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Although the concept of “lean” manufacturing (or building the highest quality product, for the least cost and time) has been around for decades, in manufacturing – it’s more than a concept – it could mean life or death for a manufacturer.

Dan Martin, VP of Operations for Bidell Gas Compression, Calgary, shared his passion for lean manufacturing by opening with a quote from a recent press conference from the ill fated Nokia CEO Steve Ballmer, “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost”. 

Martin outlined an eight step process identified by W. Edwards Deming (Plan-Do-Study-Act) he has both implemented and utilizes daily at Bidell Gas Compression.

Deming is best known for his work in Japan, namely with Toyota known as the Japanese post-war economic miracle of 1950 to 1960, when Japan rose from the ashes of war to start Japan on the road to becoming the second largest economy in the world through processes founded on the ideas Deming taught. J. Edwards Deming. (n.d.)  In Wikipedia.

Martin outlined the eight steps within the process he utilizes at Bidell;

1. Setting a common goal. Although this sounds pretty basic, Martin pointed out many organizations work in siloes with varied beliefs and visions. Martin utilized the analogy of a manufacturing team operating like a rowing team - where rowers identify one sightline and are then able to paddle in the same direction.

2. Building a foundation/infrastructure that is scalable and repeatable, a key component in an efficient manufacturing process.

3. Setting up measures to establish targets and define deliverables, while making performance public, and creating a single version of the truth. Why bring all errors into the open? As Martin says, “If you can’t see it, it can’t be fixed or changed”.

4. Setting up quality assurance systems at all stages of the build, thus ensuring the final product the customer receives is error free.  In the wise words of J. Edwards Deming, “It’s not enough to do your best, you must know what do, and then do your best.”

5. Changing from sequential to concurrent design and manufacturing.  This concept is similar to the way MacDonald’s builds their burgers - each worker simultaneously assembles their part of the product, rather than waiting for each person in the assembly line to complete their piece. 

6. Shifting to task based manufacturing- where parts are staged and ready to assemble – in other words, move the people to the project. This is similar to the way Henry Ford produced cars (and to how MacDonald’s assembles their burgers) – an idea Ford liberated from US pork producers many years ago, adds Martin.

In short, task based manufacturing;  

  • Forces planning
  • Creates repeatability and consistency
  • Enhances quality and safety
  • Reduces labour hours
  • Shortens build times
  • Capitalizes on common build elements

7.Implementing value stream mapping – this is a fancy term for walking through the process and seeing where the bottle neck is, identifying what causes the blockage and figuring out how to increase the flow. Martin utilized the example of Heinz Ketchup bottles which were inefficiently built and caused the product to get clogged in the opening.  Heinz resolved this problem by creating a wider mouth bottle and eventually switched to plastic squeeze top bottles that sit upside down. 

At Bidell, bottlenecks are considered a plus, as Bidell maps bottlenecks to find opportunity, says Martin. In Bidell’s case – processes are mapped out on a white board with yellow sticky notes on top  - outlining this process has both saved and made them millions.

8. Letting a neutral person lead the team and never evaluating the process from your desk. A neutral person (not the creator of the process) has the gift of objectivity. Another critical component in the evaluation process, physically walking through the process, while asking the people you are interviewing to show you what they do and to identify their pain points, will provide an accurate assessment of the process’ efficacy.

In the final outcome, Bidell didn't change their recipe for manufacturing a quality product, they simply changed the way they applied the recipe -  utilizing the eight steps has proven to be a winning formula. As Dan Martin points out – “We control the processes, processes do not control us.”

Did change come easily?  Always prepared with a quote, Martin adds; “The only person who likes change is a wet baby”.  Roger Von Oech


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