Lean Manufacturing Management

Develop Problem Solvers

Klaus M. Blache | May 10, 2020

Establishing and sustaining a successful continuous-improvement process requires commitment and support at all levels including, for most, a significant culture change.

I’ve worked with several companies that started with a TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) process they rolled out with awareness training and follow-up Kaizen events. For most, the process went fairly well. None of them, however, attained the desired level of autonomous maintenance owner/operator. Also, team members didn’t realize the time needed to implement ideas or develop the culture required to support a robust continuous-improvement process.

TPM continued, but slowly became less effective without the proper plant-floor coaching and support. Specifically, elements didn’t materialize such as acquiring the needed level of understanding of overall production processes and time to follow up on ideas for implementation and evaluate whether an idea worked. To realize success requires consistent management support of daily decisions.

As is typical of many organizations, one company placed more emphasis on operations (production performance) than asset health. Then the company went to an RCM (reliability-centered maintenance) approach with a reliability leader and a small support staff. In the first few years, good progress was made through training and pilot projects that showed positive results. With these wins, more people were understanding the relationship between reliability/maintainability and safety, process variability, uptime, and cost.

Then came management changes and the new leadership wanted to organize and drive RCM under lean manufacturing. This was done abruptly and destroyed the informal processes and relationships that were enabling success. It quickly became just another failed attempt. It was not the processes that directly failed. The lack of process consistency and change management caused the system to fail.

The three methodologies—lean manufacturing, TPM, and RCM—are all intertwined. Lean is typically implemented with more than 30 elements, such as standardized work, error proofing, 5S, TPM, and visual controls. Facilities that understand TPM know that it is, foremost, a continuous-improvement process, instead of just a maintenance process. It’s about the entire plant being involved in improving operations (overall equipment effectiveness, six big losses, operator involvement, reliability, and better asset utilization). Too often, companies partially implement and try to do it in too short of a time period, while still expecting great results.

In simplest terms, lean manufacturing minimizes process waste while providing maximum value. So do TPM and RCM. TPM targets zero breakdowns, zero defects, and zero accidents. RCM ideally wants to design-out all failures. It’s an asset-management strategy to identify components that can cause unwanted consequences upon functional failure to your facility/assets/people. It includes putting in place the best type of maintenance strategy and intervention/monitoring, along with technologies. This is part of PM optimization.

What’s missed (or at least not fully implemented) is that all of these processes require ongoing education, workforce engagement, problem-solving skills, and a new thinking process for all. If they are not understood and supported as such, the process will have sub-optimal results or fail.

Leaders at all levels who can build and sustain employee enthusiasm in small-team continuous-improvement systems (aligned with plant and employee goals) open the gateway for a successful operation. It may be titled lean, TPM, and RCM, but people must want to make a positive difference and be provided with a workplace that makes it possible for them to reach company goals. EP

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at kblache@utk.edu.

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Klaus M. Blache

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