As with the last posting, Part 218, this posting is a continuation of how I began using TOC, or more specifically an integrated Lean, Six Sigma and Theory of Constraints.
We discussed the remaining questions and then decided that every morning, at least for the time being, we would meet and discuss things we had read in The Goal. I had even prepared a list of questions and asked them different ones each day. We also established what we called a Herbie Hunt where each morning we would walk through the plant and look for where we thought our constraint actually was. And when we found it, we decided we would focus all of our efforts on it. Because the BMW Z3 was our largest part in terms of quantity to produce, we would focus on it, learn from it and then translate what we learned to our other parts.
On the BMW Z3 Hardtop, before we started these walks, everyone was certain that our constraint was the closed-mold fiberglass press used to produce the part. But, thanks to our walks and the conversations along the way, we soon learned that the constraint was actually further upstream in our finishing area where we found stacks of tops waiting to be finished. We talked to the finishing operators and were told that on many of our parts (over 40%), we had been spending an inordinate amount of time repairing paint problems. So even though our work was backing up at Finishing, it seemed that the real problem was probably the quality of our paint jobs.
So we had identified our first constraint and I was excited to say the least. As a group, we marched over to our ”old” paint booth to see if we could see any obvious problems and boy did we ever. This booth was old and in need of a mother’s touch. I started asking the paint booth operator how long they had been having paint problems and one painter just smiled and said, “Forever sir.” I asked my Maintenance Manager what he thought we could do and he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Boss, we need a new paint booth.” I explained that corporate was not going to give us any money to purchase anything and that we, as a team, would have to come up with low cost, effective solutions by ourselves. I suggested that we put together a team of hourly employees just to see if they have some ideas. My belief has always been that the best solutions come from the people doing the work, the subject matter experts. All I knew was that we needed a solution and we needed it fast.
Within an hour we had an all-volunteer team formed and seated in our small conference room. Before our paint meeting started, I decided then and there that our workforce needed to know what was going on with their plant in terms of its future and its potential closure. There were eight members on this team from different areas within the plant and you could see by their demeanor that they were hesitant to speak-up. I started the meeting by thanking them for joining this team and then I got right into it, painting (no pun intended) their potential future here. Needless to say, when they heard about the state of the plant and the potential closure, it got their attention right away. Apparently the former General Manager never spoke about the financial state of the plant and for that matter, at least according to one of the team members, he never talked to them about anything.
I explained what the problem was in painting and had photos to reinforce the high reject rate. One of the team members (a painter) explained that to him, the problem looked like foreign matter on the surface of the paint. I told him that according to the finishing workers, that’s exactly what the majority of the rejects looked like. I asked him why he had asked that question and he told me that a couple of years ago he had raised the concern that there was a lot of grinding dust floating in the air inside the paint booth and that until it was removed, foreign matter in the paint would continue to be a problem. He also explained to the team that for the last couple of years he had been complaining about the lack of positive pressure inside the paint booth, but that nobody had listened to him. I told him that I would get the pressure problem fixed as soon as I could and asked him if he had any other solutions that he wanted to surface. He told me that he did and explained that even if they get the pressure problem fixed, when the doors to the booth were opened to remove a painted part, grinder dust would enter the paint booth. He further said that unless they came up with a way to clean the booth between paint jobs, they would still have the foreign matter problem.
One of the other team members slowly raised his hand and I acknowledged him. He told us that his dad worked for a sprinkler system company and that he thought that a sprinkler system could be installed in the booth to spray a fine water mist to clean the air before painting the next set of parts. I asked him if he knew how to install this system and he acknowledged that he could. I asked him what he needed to install this system and he told me not to worry about it because his dad would give him what he needed. Within two days this simple sprinkler system was installed and the paint problems virtually disappeared. We then developed a rapid changeover plan and standardized work to make the change in paint colors from top to top easy for everyone to accomplish.
But even though the paint problems had been eradicated, the constraint remained in our Finishing area. It seemed that along the mounting surface of the Z3 Hardtop there were a total of 48 control points and many of them were out-of-spec and required re-work. This became our next focal point that needed to be improved if we were to ever have a synchronous flow of parts through this process. We implemented a rather complex initiative complete with process capability studies and implementation of control charts for all 48 control points. We even ran a mini-DOE on the more difficult control points. All of our efforts paid off handsomely as we were able to break this constraint.
About a month later we received notification from BMW that they were coming to our plant to perform a functional audit on our hardtops. We really didn’t know what to expect since the Z3 was a relatively new part for this plant. We worked hard on our documentation system making sure all necessary work methods, control plans and other technical documents were all current and reflected the actual work done in our plant. The BMW contingent arrived on schedule which included the world-wide head of purchasing. He laid out his agenda as randomly selecting a Z3 Hardtop, mounting it, measuring the control points and then taking a high-speed ride up Interstate 65 to listen for air leaks. He also wanted to evaluate the paint job quality of our hardtops.
To be continued........