The NUMMI tour guide told an interesting kaizen story as we went past the body weld area. Car bodies are held and transported on metal carrier racks that re-circulate through the welding process. The bodies move on to painting and the racks cycle back all day long. The racks get greasy and dirty from the process (Note: It's not grease, see comment at the end of the post), so workers were cleaning the racks by hand with wire brushes. This took 4 hours to do, once a week, shutting the line down, I assume.
An operator had an idea to instead cover the rack bases with plain old aluminum foil. After a week, they remove the dirty foil and replace it, which takes only 1 hour instead of 4. The team member received a cash bonus for the suggestion.
I think that was a clever idea, one that saves the company money, even with the cost of aluminum foil factored in.
But, could one push farther to a root cause here? Why are they having to clean those racks? Is there anything that can be done to prevent the racks from getting dirty, or slowing that down? I'm not a welding expert, so I can't say, but it's interesting to think about.
Don't want to miss a post or podcast? Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.