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What Keeps You Up at Night?

Below, are examples of issues we have solved for other business owners.

Our methods have proven to be relevant, adaptable and scale-able across a range of:

+ Company sizes

+ Company cultures

+ Industries

+ Technologies

+ Union and non-union shops

+ Manufacturing and business processes

If one of the stories on this page resonates with an issue that keeps you up at night, contact us to explore how we can help you...

Unreliable ship-on-time performance

An injection molding company risked losing a key customer to competitors due to unreliable ship on-time performance. Traditional management methods were increasing costs but not correcting delivery performance. A Value Stream analysis revealed several issues:

+ Poorly communicated customer changes created issues between planners, material prep, set-up teams and machine operators.

+ Information gaps resulted in shop delays that affected delivery performance.

+ Off shift machine issues created delays since there was no way to ask the planner whether to change-over or hold for repair.

+ The correct decision one instance would be the incorrect action the next – leading to confusion, wasted effort and late deliveries.

+ Management would also decide too late in the week whether weekend operations would be necessary.

+ Late notice to the workforce would result in under-staffed weekend operations, contributing to poor delivery performance.

To address these issues, a simple scheduling board was placed in the factory – visible to all personnel. The board communicated orders by machine and day for the manufacturing week. Simple flags communicated updates and confirmed acknowledgement across functions. The order information provided, guided run vs. change over decisions across all shifts. Plant personnel learned to interpret board information well before the weekend, providing sufficient lead-time to secure needed weekend staffing.

Insufficient capacity drives expensive investment

The firm concluded an investment for additional capacity would be necessary to meet rising demand. Given the investment size and lead-time to delivery it was agreed to complete a workshop in rapid change-over techniques, prior to committing to the purchase.

The workshop was comprised of engineers, tool room, and operations staff – including machine operators. Team members documented existing change-over methods. Multiple opportunities were found to dramatically improve capacity with little investment or lead-time.

+ Standard work would reduce elapsed time variation experienced set-up to set-up.

+ Set-up work was separated into external actions (machine running) and internal actions (machine not running).

+ The team shifted as much work as possible from internal to external content.

+ We reduced internal content by reducing wasted motion, poor sequence, poor layout and by customizing some basic tools.

+ Team involvement created buy-in, sustaining gains and encouraging a continuous improvement mindset and culture.

+ Set-up times were reduced by more than 60% within one week of the workshop.

+ Total manufacturing costs were reduced by 20% due to increased productivity.

+ No capital investment or increase in manufacturing expenses were required to achieve results.

+ The purchase of additional equipment was no longer necessary.

Busy, but unproductive workers

A manufacturing sub-assembly process involved a multiple of semi-automated bench operations that were organized in sequence. Each station worked on a container of 200 parts, placing a finished container in a general queue ahead of the next operation. Based on a bias towards maximum efficiency, queues were seen as a means to avoid worker stoppages, raising manufacturing efficiencies. The downstream assembly operation struggled to get sufficient quantities of required parts to build a reliable schedule for shipment - in spite of providing a hot list of parts to the sub-assembly area.

Based on a Value Stream map of the adjacent manufacturing areas, a simple change was introduced to the lead operation in the sub-assembly area: slide the finished container to the next station to work on vs. placing it in a general queue. This change cascaded through the remaining sequence of operations in the sub-assembly area.

The results for the assembly operation were astounding. Containers of prioritized work were stacked in the order they were needed at the first sub-assembly operation. Finished containers could then be picked up by the assembly operation in two hours – in priority sequence. A reliable assembly schedule could now be realized. In time, a two week inventory (and time) buffer between areas was eliminated freeing floor space and contributing to a much more visually manageable factory.

Constant schedule changes

A consumer products manufacturer created monthly forecasts for finished goods to be delivered to a finished goods warehouse for shipments to customers. Like many companies, there was considerable internal negotiation regarding what could and what could not be reliably built within the month, with some decisions made to favor higher delivery performance.

Half-way through the month, a revised forecast for the same month would be created. Items that now seemed uncertain for delivery were now replaced by items whose delivery was seen as more likely – in order to preserve dollar forecasts. At month-end, containers that were deemed unlikely to ship and removed from the schedule were now piling up to be included in the next month’s shipments. In the meantime, items that seemed certain to ship as of the mid-month schedule correction were now being expedited under the risk of missing the shipment dollar targets.

Focused teams applying Lean tools were able to reduce factory lead-time from 90 days to less than 30 days in less than a month, with no capital investment or added expense. Shorter lead-times enabled greater predictability in the assembly operation, dramatically improving forecasting. Improvements dramatically reduced schedule adjustments, overtime and expediting.

Confusing factory flows and order status

A B2B manufacturer was failing to deliver orders on-time. 70% of monthly shipments were actually backlog from prior months, and factory lead-times were not competitive. Twice a week a cross-functional team would meet to review incoming orders. There was no system in place to understand factory capacity or lead-time so was common practice to accept the order and due date and then micro-manage delivery.

The team completed a Value Stream map, learning the factory was comprised of three distinct process flows. Incoming orders were now reviewed according to their process flow, in context with existing commitments, to determine more accurate delivery dates. The team also analyzed each flow, identifying changes would ensure quality while requiring less lead-time.

Within one operational month, changes were implemented cutting factory lead-times by 40%, while increasing due date reliability by 80%. Daily routine shifted from endless hot sheets to a visually manageable factory. The company was able to set new records for monthly shipment dollars for each of the next 9 months, reducing the backlog content down to less than 3% of shipments.

Too much overtime

B2B manufacturer required excessive overtime to meet orders. Studies demonstrated that cycle times were capable of meeting demand, shifting analysis to up-time and yield. Lean workshops, comprised of management and union personnel identified actions to improve uptime and error-proof workstations.

Actions required limited lead-time or investment and results were being realized within one month of the workshop. Changes resulted in substantial increases in daily yield, eliminating the need for overtime to meet orders. This approach, cascaded through multiple areas, generated over $5 million in annualized savings over an elapsed time of 18 months.

Huge project investment failing

A company invested $20 million to tool a factory to produce a brand new product line representing 45% of company revenues. Shortly after start-up, customer orders could not be met and factory gross margin was falling well below investment targets.

To address this, a cross-functional team created a value stream map to guide the selection and sequence of Lean tools to improve delivery performance and recover profitability. Lean techniques produced the following results, without further capital investment, in less than 10 months:

+ Units produced per hour was increased from 85 to 130

+ Schedule attainment increased to above 97%

+ Labor costs were reduced by 40%

+ Inventory investment dropped by 54%

Gross margin improved by 6%, achieving intended investment levels

Lack of staffing flexibility

The design of an assembly cell could not be flexibly staffed to adapt to varying demand rates or staffing availability. It required a crew of 10 to produce product and if fewer operators were available for work, the cell could not effectively run.

Working with operators in the cell, DFMA strategies enabled a product re-design requiring fewer parts and fewer process steps. Lean principles transformed the work area and flow achieving:

+ a doubling in product per person per hour

+ a 58% reduction in floor space

+ an 80% reduction in WIP

Following the workshop, the area could produce product staffing between 1 and 4 operators, as needed to meet market demand.

Several months after the workshop, cell operators thanked management for changing product and the cell. Although they now produced more units per person per hour – they left the manufacturing day noticeably less tired than before the workshop.

No more “low hanging fruit”

A highly profitable, high volume product line was considered to already be optimized, following nearly 20 years of progressive product and process improvements. A Lean workshop, utilizing cell operators identified several incremental improvements that could be implemented without capital investment within a calendar month:

+ 5 scheduling points could be reduced to 1

+ 8 inventory points could be reduced to 2

+ Raw material lead-times could be reduced by over 25%

+ Factory lead-time could be reduced from 22 days to less than 6

+ Overtime could be eliminated

Changes implemented from the Lean workshop yielded a 16% increase in products per person per hour. The production footprint was also reduced by 67%. The revised layout, content and flow also enabled multiple crewing options so that cell throughput could better match market demand.

Costs not competitive

In the face of growing pricing pressure from competitors, the company launched a cost reduction program, heavily leveraging Lean and DFMA principles, achieving $15 million in savings over a 5 year period. These savings equaled 25% of the reported operating income for the company during that same period.

While the number of savings project managed by senior level managers remained stable during the period, objectives deployment multiplied the number savings initiatives managed by lower levels of management by nearly 170%, empowering and engaging the workforce to find new savings.

Complex projects out of control

Company growth and system complexity convinces a company it was time to replace their 22 legacy IT systems with a single instance ERP suite to supporting multiple facilities located in North America, Europe, Japan and China. Project scope included Sales, Finance, Customer Service, Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Purchasing and Demand Planning functions representing an investment exceeding $6.5 million. Performance objectives, budgets and timelines were assembled, providing a business case approved by the Board of Directors. Due to unique business factors, the project identified a must-go-live date by August of the following calendar year.

Within a few months of engaging a dedicated team, updates to senior management were estimating the project would not be ready to launch by the deadline, fall short of many of the business case objectives and require spending $2 million more than budget.

Management deployed new project leadership, which guided the team to tighten project scope and streamline business processes, shortening configuration time and simplifying system testing. Clarifying business objectives, the team trimmed reporting requirements from wants to needs. The project launched on schedule, within budget, achieving the original business case benefits.

Poor worker quality of life

A consumer products company’s demand was highly seasonal, requiring intense 24/7 operations May through October and then less than two full shifts for the balance of the year. During high tide, operators worked 13 days in a row, including daily overtime. Fatigue would eventually set in contributing to mistakes affecting quality, throughput and safety. In the off-season, low demand required workers to be re-assigned to other areas of the factory – a practice they did not favor. This cycle repeated annually, detracting from employee satisfaction.

An analysis of value added vs. non-value added steps revealed hidden opportunities in cycle time. It was found that on specific bottleneck operations that paced the factory, cycle time could be reduced by speeding elements of tool travel where the tool was not cutting material. Factory throughput increased by 15% with no increase in other manufacturing costs, lowering cost per unit. This new found capacity and yield significantly reduced the need for chronic overtime and staffing adjustments due to seasonal market fluctuations. More products were produced at less cost, with higher quality and safety levels. The workforce was much happier too.

Poor spares support levels for installed customer base

Customer Service Logistics organization was providing field spares for telephony systems and computer workstations serving over 120 field sites domestically and globally. Due to limited availability of planning tools, service levels were below 85% with a corresponding high rate of back orders and emergency shipments.

Value Stream maps documented process flows and key statistics regarding field installs, mean-time to failure, mean-time to repair, repair yields, spares supply lead-times and costs. After streamlining processes, a replenishment database was created to aid the spares planning process. Service levels improved from 85% to over 97% and back orders and emergency shipments were reduced by over 50%. Service level improvements were realized with no increase in spares inventory dollars or staffing.

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