December 6th, 2012
Returning to basics of CM brings huge benefits
Precision engineering firm RPM International Tool & Die has just had its entire management and engineering staff complete a National Certificate in Competitive Manufacturing Level 2, even though most of them have higher-level qualifications, and the company has practised competitive manufacturing for years.
“The reason for this is simple,” says RPM’s Chief Executive Officer, Chris Vincent. “RPM wouldn’t be competitive globally, and wouldn’t be where we are today, without our commitment to competitive manufacturing. But we have new management staff and new engineers on the floor, so it was time to take everyone back to the basics, refresh, and take the same journey together, from the CEO down. It was our way of saying to staff ‘as a company, this is important to us.’”
During training a substantial number of competitive manufacturing ideas, known as ‘quick wins’, were implemented. Now training is completed, an external consultant visits each week and audits the ideas to make sure what was put in place, stays in place. Twenty-eight recently audited quick win ideas had annual savings of $70,930. Chris estimates all the quick wins save the company between $100,000 – $200,000 a year.
RPM’s competitive, or lean manufacturing journey began in 2004, when RPM was one of six New Zealand companies that sent representatives to Japan to study the Kaizen system of continuous improvement for the first time. "Our senior management really bought into it, and when they returned to New Zealand Kaizen was implemented. The impact was profound: it radically changed our workshop layout and workflow, reduced waste and saved time and money.
“We have stuck with continuous improvement at a serious level, and doing Level 2 re-enforces that for employees, old and new. We chose Competenz because our staff would get a nationally recognised qualification, and Competenz could give us a path to further competitive manufacturing training. ”
At the start of the 12-month programme, the group of managers and engineers was divided into three teams, each with a different project. Team one was tasked with maintenance - a comprehensive programme for managing and tracking machine maintenance was developed, which also reduced waste of maintenance consumables. Team two applied the 5S workplace organisation method to the workshop (sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain). With this system, workspaces were further reorganised to improve the workflow and reduce motion transport waste. And team three tackled information flow – when there could be anywhere between one to 50 jobs of various size underway, it is vital everyone knows what needs to be done, and that jobs and parts are tracked.
Training provider Jeff Tuffnel would visit each month and spend two hours with each team, one hour on theory, and one hour doing something ‘real’ in the workshop, such as cleaning and organising.
“The challenge with competitive or lean manufacturing with a company like RPM that does job-shop work, rather than production-line work, is that every job is different,” says Jeff. “But you can still apply the fundamentals of competitive manufacturing, such as eliminating waste, and you still get savings.
RPM had been using the 20 Keys system as the backbone of their lean approach for many years. “As part of the training, we spoke to staff who agreed 20 Keys were too many. So we reduced these to 10 Keys.”
Following this, RPM implemented the quick win system. Individual employees were asked to look for opportunities to save time and eliminate waste in relation to the 10 keys. “We were overwhelmed with suggestions,” says Chris.
An example of a quick win is the workshop crane magnets, which were not stored in one location. This meant time was wasted, as staff had to search for them. “Crane magnets were reorganised using the 5S system. Here, lean manufacturing takes away frustration, as things are kept where they should be,” says Jeff. “RPM’s engineers are highly skilled and well paid. They don’t have time to waste looking for things. A quick win like this is easy to implement - if you can save time, you get greater value from employees and greater production.
With the course completed, each staff member now has to submit one quick win idea a month, relative to the 10 Keys. Out of the 12 submitted in a year, six must be at no cost, for example, keeping a workstation clean. “With the quick wins, employees are always looking for improvements. It creates a lean way of thinking, automatically.”
Any new idea is always trailed on the shop floor before it is implemented, and the change recorded with before and after photos and documented. Progress is monitored, graphed, and posted in the lunchroom providing feedback to staff so they can see improvements and savings.
“The benefits of competitive manufacturing are huge for RPM,” adds Chris. “As they say, lean is a journey, not a destination, so the training will continue in 2013 with Level 3 and 4 for senior staff.”