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Successful Implementations in Lean

Cobham Surveillance Detects the Benefits of Implementing Lean

By Karen Myhaver, Program Support Coordinator, MassMEP

A successful cell design produced a 20% improvement in output and reduced workmanship defects by 80%!

Cobham Surveillance first contacted New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NH MEP) when they needed assistance in obtaining their ISO 9001-2000 certification. They worked with project manager Dave Hess who brought in an ISO specialist to help. They successfully received their certification early in 2007 and continue to maintain their practices since most government clients require suppliers be ISO certified.

Soon after this, when their parent company Cobham wanted all their subsidiaries to implement Lean, Cobham Surveillance knew that Dave and the NH MEP would be the right people to call.

"David emphasized that Lean is a discipline for the entire company not just for manufacturing," said Dennis Goodman, Director of Quality at Cobham Surveillance. "When we did the Le102 events we made sure they were company-wide."

The Le102 is Lean Training for the Job Shop which introduces basic Lean terms and tools and shows how they can enhance processes both in manufacturing and above the shop floor to improve the way paperwork and product flows through the system — from sales and design through manufacturing. Everyone was able to see first-hand, how Lean tools could be applied to their specific job.

Over the next few years, employees attended many public Lean events and roundtables hosted by the NH MEP. The company was fortunate to obtain a grant from the state which covered half of their training costs. The staff received instruction in 5S, Kaizen, Value Stream Mapping, Cell Design, Supply Chain, and TIPS (Team Involvement Problem Solving); cross functional teams learned how to apply these techniques and tools, on their own, throughout the plant.

Doubled Output!
According to Goodman, one team did a very successful cell layout in the Transmitter/Receiver area. They began with a basic 5S to clean and organize, and then implemented lot size reduction and point of use storage (POUS). By doing this they were able to double output from 25 units per week to 50! This is a final assembly process and the revenue increase that resulted from the improvements is approximately half a million dollars!

Seeing the success of activities like this one was instrumental in helping to spread a Lean culture to other area of the facility. Employee teams have done all sorts of Kaizens and cell designs throughout Cobham Surveillance. Another successful cell design produced a 20% improvement in output and reduced workmanship defects by 80%. The product was a very labor intensive panel assembly with many delicate wires to attach. Too much movement and handling was resulting in defects. The area was cleaned and organized through 5s then POUS was implemented, as well as some staging. They were able to get materials closer together and have tools readily available. This reduced handling and travel and eliminate 80% of the defects.

Since Cobham has applied Lean and held Lean events in all areas of the business they have had buy-in above the shop floor as well. This has been enhanced by making sure that all Kaizen teams include employees from a variety of departments to look at things from different perspectives. The company’s Lean Director Tariq Husain is instrumental in their success as he focuses on keeping the employees motivated and on task with their projects.

Cobham Surveillance has done a Kaizen on a Customer Service process which was being plagued by outstanding orders. By implementing visual status boards they reduced lead time and efficiency improved. Kaizen events in Accounts Payable helped them reduce errors as well.

Adding People, Adding Capacity
Due to the current wartime situation, Cobham’s work for Homeland Security has increased. The changes they implemented have improved capacity and output and have allowed them to add employees to meet customer demand.

Virtually all of the Cobham’s product development is driven by customer demands, so they are always willing to examine new opportunities but their processes for doing this and for getting new products to market needed to be improved.

For their most recent project, Kaizen teams are working on the New Product Introduction process. This project involves new construction in the area that will house this work. Industrial engineers and design engineers are being combined in one workspace so they can work as a team. They are making sure the appropriate tools are accessible and that they have the necessary IT services for all requirements. The goal is to improve time to market for new products which traditionally has been about 90 days. According to the team’s calculations these improvements should reduce that by more than half to approximately 30 days. This will result in considerable return on investment for the company.

"Seeing the dividends, that is what sells the population. The results (of doing Lean) are fast and dramatic. Lean is an enterprise wide opportunity. We are lucky to have a good management team who buy in and promote Lean." — Dennis Goodman

Cobham Surveillance (formerly known as DTC Communications) in Nashua, New Hampshire, designs and manufactures miniature wireless audio and video communication products, electronic surveillance equipment, for global law enforcement, military, and other government agencies. They produce microwave video transmitters, receivers, and antennas for the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, Unmanned Ground Vehicle, and Robotics markets. They also distribute law enforcement and military-related products for a select number of preeminent business partners.

Cobham has expertise in radio frequency transmitter and receiver design from VHF through 5 GHz. They also have skilled software engineers, mechanical engineers, DSP engineers, and extensive antenna design capability. Their products are known for exceptional quality, compact size, energy efficiency, and high reliability. Manufacturing is done in a 67,000 square foot factory in Nashua, New Hampshire. The company has approximately 137 full time employees, 50 of those are engineers and technicians. They have actually been adding employees due to increased work for Homeland Security.

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