How well do we tap the experience and creativity of our employees? When was the last time we asked for suggestions on how to improve our operations? Many of us like to think that by spending considerable time on the shop floor we can drive real improvement, but I bet we’re still missing some golden opportunities.
A couple weeks ago we were told about the results of Quick Changeover training at a local manufacturer. As usual, there was the initial skepticism until real-world examples were presented that demonstrated the huge potential time savings. By the end of the presentation the enthusiasm was clearly evident, and several technicians stayed after the meeting to discuss opportunities. There were many comments along the lines of "I’ve always known how we could drop the mold changeover time from two hours to twenty minutes… could I try some things?" Wow. Where were those ideas over the past few years? How much time could have been saved?
It’s important to build off of that enthusiasm by immediately assigning a point person, creating a team, and implementing ideas that create some quick wins.
But it’s also important to analyze some of the ideas. We once heard the story of another molding operation that had many products with long machine cycle times. So long that the press operator would often doze off while waiting for the cycle to end so that he could unload parts and load the next set of cores. If the unload/load process didn’t occur quickly after the end of the cycle, the mold would cool off and the next product would have rejectable short shots. The operator soon found that the sound of the automatic metal press guards opening would wake him from his slumber, thereby ensuring that the unload/load/slumber process could be immediately repeated.
What was his idea for process improvement? Add the same style of press guards on the other presses so that the other operators could be similarly awakened at the end of each press cycle! Yes, that would optimize machine output, but is it really what should be done to optimize the business? Perhaps a better solution would have been to stagger the cycles of the presses so that the same operator could stay busy by running multiple machines?
Stay in touch with your team and always ask for suggestions… but be sure to evaluate the ideas to ensure you’re really improving the total business.