Acheiving Basic Stability Before One-Piece Flow


EMS Consulting

Here is another newsletter article from EMS Consulting and Darren Dolcemascolo, a friend of this blog.

His article reminds me of my days at GM, in an engine plant. Our plant had studied a Toyota engine plant and they did their best to copy the block machining line — the same equipment vendors, process, and even the layout of the lines. The idea was a “single piece flow” transfer line that had at best 5 units of WIP in between stations.

After the GM line was up and running, our pieces per hour productivity (OEE) was HALF that of Toyota (circa 1995). Why was that?

Well, let's see what was missing: the TPS management philosophy, preventative maintenance, operator training and standard work, all of the support processes.

Because the line was far from stable, we got killed because “we didn't have enough WIP” (according to the non-lean management perspective). Instead of fixing the underlying problems and missing processes, the managers encouraged operators to offload parts and create WIP pallet piles off to the side of the line (often the parts were re-loaded into the wrong machine, missing an operation — now that was expensive WIP and expensive uptime!).

I was glad when we finally began our lean transformation (except “lean” was a dirty word with the UAW). It was a great lesson that you can't just copy the physical equipment, you have to adopt the lean tools and management philosophies as well.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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