Tag Archives: Process

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!

Lean Tools – What is 5S really about? – darronrobertsconsulting

Lean manufacturing is a method of transforming raw materials, whether they are products or services, by adding value, to generate a finished product or service that your client wants to purchase.  It is different to ordinary or traditional manufacturing, because Lean manufacturing aims to give the client value for their money in terms of the specification of the product or service matching their exact requirements, delivered when requested with a consistently high quality level, at the lowest internal cost to you.  Lean manufacturing is not a project!  It is a complete manufacturing process, that when started is refined over time and becomes THE way of thinking and THE way of working.  It is not complicated and aims to simplify the transformation process.

Let me give you an everyday example.  You are out, it is a hot day and you are thirsty, you want to go to the nearest shop and buy a small cold, bottle of water.  When you get to the drinks shop and give the shopkeeper your order, there is a problem, he does sell water, but only 20 litres at a time, it is not cold and you can get it in two days time. Not what you wanted.  A fair analogy of what we do to our customers in our businesses?

So Lean manufacturing aims to reduce problems of quality and delivery and to remove or reduce wastes and costs in the process.  To do this it uses a number of tools, each one aimed at improving one or more of the three problems.  There are basic and advanced tools, of the four basic tools 5S, 7 wastes, Visual Management / Visual Control and Standardised Working, probably the 5S tool is the most misunderstood.

A number of you will have been on Lean or Lean Six Sigma courses, read books on the subject and come across the 5S tool.  The origins of the tool are unknown, but it was taken and developed into the tool we know today in the Toyota Japanese plants.  The 5 essees were originally Japanese words but have now been translated in to English as:


Set in order




You have understood the tool and armed with red tags, sweeping brushes, cleaning cloths, two inch yellow floor tape and a digital camera; you head out to the shop floor and begin your “project”.  You have a briefing session with operators and supervisors of section, explain what you are going to do and off you go.  You put red tags on objects that you think, should not be there, give the sweeping brushes and the cloths to the shop floor workers.  When they have swept the dust away and polished the equipment and removed the tagged items, you begin marking area with yellow tape.  Areas to stand, areas to hold equipment, e.g. hand trolleys, areas for raw materials and areas for processed materials.  You get Engineering involved and produce shadow boards for tools and hang them on the walls behind the machinery.   Pleased with your efforts you take photographs of the area and display them nicely on the walls and instruct the operators that this is what the area needs to be kept like and that you will be round every week to audit the area and give them a score.  You are now doing 5S, covering all the essees, couldn’t be easier!  Then every week you go and audit, find something that is out of place, issue an instruction to correct the non-conformance, and write a management report showing how good the 5S audit scores are.

As time goes on you get into a routine, nothing is improving and you are wondering why you are getting into arguments every week with the operators, who do not see the point in doing their cleaning exercises, which just adds to their workload with no incentive or reward.  Your Lean transformation might be stalling before it has even started or you might have given up on your first building block without fully implementing it because you want to move on to some cost saving activities.

By now you are asking, what this has got to do with improved quality, improved delivery performance and reduced costs.  The answer is absolutely NOTHING!

Let us go back to the 5S, the Japanese version with a correct translation.

Seri (Say ree) – Sort and Discard
Eliminate All unneeded items.

Seiton (Say ton) – Arrange and Order
Arrange all items that are left.

Seiso (Say zo) – Shine and Inspect
Clean all areas.

Seiketsu (Say ket soo) – Standardise and Improve
Maintain the first 3S

Shitsuke (Shee tsoo kay) – Believe and Discipline
Believe that the 5S are important and maintain DISCIPLINE.

5S is a management tool to impose operational discipline into a business, the result usually is a clean and orderly factory.  As I have written previously projects are about people, they are the change agents, involve as many of the shop floor as possible.  Managers usually have a problem with this.  They are, after all, the manager and they should be seen to be doing! Not leave it to someone who is paid to operate a machine.

So do 5S properly!

Sorting is about empowerment, you want the operators, or staff in an office to take responsibility for their work environment.  Explain to them what sorting is, removing anything that should not be there and needs to be removed, if it gets in the way, it is a waste, excess movement etc.  Give them the red tags and let them do the tagging, if there is more than one shift, repeat the process.  If one shift tags and the other shift removes the tag, you have to manage the process and determine if the object is required or not.  After a set period of time, say three days, remove all of the tagged items from the area.  This is where the manager comes in.  Is the item required or is it redundant?  If it is redundant sell it, the money will pay for required items for the next stage or maybe the whole project.

Set in order is about teamwork.  The objects that are left need to be arranged so that there is easy access to them.  For this you will need to work with the operators to design the work area, develop shadow boards,  build / buy draws or cupboards  to keeps the work space useable.  Buy more tools if necessary and put them where they are needed.  Make sure there is easy access for feeding and emptying the process, make their job easier for the operators, they will see the benefit and become more enthusiastic and creative.  We are now starting to reduce wastes, in terms of time, which benefits delivery performance and of money, which obviously benefits costs.

Shine and inspect, I will emphasise inspect, because it is very often missed.  This is about ownership. Operators taking ownership of their work area.  You want a clean process, because if it is clean moving parts will not wear out as quickly, if they don’t wear out as quickly they do not increase variation as quickly, thus you have a more stable process, and consistent quality.  The inspection comes from two aspects.  The operators spend their working day on their process, they can feel vibrations, or hear noises that are not normally there and can inform management that there is a problem before it becomes a breakdown, similar to you driving your car, you know if there is a wobble on the wheel you get it looked at before you blow the tyre!  The object is to bring the process back up to, or keep it in design specification.  The second part is if there are abnormalities they should be easier to spot, oil on the floor, damage to a cover etc.  It is then up to management to action these reports.  This is also an input to a Preventative Maintenance program.

So far so good, this is where many companies actually stop at 3S, because they do not really understand the 4 or 5th essees.

Standardise and improve.  This is purely and simply management.  Management or to be correct the Area Supervisor should develop a Standard Operating Procedure for the first 3S.  Specifying what has to be done, when it has to be done and how it has to be done.  With all procedures the operators have to be trained on the procedure and then managed to perform it.  There has to be concessions on this.  Time off production for 5S, 10 minutes at the end of the shift, checklists to show what has to be done at a particular time and follow up from the supervisor to ensure it happens.  The SOP, like all SOP’s should be reviewed at least at a quarterly basis, improvements through experience and new ideas should be included and the operators retrained in the procedure.

Sustain, believe and discipline.  The audits should be undertaken by the GM, MD, VP or whoever is the senior person in the company.  This sets the idea that the company are taking this very seriously.  The auditor has to congratulate teams that are performing well and admonish teams that are under performing, to the point of disciplinary action if the negative trend continues.

5S is a management tool as I stated earlier, for introducing operational discipline.  If you have ever embarked on a project in the past, and it has failed for some reason and you have tried something else to the point that the workforce think these are just management fads and will go away in a week or so, 5S implemented properly will totally break those ideas.  If you have implemented 5S properly, when you come to introducing new SOP’s through the Standardised Working Process, the new procedures will be implemented quicker and the benefits will gleaned earlier than if you had not. (The operators are now used to following instructions.) So 5S is a tool for making operators do what is required from them when it is required.  As a consequence you will have a clean factory and offices.  Did you know that you can use the 5S technique on your products, processes and people as well as the factory?

This blog was written to give implementers an insight into what 5S is really about and what benefits related to Quality, Delivery and Cost it will give you when implemented properly.  It is the first building block of a Lean manufacturing transformation.

Is there a need for Management Consultants?

Is there a need for Management Consultants? Yes there is, but I would say that wouldn’t I, I am a Management Consultant!

I haven’t always been a Management Consultant, I learnt my management skills through a mixture of experience from the shop floor and education. When I was a production manager in the steel industry, I thought that the first three letters of CONsultant summed up consultants, confidence tricksters to be avoided at all costs.

I had had previous dealings with consultants giving mixed results. Sorry I should clarify this; the consultants that I had contact with were Management Trainers in reality and not implementers. They taught the theory of strategic management and then abandoned you to struggle with putting theory into practice and get any sort of benefit from it.

My conversion from CON to PRO came from the realisation that as a company we never actually finished a project that we started. Research showed me that there was a need for someone to design, manage and complete a project, outside of the normal company positions, where the production targets and delivery performance take priority of the project. Thus there is the need for Management Consultants.

That stated, choose your Management Consultants carefully. Understand what you are looking for out of a project, look at their previous work, do not just go by reputation and view the case study results of the individual consultants who will be working with you. Appreciate the project management, project fees and what the results of the project will do for your business. Then sign a professionally written contract, including time frames, contracted days and expected minimum results.

This is my advice to you gained from over twenty two years of industrial experience. There are good and bad consultants as there are good and bad practitioners in every business. If you want to improve and aspect of your business or indeed a complete business transformation you will need Management Consultants to help you achieve the maximum results from the project.