By Ray Young
HOW DO WE COMPETE IN TODAY’S LOWEST COST-PROVIDER WORLD?
One mile down a mining shaft. Every day. A 24-hour/365-day operation. Capacity constrained. And an underutilized workforce. A major manufacturer of fertilizer products faced a dilemma: a widely variable, time-consuming process of digging through dirt and rock using a very expensive piece of equipment in order to harvest a critical fertilizer ingredient. On top of that was the amount of time it required just to maintain six of these machines! How do we increase our efficiency you may ask? To answer this question, it was discovered though extensive observation and data collection that communication, shift-to-shift hand-offs and interaction with maintenance was not optimal, to say the least. To exacerbate the situation further, there was observed a large amount of delay due to poor employee scheduling and management direction. As a result, a new question arose; how do we pull all of these entities together to focus on our one core goal: to deliver products to market, with the desired margin, that can compete in a very competitive market?
With the support of the local managers, a team was formed to investigate the issues around the variability and inconsistency of the above-mentioned issues. After several meetings of the team, it became obvious that the process to mine the ore and maintain the machines was not standardized in any way. Training was on an ad-hoc basis, with some of the newly hired operators and maintenance personnel receiving minimal training, while the seasoned employees were not asked to provide knowledge and feedback to lessen the learning curve.
After data was captured to highlight the issues, the process as it existed was mapped and analyzed by the team to identify areas of improvement and/or elimination. Once completed, a new agreed-upon process was piloted for one of the machines and crew and measured for effectiveness. After a few adjustments, the new process was validated and implemented for the remaining machines.
TRIALS, TRIUMPHS & TRANSFORMATIONS
Forming the groups provided challenges as differing personalities and experience levels resulted in several lively conversations. But eventually, consensus was reached and a set of process steps, training requirements and critical measurements were developed. Each operator or maintenance mechanic then understood the criticality of efficiently operating and maintaining the equipment. From this exercise, each operator and maintenance mechanic were trained on these deliverables and the new process was implemented and measured for effectiveness. Monitoring for understanding and proper feedback was instituted and minor changes made to the controlling documents were incorporated. A new spirit of cooperation between machines operators, maintenance mechanics and management were mentioned as one of the key benefits of this exercise.
A transformation took place as standard work and training standards were developed, documented and posted at each location. This documentation highlighted the steps necessary to properly operate and maintain the equipment, along with communication with local management to maintain consistency and highlight any additional issues needing to be addressed.
Once the new process was implemented, mined tons/day began to increase at a rapid pace and within two weeks of implementation, tons/day had increased by almost 30% and continued toward the stretch goal of 45% improvement.
As a result of these improvements and the teams’ willingness to change long-entrenched processes for the better, the company was able to increase revenue by approximately $30M per year.
SBTI offers a step-by-step proven methodology to capture constraints and issues around most business constraints that often center around human dynamics and a lack of a clear, concise process standard. With our repeatable methods, process complexity can be delineated into manageable chunks, which then can be tactically addressed. We offer a simple strategic model of Listen/Design/Execute, and the Listen step is of no cost to you. We meet with you and your team and have a conversation involving your business goals, profitability needs and to assess our ability to partner with you toward those goals.