The turn of the new year stimulates many of us to look back… and hopefully look forward. This is important, and could even be construed to be the "check" part of a Deming PDCA of life. It provides context, and a foundation upon which to build the future.
Looking back, I vividly recall my first ever experience with "lean." I didn’t know it had a name, and in fact I don’t think the analogous term for the Toyota Production System had been coined yet. It was during the mid-80’s and I was a development engineer with Sylvania, working to design halogen headlamps. We had recently scored something of a coup, and had sold over 100,000 headlamps to a major Japanese automaker. A few weeks later they called to request a meeting to discuss a "major quality problem." Dutifully we went over and met with our new Japanese customers in a large conference room. Three headlamps were on the table. We talked about a small crack in the resin base, proposed improvement programs, made commitments, and got up to leave. On the way out we asked if the rest of the problem headlamps could be returned to us to help our analysis. The answer stopped us in our tracks:
"Those are all of them."
The looks on the faces of the Sylvania folks are burned in my memory. Unfortunately most of them were along the lines of "Those crazy Japanese, this has just wasted a few days of our time." But a couple showed fear. They understood. They realized that the game had just changed. 3 out of 100,000 was unacceptable, and that was the new quality bar.
Many years later I was helping my boss design a new infusion pump manufacturing facility. Neither of us knew anything about lean, but we knew what a pain it was to get different functions to talk to each other and to track inventory in a regulated medical device environment. We created a huge open room, clean linear flows from raw material inventory through production to finished goods. Lines were designed to minimize inventory with one piece flow. All production support folks were grouped together in an open area on the manufacturing floor. It worked… tracking costs went down, inventory nosedived, scheduling convolutions disappeared, decisions were made rapidly, and quality shot through the roof.
I was later transferred to run a large medical molding facility, and wanted to duplicate the results. This time I did a search on the then very small world wide web and found some resource links. Other department managers soon wanted access, so I put it on the intranet. Colleagues from outside the company wanted access, so with ten seconds of thought the domain "superfactory" was found and the website created soon thereafter. The Superfactory website has grown to become one of the largest manufacturing excellence resource sites with several thousand daily visitors, the monthly e-newsletter reaches 50,000 subscribers worldwide, and the blog a couple thousand a day. Along the way I’ve met some amazing people and learned an incredible amount. Hopefully directly and via the website and blog I’ve been able to share back.
2007 will mark Superfactory’s tenth anniversary. All along the primary mission has been to deliver and promote manufacturing excellence knowledge worldwide. In keeping with that mission we’ve been working on several projects to radically improve, via new technology and new content, how knowledge is delivered to organizations and individuals. You will hear more about these new projects and capabilities during the upcoming months, with the first on schedule to be rolled out in February.
Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2007!