Over the past few weeks Mark Graban at the Lean Manufacturing Blog has posted several articles describing his visit to the NUMMI plant. NUMMI is a joint venture between GM and Toyota, located in Fremont, California, and currently has 5,500 team members making a variety of vehicles for both companies. With a heritage from Toyota, they have a strong foundation in Lean. Mark’s posts are an excellent read, and are summarized below:
Post #1: Mark discusses an escalator that isn’t operable, but the practical and frugal side of TPS made NUMMI decide to intentionally not repair it as it wasn’t needed. His closing question: how often do you spend money because you "should" rather than really questioning the spending?
Post #2: A specific instance of continuous improvement is described, where the time to clean recycled metal carrier racks was reduced from four hours to one through a simple use of aluminum foil. Clever, but as Mark correctly asks, what is the true root cause for why they needed to be cleaned in the first place?
Post #3: Many companies use the "5 Why’s" method to identify root cause, but how many actually explain why? Mark describes an example of why "explaining why", particularly from the perspective of the customer, is important.
Post #4: A "pull gift shop".
Post #5: Even a good Lean plant can have problems. In this post Mark describes how the NUMMI plan had backslid on some work practices, and was having to recalibrate and move forward again (at the insistance of a GM manager no less). The point is that they recognized they had a problem, and did not try to cover it up.
Post #6: Standard work and 5S aren’t one-time events. They must be continually monitored, audited, and updated. NUMMI has a visual process for monitoring their standard work activities.
I always enjoy touring manufacturing plants, especially ones that have pockets of excellence. I come away with notebooks full of ideas to digest, and sometimes even over-enthusiasm to try some of them without thinking them through. It sounds like Mark had a similar experience, and I’d like to thank him for posting some of his observations.