Drive Quick Changeover With Kaizen

Nov. 8, 2007
Line 4 at W.R. Grace's Chicagoland plant reduces changeovers by 50% and grows productivity by 27%.

Line 4 at W.R. Grace's Chicagoland plant had an objective: to reduce changeover times by 50%. This goal was in response to a new W.R. Grace plant slated to open in Tennessee, which would result in the Chicago plant requiring more frequent changeovers.

The Chicago plant tackled its changeover reduction mission with a kaizen event that ultimately proved successful, said Manuel Baerga, corporate lean master for W.R. Grace. Baerga presented a case study of the facility's kaizen event during the Association of Manufacturing Excellence annual convention held recently in Chicago.

The lean master provided a timeline of events that occurred prior to the actual five-day kaizen event. For example, two weeks prior to the kaizen, the facility selected a cross-functional team, including a champion. The team consisted of five team members and one kaizen leader. They held a planning meeting to discuss the goals of the event; informed all employees of the upcoming effort; and planned for the shutdown of Line 4. A week before the event W.R. Grace selected a conference room from which the team would work, and collected the necessary materials for the event. The day before the event, the conference room was prepared and the plan was reviewed.

Baerga said the team examined changeovers from two perspectives -- both the effectiveness, or quality, of the changeovers, as well as the efficiency of the changeovers. The five-day kaizen approach included training, videotaping of the changeovers and then reviewing those, identifying internal tasks (tasks the require the line to be shut down) and external tasks (the line can be running), trying out solutions, and implementing a control plan.

According to Baerga, the team quickly recognized that Line 4 workers were unnecessarily shutting down the line while performing external tasks. That was eliminated. Other line adjustments included bringing some materials to the point of use to eliminate motion and transportation, implementing new tools to reduce variation, and adding some visual markers to help error-proof that process. Additionally, the team created designated locations for certain tools that repeatedly disappeared from the line, and in some instances made it impossible to remove the tools from their designated locations. Baerga pointed out that the solutions implemented as a result of the kaizen event required no major investments. And not all were implemented during the one-week kaizen event.

How successful was the kaizen? Changeovers were reduced by 50% and productivity grew by 27%.

Baerga rounded out his presentation by identifying lessons learned. They included involving the union (W.R. Grace's Chicagoland plant is unionized) at the start, even in the planning stage. Additionally, he said, operator buy-in is more quickly achieved if the plant can get the union representative to communicate why change is necessary. Further, if videotaping people at work is part of a kaizen, explain precisely what will occur and why. Baerga said that while the union approved the videotaping, it was not initially okay with the note taking that accompanied the videotaping.

And finally, he said, create a control plan to make sure long-term actions are followed. Be detailed in the control, Baerga added, making it clear who is responsible for what actions.

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