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Day: 9 March 2017

Next guestpost by Neil Irwin

Next guestpost by Neil Irwin

Hello readers

Last week I was part of a study visit week to the U.K. with the AES and some of the IGP graduate trainees. The progress that has been made in lean techniques and automation in some of the sites that we visited was very impressive, and this post will be about this subject. Two sites which impressed me in this way were Luton (Aerospace, Special Products Group), and Erdington, Birmingham (Driveline).

Our colleagues in Luton manufacture cockpit windows, canopies, and de-icing systems. Of particular interest here was the takt time oriented production line. Takt time is the time between the start of production of consecutive units, when the production rate is set to match customer demand. One of the transparencies manufacturing lines was set up as a sequence of workbenches, with the duration at each station set relative to the takt time. The operators were cross trained to operate multiple stations so that there were no single point failures in the line (e.g. if operators are off sick). The visual display area next to the line had a set of vertical plastic tubes below a heading for each product. Coloured plastic balls were used to fill up these tubes on a daily basis with the status of production; red balls were used for scrapped parts, green for completed units, and other colours to denote rework etc. The number of deliveries per day required by the customer were written next to each tube. This visual display system enables the whole manufacturing community to instantly spot quality or delivery issues. Furthermore the takt line itself allows great visualization of the production value stream. Bottlenecks and stations which suffer frequent breakdowns or quality issues become immediately apparent. The eye-catching visual display system and the structure of the line improve productivity and team spirit in the operators.

The second site that captured our interest was the Driveline site in Erdington, Birmingham. Here they manufacture driveshafts, propshafts, and associated components, and assemble them to ship to large customers as diverse as JLR, Bentley and Nissan. The difference in production rates between Erdington and Trollhättan is staggering. Our weekly part production rates vary from several units to far less than one per week. The production rates in Erdington range from hundreds of units to several thousand units a week.

To facilitate flow through such a site, they have made great progress in automation. Examples of the automation employed here are robotic arms to move parts between operations, and in and out of processing operations. Other examples were highly advanced machines both in terms of speed and size. It varied between machines that could perform operations in cycle times of a few seconds, to some of the largest automatic painting machines in the entire country.

All of these systems have decreased cycle times, reduced costs, and improved quality compared to the manual alternatives.

In terms of lean implementation, there are large PVD areas with clear metrics focusing on efficiency, quality and delivery. Practical problem solving and continuous improvement activities are applied on the shop floor, with great buy in at all levels of the organization. Andon screens display delivery progress and quality issues clearly throughput the plant. The shop floor is organized for efficient throughput of the flow units. The key to the creation of this system was twofold. First, true buy-in from senior management. Second, a dedicated time slot set aside for every single worker in the plant every week to focus on CI/lean activities. I think this time dedication to improvement, is what has really facilitated the success of the facility. We were extremely impressed with the level of automation and lean implementation we saw in these sites. Although not everything we saw is applicable to us in AES, I’m sure we can learn a lot from our colleagues in SPG and driveline.

See you soon!