Supply Chain Management / Lean Six Sigma / Operational Excellence / Workforce Development / Leadership Skills

How to optimize adding a new production line

In this Big Picture Interview, David Heubel explores how to get the right people involved at the right time when you're expanding production.

David Heubel is manufacturing engineering supervisor for Endress+Hauser Flowtec A.G. Division USA in the company’s Greenwood, IN, facility. In January, the company debuted its Proline 300/500 smart Coriolis mass and electromagnetic flow instruments; the tools feature innovations to the existing Proline product line, including remedy-based diagnostics that identify the steps needed to resolve particular events. Heubel spoke recently with Plant Services about the maintenance and reliability challenges associated with starting up new product lines while keeping existing lines going.

PS: You’ve talk about the need to do the small things today that prevent big headaches tomorrow. What does that look like for maintenance teams when it comes to adding a new production line?

DH: The most important thing in bringing on a new product line or with any project for us is getting involved as early as possible. We don’t want one person driving, and I want maintenance involved early. We calculated that we have in the maintenance department more than 140 years of experience. So we have a lot of stuff to bring to the table, and we’re able to identify and mitigate design issues if we can get involved early.
We also want to make sure that we’re getting maintenance instructions in place and preventive maintenance, spare parts, training, and all of that done before the machine even shows up to be installed.

PS: How many people, then, are on your facility’s overall project team for adding a new line?

DH: There are two project leaders and about 20 people between production, engineering, and other management who are involved in it.
Particularly on new products and machine launches and such, we try to put a technician onto each launch team so that rather than the team lead trying to interpret needs and time and everything, the guy that’s actually going to do the work is sitting in there. And then he can walk out and go, hey, this is going to take us about 20 hours to get this done.

PS: That gets to a great point – creating accurate timelines for launching a new line or expanding capacity is a big challenge. 

DH: It was a problem for us. I used to be the person who was always in the meetings. I’d been in engineering for quite a few years, and I hadn’t been on the floor that much. I was estimating time. The guys were coming back to me upset with me because I was setting unrealistic targets. So we decided from that point in time that any time there’s a project team formed, I’m sending the team lead and the actual technician who’s going to do the work.

I also let that technician go out to do evaluations. We give him time to go out and make a materials list, do any interpretations of the designs, and estimate his time.

PS: That kind of proactive mentality and collaborative approach, is a crucial part of a total productive maintenance strategy, which you’ve been working to implement. What has TPM meant for your facility?

DH: A big part of TPM is going from “operators operate and maintainers maintain” to “we all are responsible for this machine.” It’s not an easy job. We’ve got a lot of operators that are very motivated and want to help and want to get involved and want to learn. But there’s always a few that only want to do what they’ve been trained to do up until today.

Our operators aren’t to the point yet where they’re making adjustments to the machines. But there will be a point in time where that is going to be the expectation as their skills and abilities grow.

PS: With earlier detection of possible issues with equipment and operators getting involved in reliability-centered maintenance, that changes the maintenance dynamic. There are a lot of maintenance crews out there that are expert 911 fixers. Was that the case for your team, and how has that changed?

DH: Yeah, that’s were we were at. With the introduction of TPM, we’ve been able to take emergencies down from about 30% of our overall department time two years ago to 12% right now. The goal is to get it down to 5% or less.