In recent columns I have described what companies have been doing to improve their operations. Recognizing that maintaining the status quo is a recipe for disaster in this competitive environment, companies have been employing techniques such as value stream mapping (visually depicting the flow of information and material through an operation) and the 5S system of workplace organization (sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain) to discover opportunities to eliminate activities that do not add value. Searching for these opportunities can yield significant short- and long-term rewards.
This month, I want to describe some of the successes companies are having in reducing setup times for machines and equipment.
After thoroughly reviewing its machine setups, one company discovered that setup documentation was so weak that repeat jobs were literally "reinvented" each time they ran. Sure, there were some hand-scribbled notes around, but finding them was a challenge. This company made the commitment to clearly document critical setup data on a form and maintain this form as a "controlled document." Although the documentation effort did take some time, it instilled a discipline that not only improved the machine setup process, but also generated improvements in other processes.
One company found that a major factor in its long setup times was waiting for material to be delivered by warehouse personnel. Of course, warehouse personnel would argue that they were always advised at the last minute of material needs and could not always provide instantaneous service. A mutually agreeable solution was devised that called for the machine operator to advise warehouse personnel of the need for the next job's material 2 hours before the current job was to finish (as estimated by the machine operator). The machine operators had incentive to provide the advance notification; the alternative was to get the material themselves, process all required paperwork and get necessary approvals along the way. Although not a foolproof method, the instances of waiting for material were drastically reduced.
More than one company has struggled with the issue of first piece inspection delaying the start of production. By definition, setup time is the time from the completion of the last good piece of one job to the first good piece of the next job. Because first piece inspection verifies the accuracy of the first good piece, this process is considered part of setup time, and it is often a significant portion of this time. Some companies, having struggled with this issue for too long, have established policies stating that if the setup person is confident that the part is accurate and the job has run before, production can start prior to formal first piece inspection. Such policies make a lot of sense when we consider that, ultimately, operators are responsible for the quality of a part, so if they are given the means to distinguish a good part from a bad one (gages, fixtures or other inspection equipment), then they should be able to begin production prior to a first piece inspection "verification."
Another company discovered that its tooling was unreliable, and this was leading to much rework during the setup process. Although it was understood that such tooling should be checked prior to being put away, the reality was that it was not happening. A conscientious effort was made to ensure all tooling was checked after use. Checklists highlighting critical dimensions were established for each tool, and the checklists, along with the applicable tools, were staged in a highly visible location. If the tools were backing up in this staging area, everyone became aware of it, and alternate resources could be called upon to perform the required checks. Time invested at this point led to reduced setup times for this company.
During a review of its setup process, another company noticed the setup technician spent as much time away from the machine as at the machine. This was a symptom of a poorly organized setup practice. Instead of having everything prepared in advance, the setup technician had to get everything, including tools, fixtures and even paperwork, while the machine was stopped. Identifying what was needed during setup and pre-staging it while the machine was running the previous job was the first step to cutting setup times by 50 percent.
Reducing setup time is not difficult, but it requires recognition that when a machine is not producing parts, it's not making money. Look at your setups to see how much time your machines are not making money.