Original Date: 02/09/1998
Revision Date: 04/22/2003
Best Practice : Reliable Methods for Continuous Improvement
UE’s Reliable Methods for Continuous Improvement greatly improved its ability to provide high quality products at the lowest cost and in the shortest possible time. The key to continuous improvement is to identify and develop practices in reliable methods, as well as encourage participation from employees. The leadership, vision, and resources provided by UE created a favorable environment for change, based on using reliable methods in small steps, and has produced impressive gains and benefits.
Over the years, UE has received national recognition and created a tradition for innovative and resourceful approaches to continuous improvement. In 1991, UE was using such reliable methods as KanBan, Single Minute Exchange of Dies, and Poka-yoke in its production operation before most companies had ever heard of them. Today, the list of methods has been expanded, and continuous improvement emanates throughout all facets of the business. Understanding the meaning and relationship behind these methods are critical to their application. UE’s reliable methods include:
Flow Manufacturing (one-piece flow) Requires factory processes to be aligned in a sequence of production and properly balanced so as to minimize storage between processes. Typically, a workcell contains all operations needed for production, and crossed-trained technicians handle the operations within that cell. Changeover from model to model is smoothed through the Single Minute Exchange of Dies Concept to allow flexible production of many different models each day.
Five S’s Refers to five Japanese words which describe the importance of good housekeeping. Most factories are repositories of superfluous benches, machines, fixtures, cabinets, and inventory. Before beginning improvements, a facility addresses the five S’s: (seiri) unneeded items should be thrown out; (seiton) items remaining should be organized in a visually clear manner; (seiso) the factory should be spotlessly clean; (seiketsu) equipment should be maintained; and (shitsuke) workers should follow existing rules and standards.
Seven Wastes Refers to non-value added work such as the seven wastes (storage, transportation, over- production, processing, motion, defects, and waiting) which must be identified and eliminated. This method requires managers and workers to examine their workplace from an entirely different viewpoint. Waste identification and elimination is essential to implement any part of lean manufacturing.
KanBan (card or sign) Refers to a simple inventory control system that integrates information flow with material flow. In this system, a product is produced and stored in the producing work center along with a card. Next, the product is withdrawn (pulled) by the consuming work center when needed. As the product is withdrawn, the card is left with the producing work center as an order to make more products. This technique is largely responsible for reducing excess inventories.
Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) Refers to a Japanese concept aimed at reducing all factory set- ups of one hour to one minute. SMED techniques are a means of eliminating over-production from running large batches, not a method of decreasing process cycle time.
Quality Control Tools Consists of a broad variety of charting techniques that affect problem solving (e.g., Cause and Effect Diagrams, trend lines, histograms, Pareto charts). The techniques identify causes and cures for complex problems, and typically require the participation of several different departments for solutions.
Jidoka (autonomation with a human touch) Involves the modification of machines so they automatically shutdown upon the detection of defects. This concept eliminates the need for workers to stand-by and watch for defects; frees up the operators to handle other processes at the same time; and increases their productivity.
Standard Operations Emphasize that people, equipment, facilities, and techniques are required to produce a product. Standard operations include a diagramed process flow of a work sequence, the posting of piece parts’ cycle times, and time measurements for manual and mechanized work.
Lean Manufacturing Describes the system which encompasses a broad range of techniques determined to reduce costs by eliminating waste from the production process. Lean Manufacturing is often described pictorially as a house with a Total Quality Management foundation, a floor of Flow Production, and pillars of Just-In-Time and Jidoka.
Total Quality Management (TQM) Describes a proactive, company-wide quality system. Inspection of parts is largely replaced by thoughtful planning, control, and continuous improvement of processes. Employees in all functions are educated and empowered to identify and eliminate waste.
Just-In-Time (JIT) Means to produce only what is needed by using a minimum of materials, labor, equipment, and facilities.
UE does not force or overemphasize the use of any particular method, but instead encourages a blending of those methods that best fit a situation. Reliable methods are merely a tool for continuous improvement, and share several characteristics they are simple, inexpensive, and can be implemented by production floor employees, design engineers, test technicians, procurement personnel, and virtually anyone in the organization. UE educates its employees in great depth on the use of reliable methods, and provides incentives for continuous improvement. Management removes barriers and constraints that impede change, and empowers its workforce to make changes. Employees are encouraged and supported in transitioning their ideas into action.
UE’s Reliable Methods for Continuous Improvement is blended throughout all facets of its operations the factory is neat and clean; everything is in its place; the work flow is smooth; there are no wasted motions; and inventories are minimal. Through its reliable methods, UE reduced its inventories from $10 million to $2 million; increased its throughput by 30%; consistently delivers products on time 100% of the time; and improved new products’ design-to- production cycles by 50%.
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