Reducing Surgical Residents’ Burnout Using Neurofeedback

Four Decades of Manufacturing’s Hits, Misses and Smiles

ISE Magazine September 2019 Volume: 51 Number: 9

By Richard J. SchonbergerA

After nearly 40 years of intensive observation of manufacturers and their attempts to implement just-in-time (JIT) production, lean manufacturing or Toyota Production System, I’m attempting to apply my industrial engineering skill set (such as it is) to sort out some of the good, the bad and the muddled. In this article I’ll pick out a few highlights of that re-search seen in years past, with first emphasis on methodologies.

While other researchers with similar aims have relied on survey research, mine is based on first-hand observation in which I’ve taken detailed notes, all under the general category of simplification. First, we consider unique examples of simplicity. Second are simplifications that are manifest in cellular manufacturing. The third is of configuring or reconfiguring the factory with simpler productive equipment, which entails withdrawing “monument” equipment in favor of “lean” ma-chines.

Each of the three is potent in itself. When combined they become a dominating competitive force

Unique examples of simplicity

As unique examples of simplicity I’ll refer to four manufacturers, Precor, Alstrom, Hon and Mark Andy.

Precor. I visited the Bothell, Washington, plants of this producer of high-end fitness equipment in 1991. The company’s demand pattern for its retail “bikes” (treadmills, stationary bikes, etc.) is seasonal but otherwise fairly regular. For its heavy-duty commercial bikes, ordered by contract, demand is highly irregular. Helping to cope, bike assembly was on stubby lines with cross-trained assembly teams using a uniquely simple system for ensuring predictably quick production and with built-in process improvement. In each line (or cell) each cross-trained, job-rotating member would hit a button on completion of a task, those hits displayed on an overhead screen. If one of the stations kept showing up as slowest to finish, that station (not the assembler) was seen as problematic and marked for process improvement.

Precor’s way of quickly and reliably feeding those assembly cells with machined parts was also rather unique. When production began on a big contract, there was minimal delay in machining the many component parts. That is because key machine tools are dedicated (with minimal or zero setup time) to narrow families of parts, owed to use of lower-cost conventional equipment for which high utilization is unimportant. These methods of delivering a flexibly quick response offer sizeable competitive advantages, inasmuch as most high-mix manufacturers of large metal items are mired in the batch-and-queue mode.

Along with those innovative practices, Precor employed simple, visual scheduling and material movement and kanban deliveries from suppliers.

Ahlstrom Pump. Ahlstrom, maker of custom pumps for the pulp and paper industry in Mantta, Finland (1989), is notable for uniquely simple cell-to-cell linkages. Machining cells were arranged in an arc with the assembly located centrally. Each cell was fronted by a large scheduling matrix, on which upcoming jobs were numbered in order of promise dates. Upon starting and completing Job 1 on Monday morning, each machinist would X it out on the matrix. When all components for that job had been completed and X’d out, that was the visual signal (with no computer or paper needed) for the assembler to start assembly on that job, and so on for the rest of the jobs throughout the week. This simple system made scheduling so reliable and inviolable as to be jointly used by marketing and production, referred to at Ahlstrom as “Rules of the Game.”

Hon. I was able to tour Hon Industries, maker of office file cabinets, chairs, etc., in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1987. Many veteran lean mavens, including me, have judged Hon as one of or even the best global applier of many aspects of the JIT/lean agenda. Among Hon’s numerous simple and effective prac-tices were clusters of metal-cutting and sheet-metal-forming machines that were intricately linked, one small machine to another, and another, which I labeled the “Rube Goldberg” effect from the once popular comic strip.

Mark Andy. The company operates narrow-web printing presses in St. Louis, Missouri (2001). I was delighted to see the simple system, instigated by vice president Paul Brauss, of visually lining up parts and tools, top to bottom and across, in racks near assembly, which worked wonders for getting their complex presses assembled quickly and accurately.

Simplicity is of a unique kind in each of those four companies. Three of them, Precor, Ahlstrom and Hon, combine their one-off simplifications with a far more common kind, namely their production being organized into cells. Cellular production is the second of the three broad methodologies taken up in this article.

Doing cells right – or not

Cellular manufacturing should be seen as the most far-reaching of methodologies making up lean/JIT. When scattered processes are brought together to form cellular clusters, each dedicated to its own family of products (or customers), many benefits easily come to mind: faster throughput, shorter flow distances, fewer hand-offs, smaller transport lots, smaller in-process lots, less in-process inventory, less damage, improved ergonomics and quicker discovery and correction of defects.

Also, being product family dedicated, product-to-product changeovers are simplified, even eliminated. Further, cell team members readily become cross-trained within the cell and be-fore long with adjacent cells, paving the way to their effective engagement in process improvement, as well as providing flexibility to adapt to demand changes. Those improvements are accompanied by reductions in or elimination of transactions for scheduling, material movement, time-keeping, labor charging and product costing. In effect, a cell can be treated as a cost-containment center, a simple alternative to conventional heavy-handed and error-prone overhead allocation methods of product costing.

Many or most of the manufacturers I have visited over the years have at least made a start on implementing cells. The fol-lowing are a few manufacturers that have done well with cells, and a few that have stumbled. In best-practice cell design, cell team members work standing up and may take a few steps in every cycle to handle two adjacent stations.Especially well done were the following:

O.C. Tanner, maker of custom-built recognition-award “emblems” in Salt Lake City, Utah, was visited in 2003. Tan-ner, a popular visit site for “industrial tourism,” might be seen, figuratively, as grand champion in the Shingo Institute’s pan-theon of winners of a Shingo Prize in manufacturing. Over 10 years, Tanner evolved to ever greater numbers of dedicated cell teams, cutting order fill times from 12 weeks to about two hours.

AmorePacific, a cosmetics company in Suwon, Korea (2003), is a standout in its consumer-packaged-goods (CPG) sector. Nearly all CPG companies perform fill-and-pack on one or two long conveyor lines. Amore bucked that system, replacing its own very long line with 23 stubby, minimally au-tomated cells with stand-up assemblers. This slashed finished goods inventories and lead times, which led to AmorePacific eliminating all of its sales reps and agents.

Johnson Controls Interiors, a maker of automotive interiors in Holland, Michigan, was visited in 1999 and exemplified a major difference between automotive assemblers and their components producers. Vehicle assembly was done on a few long, long assembly lines, components commonly produced in multiple product family-dedicated cells. At JCI, the cells were contained within seven focused factories; for example, 25 cells were for sun visors, in which cut-and-sew operations were cellular.

East Bay Generator, a remanufacturer of auto parts in North Oakland, California (1990), parlayed adoption of cells throughout to reducing time for operators to search for parts from six hours daily to zero.

At Fluke Corp., which produces multimeters and scopes in Everett, Washington (2003), cellular production was extensive: 75 or 80 cells with packout as last operation.

At Wheelabrator blast-wheel machines in LaGrange, Georgia (1992), I was shown cells upon cells, and a production/marketing cellular focus on high-margin “golden-flow” products.

At Rotary Lift, maker of hydraulic hoists for automotive service in Madison, Indiana, (1993), each of five cells even had its own paint line.

Plamex, which produces headsets, mikes and amps in Tijuana, México (1995), set up the plant in flow-line assembly modules. Corporate gave support for a pilot-test cell in 1999. In a phone call in 2000, plant manager Alejandro Bustamante said they had finally implemented a few cells, though still with operators sitting on chairs.

Examples of not, scarcely or minimally done:

A sports uniform maker in Alabama (1988) proudly showed off a special cell for “zero” lead time sewing of lucrative professional basketball uniforms. My question: Since it’s so simple and effective, in about all respects, why not go cellular for all other products? But globally, cut-and-sew is chained to grossly ineffective batch-and-queue methods (the exception being JCI, discussed above).

A guitar-maker in California (2001) whose vice president and his staff became enthused about cellularizing production, entailing short handoffs from station to station. Yet the plan went nowhere and at least one of his team re-signed.

My seminar class and I visited a personal computer company in the Shanghai area of China (2008), and in a pre-tour orientation by managers we were told we would see plentiful cells. There were no cells, just typically long assembly lines.

Equipping or re-equipping the factory

For cellular manufacturing to do its main job, which is to serve up flexibly quick customer responsiveness, there must be several or many cells, each product-focused so as to deliver con-current production – that is, produce multiple products and fill multiple orders at the same time, closely in tune with market demand. But how can a manufacturer afford to equip all those cells with the necessary equipment?

The answer is to phase out the monuments, lean’s term for big, fast, complex, costly, temperamental equipment that is designed to produce many different models but only one at a time. The result of that monument-ma-chine mode is batch-and-queue production of enlarged, wrongly mixed down-stream inventories, long order-fill lead times and poor market response. Cellular manufacturing replaces the monuments with multiples of smaller, slower, cheaper, simpler, more dependable equipment units, each dedicated to its own cell and product family. (Note: The author wrote of the benefits of smaller, more flexible manufacturing equipment in a June 2017 ISE article, “With machinery purchases, small can be beautiful,” found at

All eight of the manufacturers cited above under “especially well done” cellular manufacturing are equipped with such simpler equipment. O.C. Tanner and Amore-Pacific, being largely hand-touch producers, have it easy since their equipment is minimal and inherently small-scale. On the other hand, Wheelabrator and Rotary Lift produce large, heavy products so each of their multiple cells had its own metal cutting equipment, largely affordable, modest-sized versions. As stated earlier at Rotary Lift, “each of five cells had its own small-scale paint line” in sharp contrast with the norm of one big, long paint line that loops across one wall and down another.

In many industries, notably consumer packaged goods (CPG), monument equipment is entrenched, so much so that scarcely any company even considers the lean formula: multiple scaled-down units of their fill-and-pack equipment. When I visit such plants, I’m ready with arguments for re-equipping their factories through downscaling. Here are four examples, which involved serious speculations but to my knowledge not any implementations.

A brewery in Krakow, Poland (2008). As part of a company conference, my role included a tour one of the giant company’s best breweries. The plant was equipped, as is the norm in the sector, with very long and wide high-speed bottling and canning lines, and few of them. The plant visit led to discussions of a re-equipment strategy: replace the monument lines with multiple smaller, simpler, slow-paced stubby lines, each product-family dedicated.

The plan drew favor with high-ranking company people in attendance, but according to what I learned months later, there were no implementations. The implication – until it “leans out” its equipment, the whole bottling and canning industry will continue being out of step with consumer demand, the visual evidence being empty shelves in retail stores along with gluts of less popular items stacking up in warehouses.

A company making coaters for high-end colored/imaged film in Oklahoma (1986). The plant’s most critical piece of equipment was a big, complex, tempera-mental coating machine that required 37 steps to complete a product changeover, necessitating long runs of each product between changes. The high point of the visit was when some of plant’s engineers came up with the prospect and debated the technical feasibility of running two different products side-by-side on the too-wide coating machine. Thus, in the future always buy simpler, smaller-scale coaters.

A maker of confectionary products in the Netherlands (1989). In this candy bar plant, the wide forming and coating machine had characteristics similar to the coating machines, and the engineers’ speculation on running two products side-by-side suggested itself; that is, modifying the extrusion and forming equipment to run two different candy bars side-by-side. And, as with both of the previous examples, they should evolve to multiple, dedicated, stubby fill-and-pack lines.

Miscellaneous further examples

I could go on citing more visited facilities revolving around further lean/JIT process-improvement topics, which is a fairly long list: quick setup, kanban, visual management, cross-training/job rotation, job classifications, fail safing, behavior-based

safety, ergonomics and standup (no chairs) assembly, design for manufacture and assembly (DFMA), total productive maintenance (TPM), supplier partnership, costing/accounting implications, supplier (vendor)-managed inventory, trucks as warehouses, “make to a number and stop,” end-of-the-quarter push, continuous replenishment, employee and supplier certification, performance measurement/management, elimination of fork trucks, conveyors, material handlers, inspectors and WIP tracking, and more. Nearly all of these methodologies, different as they seem, result in or bring about simplicity. And most of the manufacturers featured in this article employ many of these additional JIT/lean methods and practices.

If all this sounds excessively serious in tone, how about fun, humor and smiles? Here are three examples of practices that are both effective and fun to do and to show off.

Roller-skate kanban at Sentrol, motion and smoke detectors in Tigard, Oregon (1992). Assembly took place in 13 dedicated cells, each requiring about 200 different parts. The big job of supplying the parts from central stores was by a team of material handlers on roller-skates, which is eight times faster than walking. They would collect an empty container at an assembly cell, skate to stores, swap the empty for a full one and skate back to the assembly cell to place it on the kanban square for filled containers. Work-in-process inventory fell from six weeks to four hours.

Mr. SMED at FCI, electronic connectors in Ciudad Juárez, México (2004). The plant’s changeover expert and fa-cilitator was known as Mr. SMED (single-minute exchange of die). Garbed in a yellow hard hat and smock labeled “Mr. SMED,” he went around assisting and training operators of the plant’s dozens of mold-presses and other equipment. I took a photo of him in front of a setup-timing clock and setup tools. It was working: Changeover times on the mold-presses had been cut from three hours to 45 minutes.

Kanban is entrenched at Johnson Controls EMSU, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1990), where I took a photo of a place on the floor in which even the dust and the broom were marked off as kanban squares.

Other examples of fun and humor have been minimal. Rather common, though are examples of wry humor. Here are three.

By car on the way from the airport to Miller Brewing in Trenton, Ohio (1993), my host, plant manager Dennis Puffer, said, wryly, “You’re going to hate my plant.” And I did; he did, too. But Puffer and staff made the best of it by use of the “star-point” system in which production people are cross-trained in five functional support areas, one being administrative (budgets, costs, purchasing, time and attendance, over-time coordination and record-keeping). How they could find time for all that training and then put it to use required scheduling in a remarkably innovative way: By paying all production operatives for nine instead of eight hours per day (five hours a week of overtime rates) all year long. It paid off in high rates of process improvements. And this plant produced about the same amount of beer as similar-sized breweries but with about half as many employees.

At Apple Computer in Fremont, California (1988), while touring the receiving area, I asked if all incoming parts had to be put into the large and growing automated tote stacker. The answer was yes. “Even parts that are to be used in assembly the same day?” I asked, with raised eyebrows and a wry smirky smile. That exchange led to the suggestion to stage at receiving empty, labeled kanban containers so that parts needed the same day would avoid the stacker and go direct to points of use. The next step: Start shrinking the size of the stacker.

At BMW Engines’ largest engines plant in Steyr, Austria (2011), machining of crankshafts was done on about seven side-by-side, multistation “lanes,” each with high station-to-station automation. Machining of any crankshaft was scheduled on any of the lanes, and when one station faltered, the job automatically moved to a station in a sister lane. As we (myself with a bunch of academics) were moving on from crankshafts, the tour guide was asked if they had one or more dominant engine models that could be dedicated to run on a less-automated lane. His wry reply: “BMW likes to make things complicated.

”As a brief epilogue, among my more recent plant visits was one in 2014 to Electroimpact, a massive-scale automated tooling equipment, e.g., handling entire airplane wings, in Mukilteo, Washington. I’ll not attempt here to explain about this amazingly unique manufacturer except to say that much or most of its employees are engineers who take on an unheard-of breadth of dedicated-to-customer responsibility. When I was a young practicing IE, would I have relished that much responsibility? Hmm.