It’s a Lean world

Monday October 17, 2016
Written by Darrell Gibson
Oct. 17, 2016 - I was recently on vacation in Nanaimo/Victoria, B.C., and as always, I did some touristy things. The tourist industry just about everywhere has Lean down to a science. They move many people through a maze, usually quite efficiently. They have accomplished this by analyzing their data, number of guests, complaints, lost children, etc. This has me now watching other industries for good Lean principles.

Likewise, if you look at road construction, they put merge lanes up with plenty of notice. If everyone were to heed these signs, the traffic would flow quite well. However there are always people that try to gain just one more spot by budding and others that don’t seem to understand merging should start as soon as you are aware of the situation, not at the last minute.

In a world consumed by speed, everyone is looking to get more done in a shorter time frame. Just watch a soccer mom schedule her week — it’s awe-inspiring. I can’t count the number of people I’ve overheard saying our favourite drive-thru should have two lines: one for food and beverages, and one for only beverages. We are all becoming Lean experts.

I have witnessed a pharmacy that had me taken care of in under five minutes. It was unlike any pharmacy I have ever seen, everyone had a role and they were all good at their roles. Any big box store is full of efficiencies, just watch them — their shelves are full everyday with the items we need to live our lives. They do this with minimum-wage employees that take ownership of tasks. I’ll leave the moral argument of that business model to others.

How does this translate to being helpful for you? Here are some examples of Lean principles I have utilized from the real world.

• I needed to send a complex machine to a part of the world with assemblers that do not speak my language. I sent drawings that were stapled together in order of build, and all relevant parts were numbered for each drawing. Pictures say a thousand words — this method was copied from a toy block company.
• I have set up warehouses to mirror a large furniture supplier. All relevant parts and their locations were on the work order, simplifying even the most complicated build.
• To Lean down employee numbers, cross training is an absolute necessity. This makes bottlenecks a thing of the past. Again, this was inspired by a fast food chain that always impresses me with its efficiency.
• A drill index is the case that holds drill bits in sequential order. This level of organization with bits inspired the creation of a paint hook numbering system that allows even new employees the ability to quickly identify our various types of hanging hardware.

The Canadian Armed Forces put on a good air show. If you have ever been to one, their logistics for dealing with traffic and attendees are second to none.

When you are involved in an efficient situation, you get a warm feeling inside. You feel you are taken care of, that all possible outcomes will be dealt with well, and you feel safe. This same feeling can be felt through any organization that is well-planned. The calm that every employee feels moves well toward a stress-free environment. This is the most desirable situation, as stress-free employees, hands down are the most efficient employees.

As a plant manager, I always look for the most stressed employee. Since stress is an indicator of inefficiency, it is my duty to help eliminate it. This helps me better understand the limits of any particular person, and to better help set them up for success.

This large planet is becoming a very small world. Pay attention, it’s amazing what you can see. Everyday interactions happen — between people, machines, systems, technology and environments — and they can possibly solve some of your life’s inefficiencies. All it takes is a little thought and a lot of creativity. We cannot reinvent the wheel, but we can always make a more efficient one.

Darrell Gibson is a plant manager located in Vegreville, Alta. Thirty-seven years in the trenches of industrial manufacturing has culminated in a thorough understanding of how plants function. From humble beginnings as a saw operator/cleaner, Gibson has climbed the ladder of a system that favours degrees over experience.

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

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