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Manufacturing Success Story

Cianbro Fabrication & Coating Goes Lean

By LeAnne Rogers, Cianbro Fabrication & Coating

The Cianbro Fabrication & Coating team has joined with the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MaineMEP) to improve efficiency. Specifically, our fabrication and coating facilities are participating in a long-term training program designed to encourage a lean manufacturing philosophy that focuses on creating greater production efficiencies through maximizing value-added activities and minimizing waste.

MaineMEP is a quasi-state organization affiliated with other technological and educational entities to assist Maine companies in increasing global competitiveness. Traditional manufacturing philosophies stress high utilization of machinery and personnel with little concern for cycle time or manufacturing waste. Lean manufacturing training teaches work groups to implement practices that correct the eight wastes inherent in manufacturing: overproduction, inventory, wait time, motion, transportation, defects, inefficient process, and production bottlenecks.

Working with MaineMEP Project Managers/Trainers Anthony Perna and Brud Stover, over 42 Pittsfield and Baltimore Fabrication & Coating team members have participated in the intense, hands-on, three-day workshop made up of three basic elements.

First, trainees learn about the TimeWise® principles of lean manufacturing. This initial phase teaches how to look for non value-added manufacturing activities. Participants actually assemble small clocks and productivity is measured during numerous manufacturing process trials. After each trial, participants discuss and implement improvements to the process and soon learn new skills that help organize and set up the workflow for maximum productivity.

This first section of the lean manufacturing training really drives home the point that systematic planning, elimination of waste, and continuous improvement are the key elements of a lean organization.

MaineMEP defines waste as one of eight categories:

  • Overproduction of work in process
  • Waiting
  • Transportation of parts/materials/tooling
  • Non-value-added processing
  • Excess inventory
  • Defects
  • Excess people motion
  • Underutilized people

Next, the trainees move to a group exercise mapping the process of manufacturing. For example, a simple fabrication or coating project can be broken out into the processes of marketing, estimating, engineering, and production. Inevitably, as discussion continues, there are many more intricate processes, roles, and procedures discovered that offer opportunities for improvement. The team thinks and talks through the process, piece by piece, and debates and challenges the value-added with each step. Sometimes roles are clarified, procedures are changed, and inefficiencies eliminated. The result is a personalized, lean, streamlined process mapped out for the whole team to take back to the real manufacturing environment.

The project managers from MaineMEP facilitate this second training session by asking questions like, “How will you know you are improving? What will you measure? What are the concerns you have about the proposed changes? Does anybody have any criticisms?” This really gets the team fired up! At times, there is some healthy, albeit heated, debate and discussion that helps the team come to decisions all can live with.

The last major section, which some say is the most difficult, is a thorough review of the initiatives and how the changes should be implemented. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. MaineMEP proposes that the key elements for success in implementation include the 5Ss:

MaineMEP defines the key elements for success:

  • Sort (Eliminate clutter)
  • Set in order (Organize and label, set boundaries and limits)
  • Shine (Clean everything, inside and out)
  • Standardize (Keep maintenance checklists; make them visual)
  • Sustain (Maintain discipline through systems and a supportive culture)

With this in mind, the team sets out to suggest improvements to workplace organization; plant layout; training; batch size; point of use storage; quality; maintenance; and work sequencing. Another interesting concept that this training teaches is that of a “push” versus “pull” system.

Defined by MaineMEP, “A push system produces product, using forecasts or schedules, without regard for what is needed by the next operation. A pull system is a method of controlling the flow of resources by indirectly linking dissimilar functions through the use of visual controls (also called kanbans), replacing only what has been consumed at the demand rate of the customer.”

Because a pull system is linked to the current customer and not driven by forecasts, it helps to reduce and/or eliminate waste in the manufacturing process. Batch sizes are reduced which also reduces transportation/handling costs, lowers work-in-process, and reduces waiting and people in motion. Production costs and manufacturing lead time are also reduced. A pull system is directly responsive to customer demand. “Make only what you need when you need it and the quantity that is needed.”

So, what exactly does this mean for Cianbro? In the long run, we reap the benefits of a lean manufacturing process in our fabrication and coatings facilities and beyond. Already, we have implemented modifications to improve productivity. Sometimes even the simplest changes can bring around fantastic results. For example, the fabrication facility is testing the use of welder tool boxes. These boxes are assigned to welders with all the consumables they need for welding. The boxes are turned in each week and restocked. This allows not only inventory usage tracking but most of al keeps the welders welding not looking for supplies.

According to Fabrication Manager Andi Vigue, “Some other ideas we’ve put into practice include posting tools in various location throughout the shop to reduce the time team members spend going to get tools. We have posted examples of acceptable work vs. unacceptable work to allow for a quick, visual comparison of quality. The tools and consumables available in our tool room are now bar coded, which allows for more effective inventory and purchasing management. Our disposal containers have been clearly marked to identify their purposes such as trash, scraps, and recyclables, helping to eliminate mistakes in the disposal of materials. Another focus is to have team members perform specific tasks and less multi-tasking. We have studied our work flow as part of the MaineMEP process and have made some adjustments that eliminate duplication of efforts.”

“Overall this learning process has been a real eye-opener. IT teaches you to think in a different way about the work you do. I’m really looking forward to working with our team to create a more streamlined and productive environment,” said Andi.


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