My Journey into Lean Manufacturing – Part 1

 

Join me as I chronicle my journey into lean manufacturing! This is part 1 of the series. Comments and suggestions are always welcome at montie@montie.com.

Here is the transcript from the podcast……………………………………

Audio file:    2015 May 17 – Lean Thoughts 0.mp3
Time transcribed:    15:50 minutes

[Opening music]

Hello.  My name is Montie Roland.  And I’m with Montie Gear in Apex, North Carolina.  Today, I’d like to spend a few minutes and talk about my journey into Lean, and what I’ve learned in the past few months.

So, let’s back up and let’s talk about, you know, what is lean?  Lean is a popular name for the Toyota manufacturing system.  Toyota has spent a lot of effort and time and intellectual capital in developing a state-of-the-art way to make cars.  The Toyota manufacturing system is the model for the rest of the world.  When you hear someone in business talk about that their company is lean, or they’re going lean or what have you, it’s about putting into practice that basically leaner, a version of the Toyota manufacturing system.

Toyota has a really, really, really well-thought-out way of making cars.  And this applies to other segments of their business as well, not just manufacturing.  It applies to their . . . to their dealerships; it applies to other areas that are ancillary to their manufacturing of their cars.  They’ve got to sell them; they’ve got to service them.  And so, as I understand it, the principals of lean and the application of lean has been put in place by Toyota throughout their entire system (as far as I know).  I know that dealerships put it in place.  They definitely put it in place on the manufacturing.  And so, it’s important to have an understanding of what “lean” is.

So one of the guidelines behind lean is that you want to optimize your process.  Now, a lot of times when you’re talking to someone about lean, first thing they say is, “Well, lean is about reducing waste.”  And so, when someone says that and looks at you, you should say, “No!  It’s not.  It’s a by-product of lean, is reducing waste.”  And you get a . . . sometime they’ll maybe tilt their head, look at you, and go, “Well, no.  This is . . . in lean, we reduce waste.”  So, I want to make the argument that in lean you’ve got two directions that you can do optimization; two main directions – you can always optimize, you know, a lot of different ways.  But, there are two main directions that you can optimize for.  One is that you can optimize for resources.  So that means that you can try to keep everybody busy; you can try to make the best use of space; make the best use of materials; make the best use of personnel; keep your per-unit cost low.  And that’s a good thing.  However, the challenge with that is that you end up inevitably, by optimizing for resources, you end up developing silos.  And by a silo, what I’m talking about is that if you’re, let’s say, the person that assemblies widgets; then, your pay and your bonuses may be directly driven by how many widgets you build.  Well, and that’s fine until the point where the person who takes your widgets and ships them can’t keep up.  At that point, you may be making widgets, but they don’t have the capacity to ship; or maybe the capacity to sell.  So at this point, you’ve got an incentive to continue making widgets because if you’re not making widgets, well, you’re efficiency goes down.  And when that efficiency goes down, your incentive goes down. So, now we have a problem because you can imagine that even if it’s not this severe of an example, every group is going to be evaluated based on that group’s performance.  Well, when you do that, that’s great; what you’ve got to watch out for, though, is does that group’s performance help the company as a whole.  And so they may be amazingly efficient – but – something they’re doing is the part of being so efficient may make someone else inefficient.  At that point – mmm, maybe you’re not doing the right thing.

So, this is a natural outcome of building silos and optimizing for resources.  So in lean you’ve got to do more than just optimize for resources.  What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to optimize for flow.  So when you optimize for flow, you have to establish communication between groups.  Now, you may have a corporate culture that is absolutely wonderful, where people, you know, talk; they communicate.  And everything is wonderful.  But a lot of times you have a lot of communication within your group (whatever that group is – manufacturing, shipping) but a lot of times you don’t have communications, let’s say, with accounting.  So, if want to optimize for flow, you’ve got to communicate.  And that’s the first challenge.  And that’s one of the things that lean really tries to address is that communication.

So, let’s talk about optimizing for flow.  And what does that mean?  Well, when I optimize for flow, I want to optimize for the speed at which I’m adding customer value.  What that means is that when I get an order, I want to get that order in this customer’s hands as quickly as possible.  Because when I get it in their hands as quickly as possible, then the customer is happier; more delighted or more satisfied.  And also, I get paid quicker.  So, I don’t have money sitting around in inventory or work-in-progress or what have you.  So, lean is all about a customer pull.  So, you know, the customer’s making an order – or – we’re filling to maintain an inventory – either one – but we’re going to refill that inventory after its depleted, so you want to refill it as quickly as possible.  Or we want to ship as quickly as possible, depending on how the expectations of your customer are and how your industry works.

So what we want to do is we want to get that product made as quick as we can, get it out the door, get it to a customer, and, of course, that being a high-quality product that we made in somewhat an efficient way.  So, now you can see what’s at odds is that the most efficient way when it comes to resources may not be the quickest.  Now, I want to point out an example.  Let’s say that we have four people making slingshots.  And let’s say each slingshot takes a month to make (for one person).  But let’s say that four people can make a slingshot in five-point-two days.  So in this case, if I have four people working on a slingshot at once, there’s some inefficiency because four people have to work together, shared resources, what have you.  But, I’ve got the capability to make one slingshot at a time, instead of four at once.  And so, the trade-off is that if I look at the folks that make those slingshots and I say “You get paid by how many slingshots you make a month”, then they’re going to say “Well, I’ll make slightly more if we work on them separately”.  But then, the trade-off is that it takes a month for one person to make a slingshot.  Now, let’s say that I have four people making slingshots and it takes one-point . . . one week and an extra four days, or one month and four extra days to make four slingshots, but I do them sequentially.  So, now I’m kicking out a slingshot at just over a week; so a little bit over every week I’m getting a slingshot out the door.  Little less efficient – but – now all of a sudden I’m getting it to my customer quicker; I’m getting paid faster.  So when you think about, you know, work-in-progress and inventory, that works out well.  But it’s not quite as efficient.  So if I organize for efficiency, then everybody’s going to want to make one slingshot per person.  Or, excuse me, for resource efficiency, everybody’s going to want to make one slingshot per person.  If I say I want to get these out as quick as I can, then I’m going to have all four people working on that slingshot, kick that slingshot out; now, I’m shipping a slingshot in a little over a week.  So every week, almost, I’m kicking a slingshot out the door.  And so this is one of the conflicts that built into lean.  So, we want to be efficient and lean has a lot of tools to do that, but lean recognizes right off the bat that you can never be one hundred percent efficient because you also want to optimize for flow.  If we’re a hundred percent efficient then the delivery time goes up because of multitasking, because waiting . . . it gets, you know, your deliver time goes up exponentially, not linearly, as you work on multiple things at once.  A good example with our slingshots, is that let’s say that it takes a week to ship four slingshots.  So now I’ve had four people working on slingshots for a month, and I’ve had . . . or I’ve had one person . . . or excuse, four people working on one slingshot at a time – well, now all of a sudden, if I had limited shipping capacity, then it’s important to not overburden that shipping capacity by forcing them to ship all four slingshots at once.  Whereas, if I could spread that out, it may be that I have to have a fourth less people in shipping to ship slingshots, because I’m shipping one at a time, not four at a time.

This is definitely a very arbitrary example, but you kind of get the idea of this . . . dichotomy between optimizing for resources and optimizing for flow.  And I think it’s a really important because if you consider lean just purely making your company more efficient then you really aren’t doing lean.  You’re not.  Lean is about monitoring your process.  So, when we go to the next step here is that how do we optimize these things.  Well, lean is not as much about the outcome as it is monitoring the process, and improving the process by everybody constantly improving.  And so, when you think continuous improvement, you know, well, okay, that means people learn how to make widgets faster.  No.  Because at some point, a person’s going to sand a corner down only so fast; there’s no . . . that is going to peak, in a way.  So instead what we want to do is monitor those processes so we know what’s happening.  And so lean is all about monitoring the process, and by monitoring the process and educating the workforce and getting the workforce involved in monitoring, then all of a sudden, as a by-product, everybody’s making better decisions that improve productivity.  So, I think that’s a really, really important part of that.

Well let me leave you with this for now.  And I know I’ve kind of talked a little bit about lean, but it’s kind of a really neat way to run your business.  It’s not a simple thing; it’s an all-encompassing thing.  It’s not a couple of charts on the wall.  It really is a way to run your business from stem to stern.  Lean is not a partial change.  It’s a culture change.  Without the culture change, then the effectiveness of the lean efforts are dramatically reduced.

Well, Montie Roland, signing out.  Have a great day.  Bye-bye.

[Closing music]

END AUDIO

 

 

Montie Roland

Montie Roland is President of Montie Gear, a manufacturer of outdoor sporting equipment in Apex, NC. Montie is also employed at Pentair in Sanford, NC as a Mechanical Engineer on the New Product Development team. Montie enjoys finding innovative solutions to customer requirements. He has 15 years of experience engineering products in diverse market spaces including industrial, commercial and military. Montie earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina State University. He is also the President Emeritus of the Carolinas chapter of the Product Design Management Association (www.pdma.org/carolinas) and a founder of the RTP Product Development Guild (www.rtpproductguild.com).