I firmly believe that the most important benefit of any lean initiative is not the improvements that may be achieved in cycle time or inventory or cost, but in how it changes the way people think.
That point – and I’m certainly not the first one to make it – was reinforced for me recently when I took part in a kaizen event. Called “The Machine Whisperer” (love that name), it was sponsored by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence and hosted by Food Sciences Corp. in Farmingdale, NJ.
Food Sciences processes and packages dried food products, primarily for weight-loss. The two day event featured a half-day of training, then a day and a half of actual work, as those of us involved attempted to improve the performance of a large, complex bagging machine. (There were nine of us in the group, not counting the folks from Food Sciences – seven from manufacturers, myself, and Pat Panchak, editor-at-large of AME’s Target magazine.)
Food Sciences had already been through some TPM training and several previous kaizen events. They had achieved some impressive improvements in performance.
It’s all about breaking away from old ways of doing things, looking at operations with “new eyes,” as some members of our group put it, and thinking of them in new ways.
The best example I can think of occurred not during our event, but earlier in the Food Sciences lean journey. Sal Runfola, director of operations and the person guiding us, described how the company began tracking machine stoppages – something that had never been done before. The data gathered revealed that during a particular four-hour period, one machine stopped – briefly – 38 times. Now there is information that will focus your mind! The operator was so used to dealing with stoppages, he had no idea they occurred that often. And neither did anyone else.
However, what was more important than the actual data was that Food Sciences came to see the value of collecting that data. And that type of recognition is what lean improvement is all about.
How has lean helped you to think differently? How has your company benefited? Share your experiences below.