improving our employees’ quality of life, our processes, and our products.” A
steering group was set up in early 2014 to create other departmental teams that
could then start working on more local challenges throughout the manufacturing facility.
That initial effort, however, lost momentum over time. Although management supported the effort, many of the participants underestimated the daily
time commitment. Daily meetings became every-other-day meetings, which
soon morphed into weekly meetings. Soon people just stopped meeting.
Kata requires a greater level of discipline to execute properly. The team, made
up of a “first” coach and a learner from the department and a “second” coach
from elsewhere in the facility, have a 15-minute meeting at the same time every
day. It is sacred time. No meeting comes before that. No phone calls come before that. That’s why upper management support is so important.
The team has to follow a scripted set of questions. They are prepared to deliver the answers, which gets them closer to a “target condition,” a short-term goal
that the team works toward over a one- or two-week period. Every achieved
target condition gets them closer to meeting the short-term challenge.
In 2015 the kata effort was relaunched with much better success. Employees
see the need to revere the time dedicated to the daily meetings. They realize
that they are taking one step forward every single day, as opposed to one or two
steps per week.
Some of these teams begin very awkwardly, getting used to this new process
and the idea of formal procedures during the meetings, but then they grow in
confidence. They ask good questions and provide constructive feedback. In
some instances, people work on these challenges at night because they are passionate about solving problems.
A small five-person group representing the core areas of the business steers
the efforts, reviews the progress, and creates the challenges that the kata teams
work on. This group, which is separate from the larger lean manufacturing steering group, meets once a week on the same day at the same time for kata walks,
where they personally visit the different areas of the shop floor to gauge progress.
One of the company’s largest kata successes is in the welding department. The
team was charged with the challenge of creating a process or metric board that
would define the workload for a robotic welding cell, which was not being utilized
to its capacity. In fact, some days the robotic welding cell wasn’t even used.
When it was being used, the robotic cell was used for small parts. It had two
sides dedicated to production welding, but really had only about three fixtures,
which represented the welding cell’s underutilized state.
The kata team jumped into the project. They tackled the jobs that were already running in the welding cells, performing time trials and keeping detailed
notes. Then they started investigating other jobs that might make sense for the
welding cells, ultimately identifying at least six parts that are routinely fabricated and rarely have engineering changes.
Needless to say, the move of manual production parts to the welding cells
was huge. To see production time improvement of 70 or 80 percent was not unusual. Obviously, producing more parts with the welding robot also resulted in
To remind the shop floor about production levels in the robotic welding cells,
the team developed a schedule board (see Figure 2). Each column, representing a shift, has about 12 hours in it. When a job is scheduled for a welding cell,
the operator places a placard in the column that details the part number, quantity, and the time it takes to complete the job. If someone walks by the board,
they can see just what parts are going through the welding cell and what is currently being worked on. When the placards reach eight or 10 hours in one of the
columns, no one else is allowed to add any more work for that shift.
The Next Steps?
This is just the beginning for the company in terms of formalizing continuous improvement efforts. It’s a good start, and everyone is learning quickly. It just takes
a lot of coaching to make these initiatives a permanent part of the company’s
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culture. Manufacturers have to take it one step at a time and allow employees to
learn a different style of thinking.
Those companies that want to boost their own lean manufacturing initiatives
should invest in good trainers. They know how to get the people involved and
coax positive behaviors out of them.
Additionally, management must support the efforts and be willing to set the
example. Any behavioral change in a company needs to be championed by
someone with authority, and those people are typically the decision-makers.
Leaving such a transformative task to a junior-level employee buried in the engineering or quality department is doomed to failure.
Editor-in-Chief Dan Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stan Whitaker is continuous improvement facilitator, Camfil APC, 3505 S. Airport Road,
Jonesboro, AR 72401, 870-933-8048, www.camfilapc.com.