Tag Archives: Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing Tools – Visual Control – darronrobertsconsulting

All the Lean Manufacturing tools are powerful drivers of waste reduction and improved efficiency.  The third building block of Lean manufacturing is the Visual Management / Visual Control tool.  These are two similar tools.  Visual Management deals with historic data, team photographs, productivity, efficiency, quality that was produced last week, last month or last year.  It is a reference for improvement.

Visual control is what I want to concentrate on in this article.  Visual control is the ability to enable everyone in the workplace to see in clear, simple and visual form:

  •  Indicators of the current situation
  •  Identification of normal conditions
  •  Identification of abnormal conditions
  •  Identification of the correct countermeasure to resolve abnormal condition

There is no digging into computers to retrieve reports, no waiting until the following day for managers to discover that there was a problem in operations.  The process indicates its current state via displays, read outs, clocks, andon boards and good old fashioned operator completed plan vs. actual reports.

This tool allows problems to be shown in real time that then permits the correct people to be informed to go to the operation and solve the problem.

The tool is simple to understand and can be simple to employ.  However, it is little understood and little used.  Operators are, initially afraid to use it because they are being “scrutinised” and they think that there is a problem with their performance.  Supervisors, who are not people managers, are reluctant to manage the process because it makes operators do more work, that as described, they do not want to do.  If there is a culture of “fads” then it will go away anyway!

The power of this tool when it stops becoming a tool and becomes the normal way to work makes the company agile.  Operators become aware that it is not a stick to be beaten with, but a tool to ask for help with their process, that also includes their performance.  Supervisors know that it is helping them achieve their targets if the operators are performing at the required rate.  Managers are there to solve the problems that the supervisors cannot on their own.  If the operation is running Just in Time (J.I.T.) anyway, there is no luxury of Work In Progress (W.I.P.) to hide the problem, they have to be solved quickly, even if that is in the middle of the night shift.

So this tool helps in attaining schedules, keeping up efficiencies (O.E.E.), problem solving and flow through the company.  So why is it used so little?  Is it the fact that we love technology and prefer reading reports on computers at our leisure or like I have described in an earlier article that managers and supervisors are in positions that they are not qualified to do or is it the fact that managers have not heard of the tool or do not understand the power of Visual Control?

Think about the benefits of using Visual Management / Visual Control in your company.


Myopia – “Can’t see the wood for the trees” – darronrobertsconsulting

Following on from the last couple of posts regarding Lean Manufacturing and the basic building blocks of a Lean Manufacturing  transformation, today I want to discuss the myopia the descends over people when they are in an operations environment.  Since I have been writing this blog I have started using clichés.  I have tried to stop myself using these, but then I have thought about them.  What are clichés? They are well used expressions, so well used we actually now miss the meaning of them, so on reflection I am going to keep using them because they put over the message and work!

“Can’t see the wood for the trees” is the cliché that I am using to point out the wastes that occur every day in operations, but they are wastes that are accepted, they have become a “comfort” and almost necessary.  I will give the “comfort” and necessary terms some explanation.  When I first started in operations I was working in the steel industry, on the cold side, taking raw materials, hot rolled products and turning them into semi-finished products.  Steel, while being a commodity, is still an expensive commodity. The operators felt comfort in knowing that they had at least four days worth of input material in front of their machines, it was necessary for them to know they had plenty of work ahead of them.

What they did not see was the waste in having four days worth of input material in front of them.  The coils were quite large three to five tonnes in weight, which translates to large volumes when we are talking about twenty processes.  Not only were there large sums of money tied up in the material, which adversely affects the cash flow cycle, there was the waste of having to store this material, the space was not adding value and actually costing in rates and maintenance.  There was the waste of transportation, with the coils having to be moved and restored to get the coil that was required.  Also the waste production idle time, in having to find the correct coil along with the excess movement of people away from their process to retrieve the coils.   To be efficient, the larger the coil the better, less downtime due to chageovers, less waste!  Actually overproduction and more waste when there were finished offcuts due to customer specifications that needed to be stored and because the processing time was longer it put back other orders that could have been produced and paid for, not to mention the cost of the raw material.  If there was a problem the problem would be exacerbated because of the size of the coils.

So let me introduce the Lean manufacturing tool the 7 Wastes – The Second Building Block of Continuous Improvement. The 7 wastes are not a tool in themselves to tackle the problems within an organisation; they do play a valuable role in identifying the inefficiency and therefore the ability to find and eradicate the root causes of the problems.  Lest put on our “Waste Goggles   and start seeing the wastes around us”.


The main causes of overproduction are unbalanced processes in the value stream and the paradigm of the business to maximise utilisation.  The focus is on sweating the assets not maximising value!

Often caused by quality problems; a company knows that it will lose a number of units along the production process so it produces extra to make sure that the customer order is satisfied.  These kinds of issues can be tackled using mistake proofing methods (Poke Yoke) and by understanding the machine process capabilities of the production equipment.  Statistical process control (SPC) will also help monitor production outputs and give warning of problems before they occur.

If the reason a company is overproducing is because of small orders and economic batch sizes then setup reduction techniques such as Single Minute Exchange Dies (SMED), can help.  Reducing changeover times means it is then able to produce smaller batches economically.

Overproduction is the worst of the 7 Wastes as it encompasses all of the rest of them, often it is the main driving force in Lean Manufacturing transformations for creating process flow.  It is the worst waste because on average sixty percent of the manufacturing cost is made up from the material content and as such is the largest company waste.

Idle Time

Products or processes waiting around either as finished goods; work in progress (WIP) or downtime is another major cause of waste.  WIP is commonly caused by producing large batch sizes where again SMED techniques can help to reduce these batch sizes.  Concentrating on keeping bottle neck processes working and solving the problems to balance all of the processes in the value stream will result in reducing idle time.  Waiting is a symptom of overproduction; on the basis that if it was produced as it was needed it would not be waiting for the next process or final customer.

Do not confuse unplanned idle time with planned idle time.  Although if there is an amount planned idle time, this is also a waste and the company needs to respond by increasing demand on the operation through increased sales.


Factory layouts are the fundamental cause of excess transportation.  When appropriate, re-laying out the machines within a factory; so that all of the processes are next to each other will not only reduce transportation waste but also reduce WIP and waiting.  Excess inventory levels can also lead to wasted handling as described earlier.


A very misunderstood waste, that of performing work on a product of service that the customer does not see as value and which is a cost to the business. Performing unnecessary or incorrect processing. Inspections or rectifications are required because there is excess variation in the process compared to product specification, either through the design of the process or subsequent lack of maintenance, producing poor quality or there are too many steps in the process route that are producing an over engineered product or service for the customer.  Remember to specify value – from the customers point of view, give them what they want; not what you think they want! Total Preventative Maintenance and Six Sigma projects are the remedy for this waste.


Many companies order over and above what is required to fulfil the order, this may be due to quality problems along the process or the often mistaken belief that is saves money by ordering larger quantities.  The true cost of excess inventory levels should be carefully analysed before ordering excess raw materials simply because the purchase price is less. Tackling the root causes of the quality problems should be a priority.

 Operator Motion

Operators making movements that are straining or unnecessary; such as looking for materials; tools or documents etc. are a waste!  In a well-designed workstation the operator will not need to move further than one pace or over reach with their arms to complete their task.  The 5S tool helps to design the work areas and reduce this excess motion.

Poor Quality

Variation in the process produces products or services that require inspection and rework or scrap being produced. Even worse product at the customer that is outside specification.  The root causes need to be identified and eliminated using Six Sigma techniques.  Bad quality is endemic in excess inventory, which as described earlier is very wasteful!

So how do we address all of these wastes?  Now that the wood has been identified from the trees, the myopia has been reduced with the 7 Wastes tool, put on your waste goggles and go on a “Waste walk” and record all of the non-value added activities carried out in a your company.  Start a waste register and systematically reduce all of the company wastes.

Do not be surprised to find out that 95% of all activities carried out are non-value adding, that means the customer is only paying for 5% of your operation. The elimination of waste is vital to increasing the competitiveness and therefore longevity of your company.

If you want to make a bigger impact within the company with regard to reducing waste. Just replace the word waste with the word COST!

Is the start of a Lean Project actually Lean?- darronrobertsconsulting

After the initial scoping meeting with a new client, the next stage is the detailed analysis of the business, the Diagnosis.  If the scope of the project is operations optimisation and the tool to use is Lean Manufacturing, then I analyse the company from their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Analysing the financial KPIs, profit and costs, the operational KPIs, Safety measures, Output measures, Efficiency measure, Quality measures and People measures.  I sometimes conduct a full business assessment, answering questions as to how the company is setup, the policies and procedures, how it treats its people, how it plans, purchases delivers, develops new products, is concerned with longevity, safety and the environment.

All of the analysis tells me what the company does, not how it does it.  To find the answer to this question requires spending as much time with the managers, supervisor and operators as possible.  There are always three different and sometimes conflicting views between the layers as what is actually happening in the company.  There is nearly always a deficiency in the communication system between the managers and operators.  The manager sends out a message but if it reaches the operator it is different or toned down from the original.  There is also the case of managers and supervisors being in positions from promotions, where they are not qualified to undertake the role and are not aligned with the strategic objectives.  They are doing a job, which is consistent and probably the same way they were trained by their predecessor, but which does not improve the business.

All of the above information leads me to design the project, the topics to be covered, the order of the topics the timescale and the cost of the project.  There are usually topics covered that are nothing to do with Lean Manufacturing, just good operations management and these can cover a quarter of the twelve month project run in parallel and sometimes hidden inside the other project tools.

It is necessary to align sales requirements with planning and planning with operations and the whole system to business needs.  Sounds basic?  Does not always follow as it should.  Assumptions are made that information that is send is used as it is sent, departments have different thoughts on the information and act upon what they think is right, which produces results, apparently shows efficiency but does not align with the business needs.  This is an example of one business, a steel manufacturer. Sales department were working hard to win business in what had turned into a commodity product.  The KPIs from the mill are apparently good, efficiency is in the ninety percent range but delivery performance is in the forty percent range.  There is an Operations Director, Works Manager, Area Production Managers along with Shift Managers to supervise the operators.  There is a Logistics department that contains planners using and ERP system and manual scheduling.  The problem was twofold, the business linked bonus payments to tonnage and the planners took the sales requirements and gave weekly lists to the mills rather than actually planning what was to be produced to deliver on time.  The actual problem was that the mill operators chose what to do in the order they wanted to maximise their earnings.  They used the system to their needs and not the needs of the business.  When these problems were understood and addressed the company became a little less efficient, delivery performance increase, there were more orders, the cash flow system became more efficient, profits increased and the company had a good scheduling and reporting system.

While each case is different, the general problems are quite similar.  The question is why is there no self-improvement?  From personal experience I know that when you are in a position you are blinkered and you are doing what you think is best.  You are performing to the measures and expectations put on you by you manager and change only when these measures, expectations or even manager change.  This should be a Directors role, to align the business to the business strategy, even a manager should assess his performance against the business need.  The other question to be asked is there a strategy?  Not just the vision and mission posted on the wall but a real business plan, implemented to shop floor level.  Why are the training needs of employees not recognised and addressed?  Until there is a crisis are companies happy to continue with what they have.

I have tried to answer some of these questions based on my business experience and have come to the conclusion that businesses are not perfect, even multinationals making vast profits.  These companies could be even more successful if they concentrate on doing some of the basics right before concentration on more advanced business enhancements.

So back to my original question, “Is the start of a Lean Project really Lean?” and the answer has to be no.  It is organising the company, enhancing its communication system, aligning its departments with customer needs and instruction its employees in their duties.