Learning the lingo Featured

8:37am EDT March 31, 2003
Implementing lean manufacturing has been and can be a time-consuming and costly endeavour. Like any business process system, there is a complete set of concepts and corresponding terminology that accompanies the implementation.

However whether or not you and your employees know that Seiri means to throw away rubbish in Japanese or Takt is German for pace, is not the issue according to Rebecca Morgan, president of Fulcrum Consulting Works Inc.

“There is terminology in lean manufacturing and it is nice to use it if you can … but really you should teach them concepts, you don’t force them to learn Japanese phrases.”

Morgan was called in to help the Neighborhood Manufacturing Co., a small plumbing hand-tool manufacturer in the inner city, increase productivity and safety and decrease inventory and shipping time.

“At Neighborhood Manufacturing we took an incredibly informal approach,” explains Morgan. “We didn’t have the time and resources, there are only 25 or so employees and the supervisors are all working supervisors.”

Morgan came in to help Neighborhood move toward better efficiency and better safety, “In many situations owners will say, ‘I want to go lean, that is the decision and now we are going to execute it,’” says Morgan. “But what he wanted was just for the problems to go away.”

One of the first concepts Morgan wanted to implement was the 5-S. “There are five Japanese words that begin with S that mean neat, clean and orderly.”

But instead of going through each individual concept with all of the employees, management found an employee to head up the cleaning process, “There was a guy who worked there named Louie and he was a neat kind of guy, so we knew he would do a good job and it would appeal to him emotionally.”

After the cleanup and more room was cleared of inventory, Morgan found another employee to head-up cell design. “I gave her literally 10 minutes of cell design training … I explained what a cell was and that it should be U shaped if possible and that no product should travel backwards, and we needed very little room for inventory.”

Cell design can be quite entailed but in this case the idea was to create four cells that worked efficiently. “You don’t have to use big CAD software,” says Morgan. “She used cutouts and grid paper.”

In the end productivity was increased 12 to 15 percent, normal numbers for lean, and Neighborhood can now focus on more contract manufacturing. The key in this case was simplicity says Morgan, “Don’t focus on the perfection of it,” says Morgan. “Some things aren’t worth fighting and dying for.”

How to reach: Fulcrum Consulting Works Inc., (216) 486-9570 or www.fulcrumcwi.com

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