Finding Patterns

“What is your target condition?”

“One-by-one flow, meeting an 11 minute planned cycle time, with two people.”

“What is your current condition now?”

“We are making rate, but our lowest repeatable times add up to 28 minutes, and with that and the 32% variation we are seeing, we need 3 people on the line to do it consistently.”

“Where is all of that variation coming from? What are people struggling with?”

“All of the assemblies are different!”

And this was kind of true. We had five different larger assemblies firing in a repeating cycle:

A, B, C, A, D, E, A, B, C, A, D, E

And to make the discussion more interesting, each of these items has four sub-assemblies, of different types, that go into it. This line was building those sub-assemblies in a sequence that matched the need. So it is easy to see why all of that variation seemed overwhelming.

But there was commonality, a lot of it. The operations were very similar, with the differences being things like:

  • A left-hand or right-hand difference.
  • An operation is included, or excluded from a particular sub-assembly.
  • Differences in geometry that had little or no bearing on the actual operations being conducted.

My goal was to lead them to doing more detailed observations, seeing the blind assembly operations, chaotic layout on the bench, the occasional hunt for information, and at this point, the learning curve the assemblers are still coming down as we identify key points.

We are hard-wired to see differences in things – that blade of grass is bent, is there a tiger there? Sometimes it is more challenging to seek out and become aware of the underlying patterns. In other words, what these items have in common.

Rather than looking at obstacles to build the parts, we want to look at the obstacles to smoothly carrying out the operations. It is a subtle difference, but an important one. Sometimes you have to search through the noise to find the signal.

As of this writing, the bench is getting better organized, tools are getting homes, and some assembly aids and tools are being developed to avoid having large fingers trying to get things done in small places.

The work is starting to stabilize enough that the patterns are becoming more visible, which allows capturing the work breakdown in a rational way that can be taught – first the base industrial skills, then the common operations, then the sequence of those operations for specific parts.

We’ll get there.

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