Many companies are embracing lean manufacturing to improve service to customers. ACCRA Manufacturing, Inc, (Bothell, Washington) is an example. The company began business in 1978 as a second-tier supplier to larger machine shops in the area. Today, ACCRA has a 72,000 square foot facility with state-of-the-art high speed machining centers. Having received Boeing certification as an approved aircraft component manufacturer, the company supplies machined parts and assemblies to aerospace customers worldwide.
To learn more about this company’s experiences, I interviewed Dale Lyski, manufacturing engineering manager and the person largely responsible for transforming ACCRA into a lean enterprise.
How did you learn about lean manufacturing, and when did you begin to think seriously about implementing these techniques?
“For over a year, a cross-functional group of management and representatives from all areas of the company read books about lean concepts. We met twice a week before work to discuss what we’d read and how it could be used to improve processes. After about 3 months, we had a mountain of improvement ideas. We also participated in improvement workshops at our customer’s facility. These activities created a base of knowledge that allowed us to start our own improvement activities.”
Where did you begin on your journey toward lean manufacturing?
“We started what we called Focused Improvement Workshops (FIWs). These were initially focused on 5S/workplace organization activities. We learned that workplace organization was the cornerstone of future improvement activities. During our first year of formal lean activities, we ran 17 FIWs and trained 90 percent of our workforce in lean manufacturing concepts, including 5S system of workplace organization, visual control, waste identification, value added/non-value added activities, setup reduction, pull systems, mistake-proofing and more.”
Please share an example of an improvement you implemented.
“We established Kanban setup carts, in which all materials, tools and paperwork are pre-staged and delivered to machines when they are needed. Each cart contains the manufacturing order and all necessary documents, raw material, cutting tools installed in holders and arranged in the order to be installed in the machine, sub-plates and fixtures, correct quantity and size of fasteners, and any required inspection equipment.”
What has been the impact of the carts?
“The carts have had a big impact on our setup process. Machine downtime during setup has been reduced by more than 50 percent. Product quality has improved; we have been able to reduce lot sizes by 50 percent; and operators can set up machines instead of searching for hardware, tools and documents. As we reduced lot sizes, other opportunities for improvement surfaced. We found it was better to have the material supplier precut the barstock. We now manage precut inventory with a two-bin pull system and an electronic replenishment signal delivered to the material supplier. This has increased inventory turns, reduced manufacturing order pick time from over 3 hours to less than 5 minutes and reduced floor space by over 50 percent.”
How has the workforce responded to your lean initiatives?
“Most [people] have responded positively. I think the workforce has enjoyed the opportunity to make changes and have control over their work areas. After a workshop, one of the employees said, ‘It gave me a chance to voice ideas and to actually make changes.’”
Do you have any advice for other companies seeking to improve their processes?
“Top management must buy in to the process and support lean manufacturing initiatives. It is essential to educate the workforce on lean manufacturing principles and then start with workplace organization. Get as many people as possible involved, and keep those who are not involved informed. You will be amazed at how people are looking for an opportunity to make improvements. Lean manufacturing principles give people the tools to identify and eliminate waste from any process, shop floor or office.”
What does your “crystal ball” tell you about the future for your company?
“Organizations that embrace and utilize lean manufacturing concepts have an opportunity to survive and prosper. Those that do not will likely fail. The world is a very competitive place. Customers demand low cost, high quality products and services on time. Lean manufacturing concepts provide the tools to continually eliminate waste from your processes and aid in satisfying customers’ expectations.”