Working towards a smart factory starts with a stable basis

Published on by Precision Components. The reading time is approximately 9 minutes.

Over a year ago, Black Belts Stephan Huijgen and Tim van den Hoogen introduced Lean Six Sigma at NTS Norma in Drachten. This resulted in fewer measurements, less variation in production and a broad delegation of NTS colleagues who have been trained in the methodology. They play an essential role in identifying and implementing improvements in the workplace which leads to a stable basis. This is essential to be able to work towards Continuous Improvement level five: a smart factory. Foreman of the warehouse and Green Belt, Arthur Dekker started implementing improvements with great enthusiasm and in a creative and pragmatic way. ‘The fact that I continuously work on improvements, with a great team, has ensured that I really enjoy my work. In the past seven years not a single day has passed that I did not feel like going to work.’

“The Continuous Improvement Plan of NTS in Drachten is based on the so-called CIMM model developed by LSSA, which consists of five maturity levels,” explains Tim. “The first two levels represent a stable basis and production processes that are in order, and the highest level represents a smart factory. That means an optimal layout of your entire factory so that processes run almost automatically without variation or with defined variation. Predictability is the keyword here. We want to work towards that within a few years. We make increasingly smaller components of an ever higher quality and operate on the boundaries of what can be manufactured. Our ambition therefore certainly is to achieve level five and to optimally set up our future factory. “

Our continuous improvement levels based on the CIMM model of LSSA:
  1. Create basis, define standard working methods, 5 s tidy workplace.
  2. Initiate improvement culture. Then you will draw up improvement actions during short interval management, during team meetings twice a week. Kaizen's brief improvement plans.
  3. Working towards reducing waste in processes.
  4. Optimizing statistical analyzes and processes.
  5. Smart factory.

Making sure the basis is in order

“Our Continuous Improvement Plan includes initiatives at all levels, including levels one and two,” adds Stephan. “We are, for example, updating process descriptions in the manual, optimising the work layout at the workstations and expanding the skill matrix in which competence levels for the various functions and roles are determined.”

Board sessions to identify opportunities for improvement

“Besides this, we have introduced board sessions for the production teams that allow them to take on more responsibility to indicate and implement possible improvements in the field of Logistics and Quality. Improvements opportunities that transcend departments are also discussed, such as production and the warehouse. Arthur plays a very important role in this. He is a warehouse foreman, has passed the Green Belt theory exam and has started optimizing processes in his department with great enthusiasm. For his Green Belt practice, he is working on a project aimed at reducing obsolete stocks.”

“Additional ideas for improvement also arise from the board sessions,” explains Stephan. “We started with a pilot in a production team (after the summer the other production teams will follow). In the past we already worked according to KPIs on the boards in the departments but we have converted those KPIs into other KPIs and we now look at time and quality, first time right and planning optimization. Such a board session takes place twice a week with the entire team and someone from planning and is supervised by Tim and myself during the pilot. After the pilot the team will do it itself.”

Working towards efficient processes and qualitative KPIs

“I have been working for NTS Norma for about seven years now,” Arthur continues. “After the lean project started at the beginning of last year, I joined various project groups because I saw opportunities to optimize work processes. Together with Stephan and Tim I try to take up projects that lead to more efficient processes.”

Would you like to know more about our new location in Drachten? Then read the article about the factory of the future, which we are currently working on.

Discover our factory of the future in Drachten

Practical problems that transcend department boundaries

“During the session, we noticed that team members were under the impression that clear agreements had been made, but it turned out that those agreements were not generally known. For example, some of the ideas of the warehouse employees did not match the expectations of the planning department when it came to the order of delivery of materials and deadlines. We ran into the problem that materials were supplied from the warehouse in a pile. It happened that the bottom tray was needed first and the top one last. While stacking is heavy and takes time. We discussed that with planning and the warehouse team. And then Arthur came back with the idea of ​​using a rolling cart. Then the materials are not stacked and you can easily move them so that you have good access to them.”

Simple solutions for everyday challenges

“That's a very simple solution,” Arthur explains; “but it works and it works satisfactorily. Sometimes you can solve everyday problems with very simple actions or by communicating profoundly with those who use the materials. Through the sessions you notice that you need to involve more people in the process in order to move forward. You look beyond department boundaries. Before, I used to focus more on my own department, if it went well there then it was good.”

Small steps lead to big results

“Another example of a process we have started is improving our packaging. We are dealing with vulnerable parts, which you have to pack well. We try to describe this in work instructions so that you get much less rejection. When I came here parts were packaged in different ways. Ultimately, there are only a few ways that work. We have now designed a packaging that contains a large sheet of foam with compartments in which eighty percent of the parts fit. The plate goes into a plastic container and arrives neatly at its destination. These are small steps that still yield a lot of results.”

Reducing obsolete materials to a minimum

“I am also working on my practical project aimed at reducing the surplus of obsolete material in the warehouse. That takes more time to implement. We no longer use twenty percent of what we have in stock. That takes up space and it costs us money. When something hasn't moved for five or six years, it has to leave the warehouse. This has to be done in an organized way so that you know for sure that it is no longer necessary. To do so you have to involve all departments. I hope that in about two years we can start with a clean slate before we move to the new building. In the future, I want to keep the amount of obsolete materials as low as possible.”

Implementing improvement proposals quickly creates confidence

“At the same time, many more ideas for improvement emerge from the sessions. I try to tackle them as quickly as possible so that people who bring in improvement ideas see that their suggestions are implemented directly. Then results are immediately visible to them, and they will present their ideas sooner in the future because it leads to positive change'. That is what we try to do in the warehouse: create confidence in the logistics process. If someone asks me something, I try to do it right away. Unfortunately that is not always possible. That is also the dynamics of our company, you want to tackle all improvements as quickly as possible, but on the other hand, you don't always have the possibility to implement it, while you do benefit from the improvement."

Roll out improvement sessions to other departments

“We are now going to roll out the sessions to all departments, says Tim: “And then I expect that we will realize more and more process improvements. Improvements we hadn't thought of before. A handful of people are now coming up with ideas , but we expect that soon everyone will come up with improvement proposals. And then you can really take steps. The only question is how do you maintain them and how do you ensure that it continues to go well. That is a challenge.”

Improvement process leads to good discussions

“In short, we are achieving great results, but the improvement process is not always easy,” Stephan continues. “We have encountered some resistance and have had good discussions. We will start with the other departments after the summer. People will have to experience the benefits of this way of working.”

Dynamic and on the move

“Personally I find it a very valuable process,” Arthur adds. “A process that you directly benefit from in your daily work. NTS is a dynamic company, we make beautiful products and we are constantly in development. That includes these kinds of projects. It fits me like a glove because despite my age I like being in motion, I don't want to stand still, I always want to keep learning and developing myself. That makes NTS such a great environment, there is plenty of room for development, the corporate culture is very transparent and we have a very nice team in Drachten that functions like an oiled machine. In the seven years that I have been working for NTS not a day has passed that I didn’t feel like going to work and I think that says something.”

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