Relatively speaking, it was a good problem for Naveen to have – as of fall 2014, customer demand had skyrocketed at this leading global maker of suspension systems for semi-trailers. And as Manufacturing Engineering Manager, a key responsibility was to address this gap.
The Current Situation
Internally, no unrelenting pressure from the C-suite or palpable unpleasantness accompanied the increased demand, yet all the same, a stiff challenge lay ahead for Naveen. The new daily target for axle production had risen more than 75% and was to be reached by mid-summer 2015.
Naveen and his team spent the rest of 2014 and early 2015 picking the so-called “low hanging fruit“ to improve process efficiency and bump the daily output by 30% by April 2015 – a respectable increase but still a ways from the looming mid-summer target.
Always proactive and with a view to the future, Naveen had just started attending SBTI’s methodology training to achieve his “black belt“ status. This training would not only help him improve his facility‘s overall process efficiency, but also help to give him a more comprehensive view to the business as a whole.
Shortly after completing his first of several week-long training sessions, Naveen was paid a friendly visit by SBTI’s Jim Longshore, Naveen’s black belt instructor who just happened to be in the area. Neither anticipated the significance of the meeting…
Walking the lines together, the two chatted over how each input affected the process, allowing Naveen to not only mentally walk through the process himself with newly acquired tactics, but to verbalize it with a mentor. Yet, Jim’s simple question on shift changeover triggered a reevaluation. Or as Naveen put it, “the light bulb went off…“
Understanding Root Causes
In short, workers on each shift had always emptied the line daily, meaning they fully completed each product, leaving a “dry line“ for the next shift. Yet, this bleeding down and ramping up of the process for each shift left some workers idle for a time and greatly reduced productivity, resulting in the loss of approximately two hours per shift. With three shifts a day, that meant six hours total.
Energized, Naveen and team moved quickly and efficiently — immediately putting a new plan in place with some rules based on the product mix. First, they implemented a “wet line“ policy. This approach meant staff would work till the end of the shift and set aside partially completed product just before heading home. They would then pick up where they left off the next day. To that end, each shift would load the partially completed products for the next shift just before going home.
The Rallying Call to Action
Albeit relatively minor, these changes came with a few bottlenecks and resulting costs. For example, mixing shifts with different products required some cross training, yet now all workers can handle any product. Overall, most of the bottlenecks have been solved through planning and people-related issues. In terms of hard costs, only $30,000 was spent on equipment, parts and upgrading some machinery.
Over one month’s time, from April 2015 to May 2015, Naveen’s team’s wet line policy achieved the following:
· a daily axle production increase of 25%
· overall savings of $237,000
· maintenance of axle quality with no increase in defects
· was on target for reaching its mid-2015 goal
· estimated savings of $750,000 over a 12-month span
In the end maintaining a wet line was nothing revolutionary nor even a brand new idea to Naveen, yet that little nudge allowed him to connect the dots for improving the process and reaching his production goals.