By Phil Celotto
The Lean Manufacturing trend that has swept through industry over the last 20 years may have left some businesses behind. Many companies working in a Make to Order (MTO) or Engineer to Order (ETO) type of industry have rejected the lean manufacturing approach assuming that Lean does not apply to their business. The truth is Lean Manufacturing can provide a significant impact for MTO businesses if approached from the proper perspective.
The method to initiate a Lean improvement starts with a Value Stream Map (VSM), which captures every step in both the material and information flows in the current state map. Although the current state map is beneficial, the primary benefit for this map is in developing the future state VSM. The future state defines how product could be produced with less waste and delay and provides a roadmap for achieving improvement.
Although the method is straightforward, difficulties can arise for an MTO environment. Normal data collected, such as cycle time and changeover, can be difficult. Waste is also more difficult to identify because of the less structured environment.
In the future state, the tools needed to eliminate waste may be different than those for a high-volume business. Methods used to address these concerns depend on the situation. For the current state, the value-added time of operations can be compared to the actual cycle times. The disparity will provide insight into opportunities for improvement. Floor personnel should be included in the VSM effort to get an accurate understanding of rework and other wastes.
There are pitfalls with the future state. Operations may appear to be busy or efficient, but in reality there is hidden waste, such as looking for parts, interruptions and frequent design changes. These are the types of issues that may not be obvious when constructing a VSM with the typical perspective.
Pay close attention to how much work is released for production. Consider if the resources are overworked, resulting in poor efficiency, overcrowding and chaos on the production floor.
There are many examples where production is flooded with work in an attempt to ensure machine efficiency and show progress to the customer. In practice, the opposite often occurs as the resources for the constraint are pulled in many directions. For example, a large equipment manufacturer typically had two assemblers assigned to an assembly who were most efficient with handling material and tools. When the number of jobs grew, the assemblers were assigned one job each. This created a great deal of waste and inefficiency. The improvement for this situation was to limit the work released. This provided greater throughput and shortened lead-time, leaving more time to address engineering concerns before releases to production.
When addressing Lean waste, be creative. Make use of the team’s experience and don’t be limited to typical Lean solutions. For example, if forced to batch, determine if the start of the cycle is waiting for product to fill the queue, resulting in delays for the entire flow. An alternative may be to start the cycle at a set time and maintain a buffer of material before the process.
In summary, creating VSMs can help even an MTO company identify where problems are and develop methods for improvement. Use the maps to gain agreement on the issues, be creative in your problem solving, and always focus on eliminating the waste in your process.