Commit To Continuous Improvement

Response times are quicker, lead times are shorter and every department is running more efficiently. Most importantly, the customers have taken notice.

Columns From: 5/19/2009 Modern Machine Shop

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Wayne Chaneski

Wayne Chaneski

RAF Electronic Hardware, located in Seymour, Connecticut, has a long-standing reputation as a high-quality supplier of electronic hardware used in computers, telecommunications equipment, medical products, military/aerospace applications and more. The company recognizes the importance of continuous improvement as a key factor in its ongoing success. “Our ability to provide world-class customer service has increased significantly since the company-wide continuous improvement initiative commenced,” says Dave Granger, director of sales. Always on the cutting edge in terms of machine tools and related equipment, RAF Electronic Hardware is now undergoing a transformation in the way it uses its equipment to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction. The company is committed to improving everything starting from the way it receives and processes customer orders, to how these orders are ultimately shipped.

One of the first steps in the company’s transformation was recognizing the need for greater employee empowerment. To meet this need, teams of employees were created with the sole purpose of evaluating and improving various aspects of the business. One of the first teams created was a finished goods inventory team. This team started to look at what it had in inventory and whether these parts were really what its customers needed. In a relatively short period of time, this team did a remarkable job of developing workable criteria for selecting items that needed to be on the shelf and available for quick shipment, as well as those that could support a longer lead time.

Another team was created to improve the current production process for one of the company’s most important product lines. This team, with representation from all major business segments, developed a value stream map to see exactly where value was being created and waste was being incurred. This map was an accurate representation of current business practices, and it revealed some interesting opportunities for improvement. For example, the map showed how parts were building up at certain steps of the process. The team cited reasons for these “bottlenecks” as well as solutions, which included a list of action items and assigning team members to specific responsibilities. The team agreed to meet on a regular basis to review progress on the action items, assuring that the objective of improving the production process for this product line would be achieved.

On one product line, the team found that automatic screw machine operators spent a great deal of time locating needed tooling and supplies. This not only delayed production in general, but it had a major effect on screw machine change-over times. A department-wide organization improvement effort was needed and another team of cross-functional employees worked together to identify the tooling and supplies needed in the area, and what could be eliminated.

Unlike a typical workplace organization effort where a few unnecessary tools and supplies are identified and removed from the workplace, RAF Electronic Hardware’s organization effort started by identifying machines that were not used regularly and were occupying valuable floor space. The team removed these machines and replaced them with the needed ones. This provided more room and a better work environment for all operators.

The focus then shifted to organizing tools, equipment and supplies so they could be found quickly. The team wanted to make these items as visible as possible. Cams were hung on boards and clearly labeled for easy reference. Clamps, tools and gages were placed in the most convenient locations and labeled so everyone knew where they should be returned after use. This organization effort reduced change-over times, and operators now have an easier time keeping the automatic screw machines running and producing quality parts.

RAF Electronic Hardware continues to review its current procedures and has made the need for continuous improvement part of the company’s culture. Empowered employees are trying different approaches to eliminate waste in their processes. Many are seeing immediate improvements as they devise new and clever solutions to old problems. Employees also have a broader appreciation of the importance of keeping customers satisfied to keep them coming back. “Response times are quicker, lead times are shorter and every department is running more efficiently,” Mr. Granger says. “Most importantly, the customers have taken notice.”

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