Bill Briese's blog

Most manufacturers are familiar with or are using lean principles to streamline manufacturing and related processes. While this effort pays dividends reducing direct manufacturing costs, look upstream. Often the new product concept and design processes are not in the lean-loop and by then it is too late to be truly lean. Most new products initially go through a design, prototype, refine, release cycle. Guess what? Most people involved with those new product launch processes are not practicing lean. It is not in their nature to think lean design and attack where there is most to be gained, which is product simplification.

Any component that can be designed out of a product is the ultimate in lean, since that part does not even exist to quantify waste, including supply chain logistics, inventory costs, etc. Believe me, as an engineer I find it easy to fall into this trap. We look at the functional requirement and build up the product around that requirement, not giving much (or at least enough) thought to simplicity. We draw on our past experiences to produce a functional and acceptable product. While that works, we’re not thinking lean.

Today’s technologies offer so much opportunity for part count reduction. The automotive and mobile phone industries demonstrate countless examples of lean product simplification. Fasteners are being replaced by adhesives and integrated snaps. Robotics take the place of clipity-clop mechanical contraptions. Ethernet and fiber-optic networking has reduced giant bundles of cable into a single wire. Have you checked the price of some of these so called high-tech products lately? You might be surprised to find that simple (i.e. lean) has become cost-effective. Is your first thought when looking at a machine “Wow. That looks complicated.”? If something looks complicated, it likely is.

We start thinking about lean principles when the new product hits the manufacturing floor. But every product you make can be designed leaner and simplified. And it’s time for you to simplify it. Then when you’re done simplifying it, repeat the cycle. Master this process and you win.

The author is R&D / Engineering Manager at GED Integrated Solutions.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

A few months ago while watching the Winter Olympics, it occurred to me how incredibly specialized these athletes are. I mean, have you ever tried the ski jump or gone down an icy mountain at 70mph? I wouldn’t dare, but these athletes spend a good portion of their lives developing and refining their specific skill, allowing them to perform at this high level. Just as these athletes train for years, why should we expect success with our workforce without training?

We are seeing a positive trend in building and manufacturing activity from those dark times of a few years ago, and are under pressure to respond. We need to re-tool for higher performing products; to automate; to increase staff; increase productivity; and we might need to remember how to do tasks that we’ve not done for the past several years.

Your manufacturing facility, your installation processes and your offices are filled with technology. Your machinery is an orchestra of movement; that tube of sealant contains some amazing chemistry; that software has tremendous power; and that tool works great…all if used properly. Without doubt, advancing technology is our natural tendency; it’s in our DNA to do things faster and better. However, new technology brings with it complexity and this can be crippling if taken for granted.

That’s right, the key is TRAINING. How do you commission a new piece of equipment? How are new employees trained? Many times existing operators train new ones who are often temporary.  Repeat that cycle a few times and your process is quickly out of control. 

While visiting a manufacturing facility recently I noticed a sign in front of each machine saying, “This Machine Requires a Certified Operator”.  Bravo to that manufacturer!

Does your workforce know how to safely perform their job function? Is there a documented training program that validates and certifies competence, and have funds and time been allocated for this most important process? Your success depends on it.

The author is R&D / Engineering Manager at GED Integrated Solutions.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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