Flow production - 5th condition

From: Norman Bodek

Condition 5: Multi-process operation·multi-skill operator

Traditional machine centers were normally set-up by machine type, lathes, punch presses, etc. One person often ran one machine, waiting, watching or doing simple repetitive tasks. For flow production we now align various different machines into a U-shaped cell to “one piece flow,” with the worker moving one part from machine to machine. The worker places a part into one machine or to a device that will hold the part securely while the machine operates on the part. The worker can then remove the finished part from the previous cycle and then move it to the next machine. Instead of the worker just running one type of machine the worker is now required to be multi-skilled to run all of the machines within the cell. In addition, the worker is expected, when necessary, to be able to do minor repairs to all of the machines. The worker’s job is expanded greatly.

“Funny, but prior to my first trip to Japan in November 1980 I went to the General Motors plant in Tarrytown, New York where they were assembling Oldsmobile’s. We did this so that we would be able to have some ability to compare an American plant with a Japanese plant.

When we entered the Tarrytown plant at first all you could see was mountains of inventory. Here they were assembling around 600 automobiles a shift on two shifts a day. On the factory floor they had 600 engines, 600 roofs, 600 tail pipes, 600 mufflers, 600 frames, 2400 to 4800 doors, 3000 tires, etc. Parts, boxes were piled almost to the top of the ceiling.

In the plant were also railroad tracks with a train sitting there waiting to be unloaded with another 600 car parts for the next shift. Also outside of the plant was another series of trains filled with car parts waiting to move into the plant the next day. We were told that waiting outside the plant were about a week’s worth of parts. I believe at the time that GM was turning over inventory four times a year while at Toyota it was over 200 times.

Our guide took us along the assembly line. I noticed particularly one worker working on the line putting fluid into the brake lining of every other car. This was hard to believe. He moved so slowly. To me it was deadly. I asked the guide if this man rotated jobs. He said, “No. In fact we had one man, all he did for 43 years was put tires onto a hook; then the tires moved over to the line. Ironically, when he retired he only collected two retirement checks.” Sure all the fun and excitement in life was over for him.[1]

Well, when we visited Toyota on that first trip and were also able to see the assembly line I particularly wanted to see the person putting in brake fluid into the cars. I did. But, he put brake fluid into every car not just every other one and he also put the windshield wipers on each car and also tightened a few screws on the dashboard.[2] This worker, if he/she wanted, could rotate weekly by posting their job on a bulletin board.”[3]

Today at Toyota in Georgetown, Kentucky , workers on the finished assembly line are multi-skilled and can rotate every two hours to different tasks. It makes the work more challenging and more interesting at the same time.

Multi-process operation is also called "longitudinal work", which means to look after as many different processes in the sequence of processing order. Operators trained in such a way are called multi-skill operators.

Norman Bodek

Please do read my books The Idea Generator - Quick and Easy Kaizen, Kaikaku The Power and Magic of Lean and the latest one written with Chuck Yorke All You Gotta Do Is Ask. 

[1] Here is the work of the future. How to create a working environment for both advanced manufacturing and for the quality of work life for the workers.

[2] I do have a personal gripe with the unions in America who shouted their favorite slogan, “work smarter not harder.” First of all, the average union worker was looked at as an extension of the machine and hardly ever was allowed to use their brains on the job and somehow the unions didn’t fight management against that abuse. They thought that moving slowly was better for the worker than really moving at work. Unions were against what they called ‘speed up.’ However, to me I feel so much better when my energy moves. I love sport activities and I love to move around a lot at work. And I just read recently that 40% of Americans are overweight, and probably a lot of that has to do with the way work is designed.

[3] Quoted from my book Kaikaku The Power and Magic of Lean.