Perhaps it’s time to look at your current production processes and see where you can make some changes. Even small improvements can have a big impact.
April 30, 2015 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, industry news, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, Output, performance metrics, productivity, resource allocation, root cause analysis, strategic planning, workflow process
As reported in the 2015 Industrial Metal Cutting Outlook from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), many manufacturing executives expect 2015 to be a solid year. A survey of executives conducted by Prime Advantage, for example, shows that the vast majority of small and midsized industrial manufacturers anticipate revenues to increase or match 2014. For metals companies, industries such as automotive, commercial construction, and energy are expected to drive growth.
It comes as no surprise, then, that analysts expect growth in the ball and roller bearing segment as well. With the economy poised for recovery, research firm IBISWorld says that demand for downstream markets like automotive will rebound, which will bolster demand for ball bearings. A separate study from Grand View Research echoes these sentiments, forecasting that the global bearings market will reach $117.27 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5% from 2014 to 2020.
Industry leaders, however, seem to have some concerns. In late January, The Timken Company, a bearing manufacturer based in North Canton, OH, said it was viewing its markets “slightly more cautiously than 2014.” Specifically, the company said that “new business wins combined with modest market growth are expected to result in approximately 4% organic growth, but that will largely be offset by the impact of currency.”
Earlier this month, SKF, a global bearing maker based in Sweden, forecast flat second quarter demand for its business. SKF CEO Alrik Danielson said that while there are some positive signs for growth in Europe, they were “not robust enough to merit a more positive outlook,” Reuters reports. He also said there was still a lot of uncertainty about what the market would do in the next quarter.
Using Connectivity to Stay Competitive
The fact is that the last several years have made it difficult for any company to be anything but cautious. However, regardless of where the market lands, the goal for manufacturers should still be continuous improvement. To be competitive, especially on a global scale, companies need to stay focused on efficiency so that they can be agile enough to respond to whatever 2015 brings.
Of course, there are several ways to attack continuous improvement. Traditional lean tools are always effective; however, more and more manufacturers are literally working smarter by using technology. According to the Prime Advantage survey, many industrial manufacturers are leveraging digital tools, additive manufacturing, and other technological advancements to operate more efficiently.
A separate report from manufacturing.net agrees, adding that manufacturers that want to stay competitive in an ever-changing global market cannot underestimate the value of connectivity. According to the article, leading manufacturers started in 2014 to put buzz words like the industrial Internet of things (IIoT), machine to machine (M2M), and “big data” into practice. To be successful in 2015, the manufacturing.net author suggests that the trend needs to continue.
How? The article states that manufacturers need to start by creating a fully connected framework for top asset performance and strategic data analysis. This framework should include three important processes:
- Measure. “The first step, measurement, is critical to asset strategies because every asset in industrial organizations is essential for successful operations,” the article states. “Regular audits and automated measuring allow manufacturers to detect problems early before they become more severe and costly.”
- Monitor. “While measurement is the first step for asset performance management, machines must be continuously monitored for valuable insights,” the article states. “Software tools today identify root cause failure through data analysis and initiate proactive maintenance to protect assets and reduce downtime.”
- Manage. “Asset performance management provides structured processes and analytics to identify critical assets and failure modes, calculate equipment reliability, and determine downtime impacts,” the article states. “Executives and operators need the end-to-end picture of operations to drive impactful change.”
(For a more in-depth explanation of these steps, you can view the full manufacturing.net article here.)
A Year of Improvement?
In the end, the forecast for 2015 is no more certain than any annual forecast. Even the most educated analyst knows that there is no crystal ball to accurately gauge how the market will fare. There are just too many factors at play. However, by regularly measuring, monitoring, and managing your operation’s performance, ball and roller bearing manufacturers can more accurately gauge how their operations will fare.
Will 2015 be the year your operation improved? That is perhaps the only factor today’s manufacturing executives can control.
March 20, 2015 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, human capital, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, operator training, Output, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, skills gap, strategic planning, workflow process
In an age of information overload, most managers know how their shops should run. They’ve read case studies about successful lean initiatives, benchmarking studies confirming the benefits of preventative maintenance, and forward-thinking editorials endorsing the “smart” factory. Yet, in the midst of in the day-to-day grind, it is often difficult to find the time and resources to make any real improvements, let alone put a plan in place to make them happen. As a recent article from Canadian Metalworking quips, many shops are too busy working on their business to work on their business.
However, taking the time to make strategic decisions for your shop is critical to its success. Maintaining status quo is no longer enough in today’s market. Modern machine shops need to have both short- and long-term plans, and they need to make the time to see them through.
But where do you start? At this year’s The MFG Meeting, Laurie Harbour, president of manufacturing consulting firm Harbour Results, Inc. (HRI), shared five best practices for leaders who want to start making real changes in their operations:
- Strategic Planning. Do you have a strategic plan? It’s not a mission or a value Your company needs a strategy that outlines what its focus is and why that focus is important. Additionally you need a plan with actionable one-year objectives that are communicated at all levels of your organization. And, of course, metrics need to be in place to drive each employee’s role and responsibility in meeting the plan.
- Market Intelligence. To be successful you must be informed. Companies can no longer afford to guess or rely on “luck.” It is critical that you gather and review both internal and external data. Triangulation of customer information, industry knowledge/historical performance/experience and external market intelligence are critical to a successful demand plan.
- Demand Planning. Although difficult, demand planning can lead to driving significant efficiency gains within your business. Utilize market intelligence; talk with your customer and implement demand planning in your facility. Those that are doing so improve throughput by 20 to 30 percent, making profitability soar.
- Manufacturing Efficiency. Rather than just improving the efficiency of one or more machines, you need to look at the entire system for optimization. Rather than scheduling each and every piece of equipment that supports making the product separately, it is critical to schedule the system and how all the pieces interact. Analyzing the entire manufacturing operation as a whole helps identify opportunities for efficiency gain and process improvements.
- Labor. The manufacturing industry is facing a skilled-labor shortage and it is only predicted to get worse. To be competitive and maintain a productive workforce, you need to have a plan and be prepared to attract, train and retain a younger generation.
To help leaders take a deeper look at their operation, HRI also offers a Strategic Planning Worksheet, which lists some questions leaders can use to identify opportunities for improvement in each of these five areas. You can download the worksheet here.
Are you addressing these five major areas in your machine shop? In what areas could you use some improvement? Taking the time to ask critical questions like these—and those listed in the HRI worksheet—is the first step in optimization and, even more so, putting you on the right path to becoming one of those shops you always read about.
February 20, 2015 / blade failure, blade selection, circular sawing, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, customer delivery, LIT, Output, productivity, quality, resource allocation, ROI, workflow process
When it comes to circular sawing, productivity is always the goal, especially as demand increases. However, industry leaders understand that productivity isn’t about going as fast as possible. In fact, speed can be detrimental to cutting tool life—a fact that not only negatively affects your bottom line, but can also decrease your overall productivity.
The real goal for today’s machine shops should be optimization. This requires operations managers to adopt strategies that allow their shops to achieve the highest possible cutting performance without sacrificing tool life.
As this article from Canadian Metalworking points out, the overall performance of your cutting tool depends on a variety of factors, including speed, feed, depth of cut, and the material being cut. The ability to balance all of these variables is critical for companies that want to be productive and stay competitive in today’s challenging environment.
To help machine shops optimize their precision circular sawing operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) created a series of charts that describes some common cutting challenges operators face. For example, here are some tips and tricks operators can use to prolong blade life and keep cutting operations running at peak efficiency levels:
Another critical aspect of optimization is making sure you have the right blade for the job. Advancements in tooth geometries, wear-resistant materials, and blade life can offer significant improvements in productivity and quality that can contribute to the bottom line. In the spirit of continuous improvement, managers should re-evaluate their circular saw blade choices every few years, even if they feel satisfied with current results. Testing new blades and technologies can be a time-consuming endeavor, but if the end result is faster cutting times and lower costs, it can certainly pay off.
The key is for machine shops to run the right tools at the right parameters—an approach that is a lot easier in theory than it is in practice. However, by combining operational tricks and strategic investments, many of today’s shops are finding their “sweet spot” and striking a balancing between cutting speed, quality, and cost. In today’s competitive and growing marketplace, industry leaders understand that optimization can mean the difference between “getting by” and getting ahead.
For more information on optimizing your precision circular sawing operation, including best practices, white papers, and case studies, check out LIT’s resource center here.
January 30, 2015 / agility, ball and roller bearings, best practices, blade failure, bottlenecks, circular sawing, Cost Management, customer service, LIT, productivity, quality, ROI, strategic planning, workflow process
The key to customer satisfaction has always been finding a balance between fast turnaround and high quality. Growing demand has made this even more of a challenge for many of today’s ball and roller bearing manufacturers. With the economy poised for recovery thanks to stronger demand from the transportation and industrial manufacturing industries, industry analysts are anticipating increased demand for ball bearings. According to a report from Freedonia Group, global demand for bearings is projected to rise 7.3 percent annually through 2018, with ball and roller bearings registering the fastest gains.
This increase in demand is certainly good news for manufacturers, but it also means that companies need to make sure they remain focused on quality. Speed and agility will always be key attributes of any leading high-production operation, but they cannot come at the expense of accuracy.
To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers ensure quality in their metal-cutting operations, below are a few highlights from the paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal Cutting, written by the LENOX Institute of Technology:
- Think of the long-term cost impact of short-term production gains. Ball and roller bearing production requires high-speed, precision cutting, and pushing machinery too hard can directly impact the quality of a cut and long-term costs. In circular sawing, for example, if an operator increases the speed of the saw to get more cuts per minute without considering the feed setting or the demands of the material, the end result will be premature blade failure. These actions are costly in terms of process flow and equipment. When blades cost several hundred dollars, going through twice as many blades just to get 50 more cuts just isn’t cost effective. In addition, shorter blade life creates more unplanned downtime for blade changes.
- Many industry leaders are also finding that becoming ISO 9001 certified can help them maintain quality standards. The ISO standard is based on a number of quality management principles, including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and continuous improvement. The basic goal of the standard is to help companies provide customers with consistent, good quality products and services, which, in turn, often brings business benefits like improved financial performance. It most cases, it is used to strengthen an existing quality program by making it a formal, documented procedure.
- Close supplier relationships can also help ball and roller bearing manufacturers improve quality. Many supply chain partners are willing to lend their expertise to help optimize processes and ensure that manufacturers are getting the best possible results out of their equipment and industrial metal-cutting tools. By utilizing value-added services from trusted suppliers and making them more of a partner, managers have another means of improving both quality and productivity. In fact, this is one of the eight key principles on which the quality management system standards of the ISO 9000 series are based.
January 20, 2015 / benchmarking, best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, LIT, Output, preventative maintenance, productivity, strategic planning, workflow process
The idea of eliminating waste to increase profitability is nothing new. It is the cornerstone of the lean manufacturing movement, and even if you don’t consider your shop a “lean” operation, odds are you have spent the last decade or so trying to find ways to reduce downtime and other wastes from your operation.
However, just because you have made attempts to reduce waste doesn’t mean you are doing it effectively. In fact, despite a trend toward internal process improvements, machine downtime remains the top source of frustration for industrial metal-cutting operations on the shop floor, according to a recent benchmark study.
The reality is that many machine shops aren’t successfully tackling waste because either they don’t know where to start or they are looking in the wrong places. A recent editorial appearing in IndustryWeek confirms this theory, stating that the hardest part of gaining efficiency is correctly identifying the waste. As the article states, waste often “hides in plain site.” Using examples from light brick laying and fast food to light bulbs, the IndustryWeek author argues that the greatest stumbling block for eliminating waste is “not the absence of an off the shelf technical solution, but rather failure to recognize the waste in the first place.”
To successfully reduce waste, you need to identify and quantify the different types of waste that exist within your operation. According to leanproduction.com, there are six types of loss every manufacturing operation faces, and each fall under three main categories—downtime loss, speed loss, and quality loss.
The following is a brief description of each of the Six Big Losses:
- Breakdowns. These are considered a downtime loss and could include tooling failure, unplanned maintenance, and motor failure.
- Setup and Adjustments. This is also a downtime loss and could include changeover, material shortage, operator shortage, and warm-up time.
- Small Stops. This is considered a speed loss, and it only includes stops that are less than 5 minutes and don’t require maintenance. This might include a blocked sensor or minor cleaning.
- Slow Running. This is another speed loss, and it covers anything that prohibits equipment from running at its optimal speed. Incorrect setting of parameters and equipment wear are prime examples.
- Startup Defects. This quality loss covers any scarp or rework that occurs during setup or very early in the production phase.
- Production Defects. This is the second form of quality loss. This refers to any scrap or rework that happens during the steady-state production process.
Once you have identified the Six Big Losses and the events that contribute to them, you can then begin to record and monitor what you find within your operation. This article from oee.com gives several tips for addressing each loss category and includes helpful links to help you accurately measure your losses.
As a machine shop that cuts and processes metal, the reality is that some waste and loss are inevitable. However, the only way to keep those losses from hurting your business is to identify, monitor, and attack them, one by one.
December 15, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, lean manufacturing, LIT, performance metrics, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, resource allocation, strategic planning, workflow process
While process and workflow bottlenecks are a common challenge for any manufacturing operation, it can be especially challenging for high production metal-cutting companies. The fast pace and constant volume can tempt operators and managers to focus on speed before quality, which often leads to failures in equipment and blades, costly mistakes, and a decrease in overall productivity.
This is why process control is critical. When production requirements increase, it is imperative that systems are in place to keep quality consistent and, even more so, make it easy to identify and correct any mistakes or maintenance issues that create bottlenecks.
There are several strategies high production metal-cutting organizations can implement to keep processes under control and production moving. The following are a few best practices used by high production metal-cutting leaders:
- Measure. While smart planning can be a helpful strategy for smaller, low-mix manufacturers, this isn’t always a feasible option for high-production metal cutting operations. However, managers still need to have processes in place to ensure that deadlines are met. Jett Cutting Service, Inc., a metal-cutting service center featured in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, knows this first hand. Orders are constantly changing at the Bedford Park, IL-based company, which runs 10 precision circular saws and 8 band saws and averages about 700,000 cuts a month. Because of this, Mike Baron, vice president, says he can’t rely on accurate forecasting to provide a buffer when bottlenecks occur. To combat this, Baron relies on daily measurement to not only monitor production, but to keep tabs on his operators and costs. Operators are required to track how many pieces they cut on their shifts, and if their totals are lower or higher than the goal set by Baron, it is addressed immediately.“Supervisors are responsible for approving their operators’ job tickets daily so they can tell immediately if someone is struggling,” Baron says. If operators, for example, are cutting more than the expected goal, Baron knows they are pushing the machine too hard, which can lead to blade failure and increased tooling costs. On the other hand, if operators are falling behind production goals, Baron says he may need to make sure that the forecasted rates are achievable. “We do the math and just keep a running total to see that things are in check,” he explains.
- Prevent. Maintenance downtime is perhaps one of the biggest bottlenecks managers face. Equipment and tooling failures immediately slow production and can be a huge added cost. One strategy for controlling maintenance costs and equipment downtime is to implement a preventative maintenance (PM) program. In fact, a recent benchmark study confirmed that preventative maintenance is a best practice among many of today’s leading industrial metal-cutting companies. By adhering to a preventative maintenance schedule, managers can actually anticipate maintenance bottlenecks and turn “interruptive downtime” into “predictive downtime.”As stated in an article by consultant William Worsham, the key to executing a successful PM program is scheduling. According to Worsham, scheduling should be automated to the maximum extent possible. He suggests that managers implement “a very aggressive program to monitor the schedule and ensure that the work is completed according to schedule.” This means both documentation and accountability are critical.
- Organize. Managers also need to realize that some bottlenecks aren’t immediately obvious and can be hidden in issues such as a poor workflow on the shop floor. Strategic equipment placement and organized workspaces are key elements of high productivity and optimized workflow. Many companies rely heavily on the lean manufacturing tool referred to as “5S,” which not only helps get your shop floor organized but also ensures it stays that way. As described here, the five pillars of 5S are to Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain the cycle. This methodology results in continuous improvement and helps keep workflow efficient.If a complete reorganization like 5S is too overwhelming, managers can focus on organizing just one area of their operation. For example, Cd’A Metals, a metal service center featured recently in Modern Metals magazine, decided that workers were wasting too much time digging for inventory, and, therefore decided to upgrade and customize its storage and retrieval system. However, instead of making a huge capital investment, the metals company is reconfiguring a SpaceSaver rack system purchased in 1992. You can read the entire MM article here.
October 15, 2014 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, quality, ROI, strategic planning, workflow process
In a blog posted earlier this month, we discussed the differences between lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. These are important distinctions for managers to understand as they choose the improvement methodology that aligns best with their resources, staff, and long-term goals.
However, more and more manufacturers are finding that they can gain the best efficiency by incorporating both Six Sigma and lean principles. While lean manufacturing and Six Sigma are different in many ways, they are also synergistic. An article from Industry Week states that companies should consider lean tools and Six Sigma tools as “two drawers in the same toolbox.” In fact, some experts believe that companies that use a combination of lean and Six Sigma will see better, longer term results.
How managers incorporate the two methods is a strategy in itself, and industry leaders have varying opinions on what works best. This roundup article from the American Society of Quality (ASQ) provides insight from several leading managers, each with their own unique spin on how manufacturers can combine lean and Six Sigma tools. Below is input from one ASQ contributor, Randy Kesterson, Senior Vice President of Operations at Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems. According to Kesterson, companies need the following “recipe” in order to successfully use both methodologies together:
- Lotsa lean. Most business processes can benefit from the application of lean tools. The difficulty comes when trying to identify the problem process that will yield the biggest bang for the buck. Deciding where to apply lean is key. Senior management must be involved in project selection.
- A little Common Sense. Consultants won’t be able to charge you for plain old common sense, which should come before Six Sigma. Once the process has been “leaned out,” you should examine it for quality problems. If quality variation is a problem, you should try to apply common sense solutions first. Don’t yield to the temptation to apply Six Sigma tools to every process quality problem. People with colored belts want to use them.
- A dab of Six Sigma. Compared to lean, Six Sigma tools tend to require more data gathering and number crunching. Lean tools are typically more intuitive and team-based. Six Sigma can become ivory tower-like, with knowledge of the tools possessed by only a few technical experts. Most people understand lean tools (i.e., 5S or process mapping) before they grasp Six Sigma tools (i.e., regression analysis). Six Sigma involves powerful tools that can be expensive to use. Use Six Sigma tools selectively.
Of course, this is just one manager’s advice. As the differing opinions of the ASQ roundup article demonstrate, there are a lot of ways companies can attack continuous improvement, whether they choose to use lean manufacturing and Six Sigma tools together, separately, or perhaps not at all. A series of case studies from LIT, for example, shows that there are a host of strategies companies can use to optimize workflows, reduce costs, manage talent, and drive bottom-line ROI.
At the end of the day, a fool-proof recipe for success in today’s market is to embrace change, make a plan, execute, and repeat.
May 5, 2014 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, Safety, workflow process
Most manufacturing executives know that developing a lean culture requires top-down support. Everyone—from the CEO and vice president of operations to the maintenance manager and band saw operator—needs to be on board, or it’s just not going to work.
Unfortunately, many companies have discovered that creating a successful lean environment isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, as this blog post explains, there are a lot of ways to do this incorrectly. For instance, leadership is not “committed” simply because they have enthusiastically funded a lean program. They need to actually be involved. At the same time, key improvement decisions can’t be made in an ivory tower.
Change—effective change—needs to start at the ground level, where the work is happening and where the value is created. This place, defined as “gemba” in lean manufacturing terms, is believed to be the key to unlocking true transformation.
“Gemba,” the Japanese term for “actual place,” has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In an IndustryWeek blog post, Bill Wilder, director of The Life Cycle Institute, calls gemba the “beating heart” of an organization, which for manufacturers, is rarely found in the marketing department or an executive desk. Instead, it is almost always found on the production floor.
This means that to make any real change, metal service center executives need to literally take a walk—known as the “gemba walk”—to see their operation from the front lines. Getting out of the office and taking a gemba walk, Wilder says, is the best way for leadership to see, firsthand, what works and doesn’t, and many experts believe it should be the first step in any lean transformation.
In theory, this sounds great, but what should a gemba walk look like in practice? Here are a few tips we gathered to help you “walk the talk” and put you on the path toward an effective top-down lean program:
- Have a plan. This SlideShare presentation, “Gemba 101,” states that there are four steps to gemba success: know your purpose, know your gemba, observe your framework, and validate. You can read the slides to get more information, but the takeaway here is that a gemba walk should be structured. It is not the same as Management By Wandering Around (MBWA), which is often casual and unstructured. In contrast, a gemba walk has a specific purpose. Lean expert James Womack says he has 10 questions he asks every time he takes a gemba walk. You can check out those questions here in this essay, along with a great case study.
- Think—and walk—horizontally. According to Womack, value flows horizontally. Unfortunately, organizations are organized vertically. As described in this IndustryWeek article, the key to a successful gemba walk is to select a value stream, gather all the managers from all the vertical functions that touch the value stream, and then walk together. This likely includes CEOs and COOs, customers, suppliers, and value-stream leaders.
- Respect and Engage. As this iSixSigma article states, a gemba walk is not an opportunity to find fault or enforce policy, nor is it a time to solve problems or make changes on the spot. Instead, it should be “a time of observation, input and reflection.” Leadership should go on the walk with an open mind and welcome suggestions from operators and other shop floor employees. A good example of this more team-centric approach is described in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers. As the paper states, one service center continuously asks operators for ideas to make its cutting processes safer and faster and, when appropriate, brings those ideas to fruition. This tactic has not only improved operational efficiency, it has also shown operators that they are a critical aspect of the company’s success.