Applying Lean Manufacturing to Binding at Duraweld Ltd.

by: Staff

For lean manufacturing to become part of a company’s culture, the majority of team members must think about continuously improving all processes – then make those ideas a reality. Below is an interview with Jamie Swan, production manager at Duraweld Ltd. in Scarborough, England, with a report on the plant’s lean improvements, which began in 2006.

Q: What triggered Duraweld to begin implementing lean manufacturing practices?
A: Four years ago, the production manager had left Duraweld due to illness. Richard Senior, the company’s managing director at the time, decided to advertise for a replacement with lean manufacturing experience. For 14 years, I had worked for a U.K. company that was part of a global group supplying the automotive industry. As a project supervisor there, I worked on the implementation of lean techniques like 5s, line balancing, standard operations, and visual management. After I was hired by Duraweld in 2006, I quickly started to implement a program of lean improvements. Richard was very supportive of the changes, and I formed a great partnership with Terry Cooke, Duraweld’s print manager at the time (and now sales manager).

Q: What goals did Duraweld set when beginning the lean manufacturing process?
A: Duraweld makes bespoke plastic stationery-protection products, including those with a range of decoration available on a tight turnaround (usually 10 days). As a result, Duraweld had a machine-utilization rate of around 50 percent and a staffing level that could easily deal with impacts. This meant that when an operator stopped making bespoke product, he was directed to make stock products based on a “gut feel” for what was required. The supervisors had a very poor view of what jobs were in the system and had become attuned to “firefighting” the workload.

I set initial goals to bring under control the waste in motion, conveyance, and overproduction that could be tackled immediately. The medium-term plan was to build a supervisor-led 5s program to drive organizational improvement throughout the plant and construct cell manufacturing units, where possible, to further reduce conveyance time. The ultimate goal was to build the whole entity of Duraweld into a synchronized system that eliminated non-value-added activity across the board.

The last goal required buy-in at every level of the business. Fortunately, the company’s dedication to integrating the core values of lean into a synchronized system took a step closer to realization with strategic investment in an ERP system and the dedication to delivering improvement by Hannah Senior and Mark Yeung, the company’s new managing directors.

Q: What were the first steps?
A: The first steps were considered to be, in lean terms, the low-hanging fruit – easy gains that would allow people to feel more in control of their workload. Our first step was to convert a “push” manufacturing flow to a “pull” process, which involved creating a visual management system that incorporates scheduling and maintenance. Kanbans also were introduced to stop overproduction. Previously, the material was issued for a job when the order was placed – even before that job was scheduled to begin. By simply changing to issuing material as a job commences meant that no work was carried out unnecessarily, taking up machine time, space in the factory, and other valuable resources.

The production schedule was handled on an Access database. Using supervisor control, the system tracked jobs through the factory using a traffic-light system: Jobs waiting were red, jobs in progress were amber, and jobs completed were green. Simple visual management techniques, such as shadow boards, make it quick and easy to interpret information about the job in hand.

The second step was to implement a 5s program that would be communicated to everyone in the business, from the managing director to the cleaner. I chose an area of the factory to become a model of excellence. Using a one-day workshop, the operators from this area were given an overview of the 5s and what we wanted to achieve by implementing 5s, then carried out a red-tag sorting exercise in the afternoon. The impact of the red-tag session was quite amazing. Duraweld had always been a relatively tidy environment, but during the first sorting session we removed a “hidden factory” of unused equipment and mess from inside the working factory.

Over the next four weeks, the same team took on the organization and cleaning of the model area. The floor was painted to define the work area, aisle space, and location of necessary items. Storage areas for quick-moving materials were set line-side, and shadow boards for essential tooling were created. We painted the floors under the machines white to assist with early warning of maintenance issues (oil or metal filings are often an early sign of wear). A labeling program ensured that items were always returned to their location and to help with waste management for recycling. Cleaning and maintenance procedures were advertised, and operators moving through the factory were likely to be asked about why they had left their work area.

Once the model area was set for maximum impact, everyone in the factory was given a tour in small groups to learn about the changes. There were nine more workshop sessions, which followed the same process. Eventually the whole factory has been transformed into a clean and organized workspace. A champion was then nominated for each of the 5s locations (we have 10 areas), who would drive the communication through the team of operators.

Two cell-manufacturing units were constructed for repeat stock products. By linking the process routes together, we were able to reduce conveyance and set-up time, build product awareness of previous/next process, and increase operator productivity. Kanban cards meant that we made only enough stock to keep supplies topped up, freeing operators to complete other work when the stocks were up to the maximum level.

Q: What challenges did Duraweld encounter during the implementation?
A: Duraweld staff responded very positively to the early changes. The workshop sessions helped to clear the path to change. Concrete goals, communicated well, usually have the desired effect. Lean manufacturing is a very simple, commonsense approach to making products, and when people realize that they can contribute, they will get involved.

There were some less enthusiastic people within the business who thought it was a revolution, rather than an evolution, or just felt that it would disappear as other incentives had. These were usually the people who felt most threatened with change or could see their role diminishing as efficiencies increased. The visual management techniques and work-area organization served to ensure that people were kept working. And by relentlessly challenging people who left their work area, the message eventually got through. Access to proper workflow schedules allowed me to limit the impact of some of the more negative people, and I could keep them busy with long-running work to ensure that their negativity didn’t spread.

Continuous communication, training, and the discipline to keep going through difficulties make a difference. Promoting positive values and creating an environment where best practice can be shared will eventually generate a momentum that makes it difficult for the dissenters not to join in. It’s a very rewarding moment when you get someone resistant to change to put forward a good suggestion and allow him or her to take the idea forward.

Q: What has Duraweld done to ensure that the lean manufacturing process will be sustained, long-term? Are there review procedures in place?
A: To achieve the next two stages of the 5s – standardize and sustain – we needed an audit and feedback system. The audit was devised to keep the areas under visual control, and five supervisors were given two audits to complete bi-monthly. I still provide the feedback to make sure that improvements in any area are communicated and adopted across the shop floor. The 5s audit scores are one of the company’s key performance indicators.

As a result of cleaning up the shop floor, Duraweld vastly improved its waste segregation and management. With a much-improved environmental policy, Duraweld achieved accreditation for ISO 14001 and pioneered the recycling of our own polypropylene manufacturing waste into print-grade material. We now recycle 100 percent of our manufacturing waste as well as much of our office and break-room waste.

In 2008 the introduction of Winman SSL, a Windows-based ERP system, allowed Duraweld to integrate electronic lean manufacturing concepts. Production Kanbans are now fully electronic, making tricky changes like seasonal stock adjustments easily manageable. Using a configurator to construct a structure for each quote, we no longer have to estimate costs manually. When the quote converts to an order – the manufacturing order is sent with one mouse click – the tracking schedule is filled with the traffic-light process flow, and the color changes from red to amber or green are generated through bar-code scanning. We also have a binder configurator on our website, where customers can create their own product; when a customer buys an item, the order instantly hits the shop floor. Duraweld is truly beginning to realize its commitment to lean manufacturing excellence across the whole business spectrum.

Q: How has lean manufacturing affected your production efficiency and profit margin?
A: Over the past four years, shop-floor staffing levels have been reduced by 37.5 percent – from 72 employees to 45 – meaning a 15 percent drop in our wage bill (even taking into account inflation, pay raises, and multiple increases to the U.K. minimum wage). Fortunately, we were able to gradually make these changes through natural wastage and by not replacing staff as they retired or moved away. Efficient staffing levels allowed us to keep the number of redundancies low when the recession hit. In addition, 49 percent of our products are now standard configured products, reducing office and administrative costs.

We also make money from our waste materials by good segregation and clean recycling processes. Process capability and control of defects in our main production product lines has just shown the best three-month period yet. In addition, visitors from other manufacturing organizations were given a presentation and tour of our facilities last February in an event organized by the UK Manufacturing Advisory Service. We are very proud of our factory and of a workforce who has responded so well to making lean practices work.