Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Bringing Lean to Tree Island Steel

June 27, 2016
By Paul Siniak Tree Island Steel

Jun. 27, 2016 – A few years back, a new CEO took the helm at Tree Island Steel, a wire mill located in Richmond, B.C., with 360-plus team members. He was rebuilding a company that had struggled through a recession and he had a vision — a vision to reposition Tree Island as the industry leader it was capable of becoming and to assemble a team to lead the company into the future. Dale MacLean refocused his finance, sales, procurement and scheduling departments to move in one direction and he has not changed course since. He and his executives have quarterly meetings with all staff and operations personnel to inform them of the state of the business while opening up the floor to comments and observations on what and where we need to improve.

Lean is just one more tool in our company’s war chest that was embraced during the early stages of our turnaround strategy and is visibly supported by our CEO and senior management team. Tree Island has been in operation for more than 50 years and everyone knows you don’t achieve such a significant milestone without doing something right and operational excellence is the key. We still have a lot of same generation equipment and a lot of the same people — with a very proud culture.

Lean has proven to be one of the right tools because it educates and reinforces the same message every day: reduce waste, standardize, create a “no blame environment,” and look at problems as opportunities!

Lean education is a key which turns a lock that makes people think. As part of our employee induction program, I spend 45 minutes with every new employee on Lean 101 and we talk about our nine waste program:

T – Transportation
I – Inventory
M – Motion and movement
W – Waiting
O – Over-production
O – Over-processing
D – Defect
N – Not using your employees’ input
E – Energy (How big was your electric or water bill?) This is a waste worth going after!


I also train front line supervisors and other managers on Toyota’s 14 management principles. We do this weekly and I strongly suggest to anyone leading this type of training that you keep it light and as entertaining as possible but still communicate the message. Sometimes I provide examples using other types of products other than what we produce, like a bakery. If I hired five bakers to bake bread, I could get five different results unless I provided them all with a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that details the ingredients, measurements and temperatures. This illustration shows standardization and will give you the same results every time. No defects!

Making your factory a visual workplace is very important. Don’t bury your production numbers or downtime in computers or on papers. Doing this results in situations like this, “Hey Bob, what happened yesterday? I notice your production was pretty low and had 20 per cent rejects?”

Well, Bob had some problems and never saw a supervisor all shift so he just struggled through and the results came to light the next day. Our supervisors actively walk the shop floor and check production boards halfway through the shift giving them time to react to situations. We are not perfect and don’t have boards everywhere, but we are introducing more. It’s a journey, it’s not something that can be done overnight; support from above is essential.

If I could offer advice on how to apply Lean, it would go something like this… don’t try to do too much all at once, go slow, be patient, but continually reinforce the same messages. Your team will slowly start to pick it up and run a little — reward them when you see it. Support them. Try to make small improvements every day. Celebrate your small successes, even if you just talk about it. Get out from behind your desk and practice Genchi Genbutsu, which is Japanese for Go and see for yourself.

Paul Siniak is the Lean manager at Tree Island Steel. He holds a Black Belt in Lean and a Green Belt in Six Sigma. He received his training from David Koichi Chao of Lean Sensei International, and has travelled to Japan as part of the extensive training that Lean Sensei provides.

This column was originally published in the May 2016 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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