Creating A Culture Of Continuous Improvement 63d2d5d8c28f6

Creating a culture of continuous improvement

Feb. 9, 2023
In this episode of Assets Anonymous, George Williams and Joe Anderson say once your plant is effective, it's time to focus on efficiency.

Assets Anonymous is a 12-step podcast series designed to help you get grounded in reliability basics and create a culture of continuous improvement with your team. This series will feature interviews with George Williams and Joe Anderson of ReliabilityX. ReliabilityX aims to bridge the gap between operations and maintenance through holistic reliability focused on plant performance. In this episode, George and Joe show us what's possible when you adopt a continuous improvement mindset.

PS: This 12th step is on continuous improvement, and we talked a little bit before we started recording about what this really means. Maybe we can start with the idea that over this series we've gone through steps to develop and implement stronger maintenance, reliability practices, and that now that effectiveness is in place doesn't mean you're going to be guaranteed to be efficient going forward. So let, let's start there, sort of unpack what that means. How do you focus on the efficiency end of it?

GW: Well, if you've done the first 11 right, Thomas, you don't need step 12. I'm just kidding!

JA: So effectiveness by definition is, doing the right things. Just so that it's understood, effectiveness is doing the right thing. We've talked about all those foundational elements that you need in order to have the right things. Efficiency is just improving upon current practices, and driving out more waste. Making them better.

The thing is, I can be doing the wrong things, and still make it more efficient, right? A good example is if I have a 55 gallon barrel of oil and I dump it down the drain, if I want to make that process more efficient, I might use a funnel so that all of the oil gets dumped down the drain, right? I've made that process more efficient. That doesn't make it right.

Understanding what the right things are and having those in place, that's where you begin. But now how can we make those processes more efficient? Things like planning and scheduling, things like executing work and setting up routes and using your PdM technologies, even on the operator end, focusing more on quality issues like incoming raw materials, making those processes more efficient. That's your continuous improvement phase and continuous improvement focuses on efficiency.

GW: In the earlier steps, we talked about things like operator inspections and things of that kind, so previously we weren't doing anything. We try to reduce the change over time by saying do it faster, and so what that leads to is skipped steps. In the effectiveness approach we're saying, ok, you need to inspect this part of the machine to make sure it's going to operate well, make sure the settings and gaps are right.

In the continuous improvement phase, we're trying to see how we can do the right things more efficiently. And so we create a jig for the person to do the setup and make sure that yes, they no longer have to take a measurement, they put this piece in place, slide something over, tighten it, it's going to be perfect because the jig is perfect. We've made their ability to do it faster, and created more efficiency, which can in turn reduce the changeover time, but it didn't change the effectiveness of the changeover.

What tends to happen is it's very easy to be a critic. We have these CI teams and these lean teams and with good intentions, they are going out to see what is happening, but they're not understanding the process or the effectiveness of manufacturing necessarily. They're going out to judge what happens today and try to make it in and of itself more efficient, and it could still be the wrong things. So in the process we're at today, we're talking about having done the effectiveness pieces first, and now we're looking to see how we can make those more effective and more efficient locally, right at the line. Like having all of your materials readily available, not waiting until you need them to go get them, right? Lots of things can improve efficiency, and the continuous improvement cycle still includes the effectiveness side as well, because we're not perfect. And just because we went through that phase once doesn't mean we nailed it.

JA: From a maintenance perspective, a good example is setting up your machines for inspection. So for example, running headers out of your machine from every bearing so that you can lube while the machine's running. The goal in maintenance is a majority of your PMs should be done while the machine's running. That requires you to set up things, so for example, chain guards or V belt guards, you cut out the front end of the guard and put plexiglass in so you can do a visual inspection while it's running. You can use a strobe light, you can do all these other things that make the process of doing the inspection more efficient. Utilize your manpower in a way in which you can get more work done because things are being done quicker and they're just as effective. Single-point lubers, or putting on those types of things. That's stuff that you gain efficiency with, from a machine perspective.

And then you look at your processes, right? Your storeroom: how efficient is the process in your storeroom of checking out parts and finding parts. Planning and scheduling: how well are you job kitting? How are the kits being delivered? Are you even kitting? You started planning and scheduling, but are you even kitting, right? And then how do you work between planner and the storeroom to make that process more efficient? That's where you're continuously improving upon the processes that you've put in place.

Your lubrication management, your PdM technologies. How efficient are your routes? Do you have to walk over a machine and then back over a machine, or can you do all of one side and then circle around to the other? Is that route more efficient?

PS: One of my favorite terms in our industry is “squirrel stores,” because a term had to be invented to describe the effect when people don't want to walk to the storeroom or think the storeroom's going to fail them, so they keep their own set of spare parts kicking around in various locations in the plant, sort of saving things for a rainy day. Is that one of the things you would target? Or is that, is that one sign that that efficiency could be improved in a plan?

JA: Do you need to store parts if nothing breaks? How about you become more reliable, then you don't have to worry about it.

GW: If the store room is actually being run properly, when you use the “squirrel stores” as you've termed it, the actual storeroom doesn't see any turns, and so they stop stocking it. And then when you run out of your squirrel store and you go to the storeroom, they don't have what you need because they didn't see any demand, so they don't stock it anymore and then you're going, “ah, storeroom messed up, they never have what I want.” So it's a Catch-22. It's not the same as not having point of use. I'm a firm believer in point of use, but it needs to be managed by the central storeroom, not in some technician's cart someplace.

JA: Hidden stores and satellite stores are two different things. I don't want to get that confused, right? Hidden stores is where people store things in cubbies and you can't ever find it. Only that one technician will be the superhero that pops up with the one part he needs.

Where a satellite store is a location where you store parts, right? For example, it's good to have satellite stores out on each line. For operators, for quick change parts, things like suction cups, these wear components that can wear and that are a nuisance. You don't want to take 20 minutes walking into the storeroom to change a two-minute suction cup. You should be able just to grab it and change it so you minimize the amount of time you're down. So satellite stores are a good thing, hidden stores not so much.

PS: Let's talk about planning and scheduling too. How often do you see that role, sort of fully engaged with the maintenance crews where everyone's sort of working together? Where do you see the easiest points of improvement in that relationship?

GW: So I think that engagement exists in most places, not all. I think the easiest area to improve in this space is for the planner to truncate their scope. Most organizations have hired a planner because they listened to this podcast and somebody said, “planning and scheduling,” and they're going, “man, if we do this planning and scheduling thing, we're going to be more reliable.”

Now (a) nothing could be further from the truth. , that's not going to make you more reliable in and of itself; and (b) they end up hiring a planner for 20, 30, 40 technicians, and the planner's trying to manage the volume of work that comes in for that number of technicians and they just can't handle it. What that leads to typically is a focus on the job plan and the hourly estimate, and not in getting the parts. The actual efficiency is in the getting the parts piece. It's in the technician not having to travel back and forth and get the parts. It's also in developing a partnership with operations to make sure maintenance works on as much work as they possibly can in the time they are allotted for a specific line, trying to get more work done in that amount of downtime.

Listen to the entire interview

Whereas today they just kind of show up and say, hey I need a line for an hour, and they do one work order and meanwhile there's five other work orders that other people could have done on the same line at the same time and giving you back operational time. So I think there's two areas of focus. One is combining or taking advantage of the available time, the plan downtime of a line. The second is descoping down to the number of technicians that you can actually get the parts for.

JA: How about we just get them to actually do planning?

GW: It'd be great.

JA: I think we've checked a box and said hire a planner, and now they're out being an admin and chasing parts down, like a gopher, and that consumes their day instead of actually sitting down and planning out a few weeks of work. If we just get them to do that, it'd be awesome.

GW: In that event you've hired a helper, but you're paying them twice the technician level.

PS: We had a writer for a while who wrote 3-4 articles for us about the day in the life of a planner, his name is Steve Tuttle and his days were just what you guys described. He was doing everything but the actual work of planning. He was running across the yard locating this part. Why is this part not where it's supposed to be? Special ordering parts, that sort of thing.

JA: The first goal in effectiveness is making sure you have a planner and that process is in place, but that doesn't mean you're actually executing That's where your efficiency gains come in, is actually planning the work, kitting the parts, you know, utilizing your time, like George said.

GW: The planner is much like the line: if you believe changeover is a waste of time, and so all you try to do is make it faster, then you're not going to be very successful at operating. If you think the planner's role is to run around and chase emergency parts, you're never going to get the benefits of planning because they cannot afford to spend the time to do it.

PS: Let me ask a question about defect elimination because, sometimes it feels like people think that once you've put all these steps in place, you're effective and you start to get more efficient, and then defects will be eliminated. That's the end of the story, and, and as we talked before the podcast began, that's not really the case. With continuous improvement, part of it is to be ready for when defects do occur.

JA: Defects occur nonstop. I mean, why do we use PdM technologies? We're going out to ensure that there are no defects, but those defects do initiate. The difference is, when you're on the proactive side of things is you now have time. You have time to plan for it. You have time to order the part instead of stocking it in your storeroom, you can just order it because you have time. You have control of these defects.

On the reactive side, there's so many defects that you don't have control. You're firefighting nonstop. Once you get in a steady state, you're always going to get defects, but you're being proactive by going out and looking for them through your PdM routes, through your CILs, you're constantly looking for them because you know they're coming. It's not like nothing stays defect free. The difference is, when are you correcting the defect? Are you correcting it during a planned downtime situation, or are you correcting it when it tells you to, and you go down in the middle of production? That's the really, the key difference between proactivity and reactivity.

GW: This entire podcast series being titled Assets Anonymous, Joe just put it perfectly. In another terminology: are the assets managing you, or are you managing the assets? And right now in a vast majority of locations, the assets are managing people.

PS: And to make an observation about the whole series, this wasn't a 12-step process where you do one step and you're complete. I'm struck by the message in every single podcast that we’ve done: this is a daily focus. Each of these 12 points of focus, this is not something which you can master and then move on. This is each of these 12 different things, understanding reactivity, understanding proactivity, becoming a fire marshal. You've got to deploy these skills, all 12, probably more than 12 every day if you're going to move beyond reactivity into a more proactive state. You're never really done.

JA: Yeah, and this is a bare minimum. I mean, there's a lot more to this, but this is a bare minimum.

GW: These efforts are not a program. There should have been a step zero where you create organizational discipline and leadership. That's why you do it, to create an organizational discipline that can go through the rest of this, because if you cannot sustain something and make it part of just how you do business, then it's not going to be successful sustainably, and that's what this is all about. This has to become how you do business, not an effort.

JA: It's not a project, right? A project has a beginning and an end. Like they always say, it's continuous improvement, that means it goes on forever. That means there's always something to improve. It's nonstop. The days do get easier and you gain more control, but you can't just let it go and it goes. You're constantly doing things continuously.

PS: Now it reminds me, at meal times my wife normally prepares the meals and I normally clean up afterwards. And just because we did it once, it doesn't mean tomorrow's not going to involve the same exact skills. It's an everyday thing, otherwise the dishes pile up and it's going to be a catastrophe.

JA: It'd be great if the food would cook itself and the dishes would put itself away, you know.

GW: Not quite there yet. Almost though. It’s almost Jetson's time.

JA: Come on, Elon!

About the Author

Assets Anonymous | Assets Anonymous

Assets Anonymous is a 12-step podcast series designed to help you get grounded in reliability basics and create a culture of continuous improvement with your team. This series will feature interviews with George Williams and Joe Anderson of ReliabilityX, which aims to bridge the gap between operations and maintenance through holistic reliability focused on plant performance.

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