How to notice what really goes on in a factory

Sourcing New SuppliersA few weeks ago, I wrote What can you observe in a Chinese factory?. It is a simple guide for a purchaser who walks around a production floor for less than 1 hour.

But I just found a much better checklist for those who want to “see” what happens. Noticing the right things is far from easy. Here is an excellent guide:

  1. Using a Seven Wastes Checklist. The list of seven wastes helps you identify occurrences of them, whether you keep in on a paper checklist or in your mind.
  2. Following the flow. Pretending you are a work piece and following the process backwards from the end to the beginning, noting where and how many times it waits for transportation or processing, how operators perceive upstream and downstream colleagues, the tools, fixtures and storage devices used at each operation.
  3. Counting. You emulate Sesame Street’s “The Count” and start counting people, machines, parts or fixtures. That’s how you may notice that 20% of the people are walking in the aisles rather than tending to their machines. You ask a few questions and find out that half of those 20% are going to or returning from the tool crib. You have not only discovered that the plant uses a wasteful method for distributing tools, but you also have a ballpark estimate of the productivity improvements at stake in setting up tool pickup and delivery milk runs. Thus the simple act of counting people has led you to discover a pattern of wasteful operation, which you will then recognize immediately elsewhere. In other words, you have learned to see it.

Source: What to look for on a gemba walk? by Michel Baudin.

For those who are not familiar with the Toyota Production System, here are the types of waste you can see in a factory:

  • T: Transportation
  • I: Inventory
  • M: Motion
  • W: Wait
  • O: Over-processing
  • O: Over-production
  • D: Defect

More information here.