Home About MAC
The Next Generation Manufacturer Newsletter
Upcoming Programs Contact Us Send a Letter to the Editor
Manufacturing Success Stories

Cellular Layout a Real Shot in the Arm for Smiths Medical

Smiths Medical sells and distributes medical devices and procedural kits for use in critical and intensive care applications, during recovery and for specialized home therapies. At their Keene, New Hampshire location, they take the individual components — tubing, needles, syringes, medications — needed during a procedure like an epidural, and package them as one, sterile, sealed kit. The company contacted the NH MEP when they needed to introduce a new hypodermic product line into the facility and wanted assistance with plant layout. Smiths Medical has roughly 400 direct labor employees in Keene, approximately 700 in total. They are part of Smiths Group plc, which is based in the United Kingdom and employs over 7,000 associates worldwide.

Reducing Space While Increasing Production
The 4700 sq. ft. Pain Management area contained two large conveyor belts where employees placed items in kits as they passed by. Management was bringing in a large Fixed Needle hypodermic machine to replace Pain Management in this space. The goal was not simply to relocate Pain Management, but to also reduce the department footprint by 62%, from 4700 sq. ft. to 1800 sq. ft. Pain Management also had to meet increased demands as it moved to smaller batch sizes and a more diverse product mix. An additional challenge was to increase the number of kits produced per day from 6800 to 10,700 (a 57% increase) without utilizing over time. While doing this, quality had to be maintained, costs had to be reduced, and the integrity of line clearance and bill of material procedures had to be insured.

Applying Lean and Value Stream Mapping
NH MEP project manager Linda Ellis brought in Glenn Gertridge, a colleague from the MassMEP to look at the plant layout situation. It was determined that company would benefit most by doing some Lean work to augment the plant layout. A team was created with employees from the first and second shifts of the Pain Management department. They received basic Lean training (Time Wise Le101) to familiarize them with methodologies and tools. They also learned how to use Value Stream Mapping (VSM) to diagram their current state and determine what improvements were needed to reach their goals.

Rick DiMeco is now Team B Production Manager for Smith’s Medical and is responsible for Pain Management. The company asked his opinion about making the move to accommodate the new Fixed Needle Machine and ultimately put him in charge of the project. Rick thought it made sense to put Pain Management next to the drug room. The Drug Room maintains and delivers controlled materials that are only used to support the Pain Management line. To do this, a cleanroom had to be built in the new location. Rick was in the process of having this done when he joined the group who had been working with the NH MEP. Glenn taught the group about plant layout, NH MEP associate Dave Hess worked with them on cell design, and Linda Ellis did set-up reduction training. 

They determined that replacing the large conveyor system with a cellular layout that used a one piece continuous flow system would allow them the opportunity to meet their Takt times in a substantially smaller space.

The group spent a week with MEP fine tuning the number of cells they would need, how they would be configured, and how many people were needed per cell. In going from one system to the other, the process flow did not change. Various materials are assembled into trays; the trays are then wrapped, sealed, and packed. The wrapping and sealing processes were not touched but assembly changed often according to the materials that make up the kits.

The cells were designed using the takt time of the longest process, wrapping. Four cells with six people in each would meet their needs.  While the new clean room was being constructed, Pain Management continued to operate in their original space. Using tables and benches, the team created four cells so employees could get used to working in the new configuration and fine tune the process before the actual move.

When time came for relocation, Glenn Gertridge and the MEP staff were pleasantly surprised that the layout for the department was used exactly as it had been created by the team. Within a month they were building to one piece flow using the u-shaped work cells with positive results.

Jeff Rondeau has been a group leader in Pain Management for over 5 years. He supervised both the conveyor assembly lines and now the cellular version, and said, "I was skeptical of the manual process after having used the conveyors, but I had an open mind and have been very pleased with the results. The employees have a better attitude. They work in smaller groups and both the quality and output are better. We are much more flexible now!"

Standard work procedures were created for every process in the department, which are very helpful in training new employees. 

Seeing Bottom Line Results
Now Pain Management is located next to the drug room. A "staging area" has been constructed where orders and materials for the kits are pulled onto wheeled racks which are moved to the cells when visual kanbans indicate the need. Three computer workstations show visual BOM’s (bills of material) with photos for each order. Materials are pulled according to photos and a second copy travels with the work order to the work cells for quality control. Having the staging area located between the drug room and Pain Management allows materials and drugs to be filtered into the line simultaneously and more efficiently. Set-up reduction resulted in a 30 minute kitting time, down from the original 45 minutes. (This changes according to the contents of each kit.)

Employees did not require much training to work in the cellular layout. People needed to get comfortable having 18 seconds to handle 7 components in a new flow and try not to rush. Inspection is being done at the source so quality rests on them. Everyone works together as a team. Line balance encourages the team to help each other. Line leaders at station one set the pace and can hop over to assist the wrappers at the end of the process if they get bogged down. "Water spiders" assist with supply replenishment when the cell is fully staffed. With six people per cell and four cells they are able to complete four kits every 18 seconds.

Using the same number of employees and changing from two production lines to four work cells they have seen:

  • Floor space reduced 62%, from 4800 sq. ft. to 1800 sq. ft.
  • Output per shift increased 82%, from 2720 to 4950 trays. Based on a five-day week, output has increased from 34,000 to 61,875 trays.
  • Units per labor hour increased from 7.2 to 14.4.
  •  Average changeovers per day increased from 15 to 40 (different variables like number of components affect this number).
  • Met goal of 40 lot changes per day and have done as many as 70 per day.

Applying Lean to New Departments
Smiths Medical Keene teams have begun applying their Lean training in the Tracheostomy department beginning with some VSM. Twenty manufacturing associates and support people from the site, including Rick, have been going through a Lean certificate program sponsored by New Hampshire Technical College. They are taking the classes and then doing their school projects in-house in the Tracheostomy Department applying cell layout, point-of-use storage, and set-up reduction. They will have most of the Lean work completed in that department by the time the class is over.

Everyone at the Smiths Medical has seen the success in Pain Management. The vision was to develop high performance production teams capable of world-class execution. If the positive results from the Lean transformation in this department are any indication of what is possible, they should be able to realize that vision throughout the facility.

Rick DiMeco commented that Linda, Glenn, Dave Hess, Kevin Smith (who has come in recently from MassMEP to assist with some Team Based Problem Solving) and all the folks he has worked with from the MEP have been wonderful and a pleasure to deal with.

"Along with the great results, I have noticed the subtleties," stated DiMeco. "Absenteeism has dropped to nearly nothing. People are smiling, they like coming to work, and they like their environment. If they have any work-related concerns, they are empowered to change them. They ‘own’ the business and embrace it. If they have a better way of doing something, they bring it to the surface and know that it will be put into place. They do not fear change and are prepared for change at any time if it will show improvements."

We Would Like Your Feedback …