Column Management

Low-Cost, Zero-Meeting Improvements

Gary Parr | September 20, 2017

Plant tours are high on my list of things to do. They feed my natural curiosity to learn how things are made and the roles people play in manufacturing. I also get to learn about the little things that people do that often make a big difference.

Recently I hit the mother lode and was able to tour the plants of three different manufacturers in one day in Wausau, WI. (Yes, I got my steps in.) While all of these plants had reliability programs established or in the works, I was intrigued by what was being accomplished without lengthy meetings with management and accountants and hours of planning and training.

I started the day at Wausau Window and Wall Systems. While touring their impressive LEED Silver facility, we stopped at a bulletin board on which were posted several sheets of paper. They were the submission forms for an ongoing improvement program.

The initiative allows any worker to make an improvement in his or her work area at any time, provided the cost to the company is $50 or less. Filling out a simple form is all that’s required. In the past year, the company has realized a savings of $200,000 from this simple employee-driven program.

My next stop was at Kolbe Windows & Doors. This company is a craftsmen-based manufacturer that does primarily custom work and uses very little automation. But the company is always trying to improve its operations. Through its 5S program (Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain) and general management of daily improvement programs, the company encourages team members to organize and improve their own workstations. Specific improvements that have been implemented include:

Shadow boarding all needed tooling. Kolbe craftsmen use a lot of hand tools and this time-honored technique provides immediate visual feedback as to what tools they have, where each belongs, and, most important, if something is missing.

Using Kanban inventory-control systems for things as simple as bins of screws. Keep two bins. When one is empty, use the next and take the time to refill the empty bin at the end of shift.

Focusing on safety and ergonomics. They place as many things as possible/practical at the point of use to avoid bending and reaching. One example is using cord reels to feed air lines from the ceiling to the point of need. In addition to efficiency, if an angled air line is observed, it indicates that something happened in that area and there may be a quality concern.

My third stop of the day was the Linetec factory where they specialize in efficiency. The company paints or anodizes aluminum extrusions for a wide range of customers, turning most material around within 24 hours.

As part of Linetec’s 5S approach, personnel use a 3-30-3 guideline when setting up or reorganizing a new area. The guideline requires that all items used regularly throughout the day be within a 3-sec. reach. Items used once a day should be within a 30-sec. reach and items used once a week should be in hand within 3 min.

To improve emergency-equipment visibility, Linetec personnel painted red, to a height of 15 ft., all columns that hold fire extinguishers. This was done in phases, required very few meetings, and the only costs were paint and time.

One other inexpensive practice I noticed in all three factories—they keep the facilities clean and organized. Yes, there probably was a little extra tidying up because I was there, but it’s not hard to tell if a place has been cleaned for guests or if it’s normal behavior. My sense was it’s normal behavior in all three plants and we all know that keeping things organized and clean makes operations more efficient and, above all, safer.

Maybe these are some low-cost, zero-meetings ideas you can implement in your operation. Or possibly you have an idea and would like to share it. If so, send it to me and I’ll do the sharing. MT




Gary Parr

Gary Parr

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