Precision Machine Works, Inc., located in Tacoma, Washington, is a manufacturer of complex machine parts and assemblies made to customer specifications. Founded in 1925, Precision Machine Works focuses on high temperature steels, nickel-based alloys, titanium and aluminum for its customers in the aerospace and commercial markets.
Precision Machine Works initially learned about lean manufacturing techniques from its customers, who had benefited significantly from these concepts and wanted to spread the word to their suppliers. The company decided to hire Gemba Research, a management consulting firm that specialized in lean manufacturing training and implementation. Working with Gemba Research, Precision Machine Works developed a plan that called for the following steps.
1. Hiring The Lean Champion: Sarah Earl was transferred to the Lean Champion position and began to identify training needs and improvement opportunities within the organization.
2. Developing a Steering Committee: It has been said many times, but it still holds true—any significant change to the way a company operates requires not only management support, but real and unwavering commitment. Precision Machine Works formed a steering committee consisting of the leaders of the company and provided leadership to help guide the implementation.
3. Training the Trainers: Acquainting key employees with lean concepts was the critical next step. These experienced employees were excited about the potential for improvement, and their enthusiasm was instrumental in the motivation of others.
4. Training the Organization: The trainers created a program that trained most of the organization on the basics of lean manufacturing as well as the cultural changes it required. Most of the organization was trained in 4 months.
5. Lean Implementation Plan: A plan was created to implement six product family cells, dividing machines and floor space necessary to support each cell.
6. Kaizen Events: Kaizen (or continuous improvement) events were selected as the preferred means of implementing the cells. Kaizen events typically focus improvement efforts in such a way that change can be introduced quickly.
In the first Kaizen event, the team moved three large CNC five-axis machining centers to create a manufacturing cell with a single-piece flow pull-type scheduling system. The cell eliminated much of the waste that was inherent to the traditional manufacturing process for this product.
Once the company saw the benefits from the first cell, the second Kaizen event was quickly scheduled. The second event created two more product cells, incorporating more multi-spindle machines into a continuous product flow system.
The third Kaizen event required relocation of two four-axis machines, creating a fourth product cell.
According to Ms. Earl, Kaizen events have now become a way of life at the company. “Our most ambitious event is yet to come, where we anticipate large changes in how we incorporate our suppliers into our continuous part flow. After that, we have a definite plan for continuous improvement.”
When it comes to results, the company has already realized some very impressive gains. According to Precision Machine Works, lead time has improved 89 percent, quality has improved 50 percent and overall productivity is up 26 percent. These results led the company to include ongoing lean implementations as part of its strategic plan.
Lean implementations cannot be successful without the support of the workforce. Fortunately, the company received this much needed support.
“After intensive training on developing and participating in teams, the workforce has responded positively. Employees have offered some excellent ideas for improving our processes,” Ms. Earl says.
When asked for any advice she might have for other companies interested in implementing lean concepts, Ms. Earl offers the following: “Seek professional help for implementation for both internal and external positions. Ensure there is full commitment from the executive management team, including the board of directors. Then, develop a formal plan to follow and form a steering committee of company leadership to help guide the implementation.”
This advice is worth noting, as it has helped Precision Machine Works make the transition from a traditional batch-oriented system in need of an update to a lean organization better able to meet the needs of its customers.