Flow production - 7th condition

From: Norman Bodek

Condition 7: Synchronization

Please consider viewing your future production facility in one-piece-flow.  Try not to find reasons why it can't be done.  Just feel that it is possible and slowly continuously improving every day, believe it can happen.   Mr. Ohno simply focused on reducing inventory, reducing the batch size.  As often written about him, he looked at inventory like a river covering all of the manufacturing problems: defective parts, machine problems, supplier delays, long set-ups, worker absenteeism, missing and faulty tools and jigs, etc. With excess inventory, with large batch sizes, factory problems like bad parts were simply discarded and you used another one from the excess inventory.  With lots of available inventory you were never really forced to get to the root causes of those problems. 

But, when you do operate in a one-piece-flow mode all of the problems that inventory hid must now be solved immediately.  And since the factory now operates in that one-piece-flow or just-in-time, all processes: machines, people and products must all be synchronized, must all be in flow.  For when one process stops then the entire factory stops, or at a minimum the entire manufacturing cell stops.  When the factory stops because of one problem, enormous attention is given to that process to insure that it comes back up quickly and never happens again.

As I walked through a Toyota plant or one of their major subsidiaries, I would see the Andon boards light up frequently indicating potential or actual problems occurring. A worker or a machine when detecting a problem: defect, missing part, faulty machine, etc. would trigger a light: yellow for a possible problem and red when the machine center would stop.  When red, immediately, an alarm would go off and you would see supervisors and fellow workers running over to help the center in trouble.  On my many tours I would see this stoppage happen frequently but it only took a few seconds for the problems to be resolved and the machines to be working again.

Hirano states, "When producing things in a flow, what speed is suitable? If speed is different for each process, it will become a "muddy flow" in which things stagnate here and there. It is called synchronization that each process produces with the same pitch and the tact time demanded by a customer." 

This week I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my book Kaikaku The Power and Magic of Lean was awarded the Shingo Prize.  It surely is an honor for me and something I would never really had envisioned.  I can remember my youth the scorn from my English teacher in the 9th grade who not only felt that I was hopeless when it came to writing, but who also told my friends not to play with me. "Stay away from Norman for he will never be any good."  Well, it just shows you that miracles can happen if you just continue to work hard and never, never "give up on yourself."

Norman Bodek is the president of PCS Inc. and author of The Idea Generator - Quick and Easy Kaizen, Kaikaku The Power and Magic of Lean and his latest book written with Chuck Yorke All You Gotta Do Is Ask.