Success doesn't always breed more success
Jim Butler, Manufacturing Technology Associates, Ingleside, IL, is a manufacturing consultant implementing continuous flow manufacturing (CFM) techniques to a wide variety of industries. His experiences at XYZ Corp (ficticious name) illustrate the proper and improper implementation of CFM methods.
"When I was first called in," he recalls, "it was to an atmosphere of layoffs, divestitures, and pressures to improve productivity. Line X was somewhat continuous flow - batch lots moving in tote pans to various workstations by a central roller conveyor. However, periodic shutdowns due to shortages encouraged line workers to stack tote pans of partially finished components near and even on the conveyor, turning it into a mini-warehouse and completely obliterating its purpose."
Over three months of analysis, Butler talked with upper management, manufacturing engineers, and line workers. The last were the most critical, he says, "because these are the people `living' on the line who really know its day-to-day problems. It was critical to establish rapport with them, both for informational purposes as well as to earn their trust and cooperation."
Line X management, MEs, and line people were committed to meeting goals without cutting corners. Workers were frequently updated as the line was fabricated and installed, and then formally trained. As a result, Line X was up and running six months after the initial analysis began. Efficient workstations were integrated with the conveyor, stations queued to compensate for routine backups, product came off the line every 30 sec, and six-month productivity was up 80%.
With this success, XYZ management turned to Line Y, a premiere product line at the same facility. More complicated, it consisted of two conveyors twisting, turning, and crossing over each other. "They called us in once again," Butler reports, "but this time, only to recommend and install the hardware and fixturing. Line X had bred overconfidence in all of us, and the initial engineering analysis period was largely by-passed. Line Y management...