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Collaborative Kaizen Workshop Strengthens OEM and Supply Chain

Solving problems and forging better partnerships

Published: Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - 09:55

Change is inevitable in every organization. Planned or not, forces inside and outside the enterprise can sometimes encumber a workforce and lead to nonvalue-added processes. Growing spurts, major technology implementations, or even small supply-chain organizational projects can present more issues than expected. However, when a company has a proactive improvement program in place, one that uses lean manufacturing and Six Sigma principles and tools, potential roadblocks can be identified and eliminated.

Beyond the factory floor, gains can also be made by integrating the local supply chain into the problem-solving process. Raising awareness of customer issues can open the door to improvement opportunities for both parties.

Supply-chain efficiencies are consistently reviewed as new products are rolled out or added to the large inventory at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, a metrology and manufacturing solution specialist located in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. The company manufactures a wide range of precision metrology solutions for collecting, analyzing, and using measurement data in industrial sectors such as aerospace, automotive, power generation, and medical. Hexagon products provide actionable information during the entire life cycle of a product, from development and design to production, assembly, and final inspection. Since building its headquarters, Hexagon has partnered with the local supply chain.

Sensing lean

Hexagon’s plant operations team determined there were incremental improvements needed in the areas of storage and organization of commodity goods, as well the organization of service-department artifacts. Developing a tracking system was necessary, as was the need to streamline the process of receiving and delivering noninventory items. Although these measures may seem small for a larger corporation, operations management never underestimates a quick bottom-line win for the company.

Steve Ilmrud, vice president of operations at Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, has long taken a lean approach to streamline operational procedures. His team is vigilant in looking for ways to ensure that all stakeholders can work efficiently with speed and confidence. Hexagon reached out to the Polaris Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) of Rhode Island to create a two-day, kaizen continuous improvement workshop. The program was designed to tackle three problematic areas with teams of internal employees and local suppliers. Although many companies perform kaizen, Hexagon’s program is unique in that it involves suppliers, not just Hexagon personnel. Further, the tools used to drive the continuous improvement project at Hexagon can also be implemented by the many suppliers represented at the event.

“It can be difficult to reinvent your operation over the long haul,” says Ilmrud. “Events like this keep our approach to continuous improvement fresh and exciting. Another driver is our customers’ demand for more value under intense price pressure. Our ability to deliver results is only as strong as the weakest link in our supply chain. When our partners are stronger and more successful, we are all better poised for long-term success. Our management team works to instill an ongoing, systematic, lean mindset throughout our organization by educating our workforce and beyond.”

Don Nester, senior project manager for Polaris MEP, stresses attention to detail. “Streamlining operations is all about how many times your employees are touching stuff. If a company can reduce the touches, then throughput is increased. You have to constantly ask, ‘What are my employees doing every day?’ If you can identify nonvalue added activities, remove or simplify them, then you can increase efficiency and productivity. It is just that simple and just that complicated.”

Thinking lean

The first kaizen project focused on the storage and organization of commodity goods, mostly consumables such as paper, chemicals, and cleaning products used throughout the plant. The goal was to improve the layout, organization, and ordering process to ensure there was a sufficient supply of goods without excess inventory. By eliminating stock outs and reducing nonvalue added activities, Hexagon would be on its way to developing a “supplier owned” program. This program would incorporate the supplier directly to the process of reviewing commodities via a consumable vendor-managed inventory (VMI) order form, which allowed a supplier to order necessary products, and stock them directly.

Enabling the supplier to take full responsibility for maintaining the specified inventory of goods allows for fewer “touches,” resulting in a leaner approach. Furthermore, the facilities department can focus the bulk of its attention on more value-added activities, such as supporting manufacturing.

Next, Hexagon identified issues with tracking and organizing service-department artifacts. These various items are often dispatched into the field and used to calibrate the company’s coordinate measuring machines (CMMs). This project focused on improving the storage space, simplifying the location process of these items, and expediting the delivery of artifacts into the field when needed. Currently, valuable time is spent searching for specific items because there are no specified, documented rack locations. With an unorganized service artifact storage area, extra shipping fees are often incurred because of the lack of control of those items, making it difficult to find, pack, and ship in a timely manner. Developing an easy-to-use tracking system could generate status reports of specific artifacts being used in the facility or in the field. Aside from process improvements, the secondary benefit would be reducing the need and expense of priority-one overnight shipments.

Lastly, the team wanted to formalize a process for receiving and routing noninventory items arriving at the facility, which were sometimes delayed or not delivered. Tracking down these items resulted in broken workflow and wasted time on efforts that are not high priority for the shipping and receiving department. The goal of this third project was to develop and document a working procedure for quickly and efficiently receiving noninventory items.

Acting lean

Suppliers and employees attending the workshop were exposed to formal kaizen and 5S (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain) concepts. Immediately following the training session, employees and vendors were matched up according to the project and their expertise levels. To create an inclusive team environment, participants hailed from several departments, including facilities, purchasing, engineering, part manufacturing, materials, service, logistics, operations, and the project management office.

With markers in hand, the teams hit the shop floor to brainstorm and put their new troubleshooting tools to work. Supply-chain participants could view the end-to-end process and identify where inconsistencies occur during the course of business, gaining a clear understanding of the issues affecting Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence. They contributed ideas and helped determine the actions needed to enhance operations until an efficient business flow is maintained and monitored, even after progress is made.

“Being invited to a kaizen workshop hosted by a customer is very beneficial because we are always looking for an opportunity to enhance that relationship,” says Paul Garneau, new business director at Consumers Interstate Corp., a nationwide distributor of industrial, safety, janitorial, packaging, and office supplies. “The hands-on workshop helps us see the business process through Hexagon’s perspective. Helping to restore a good working order, whether it is a short- or long-term fix, is beneficial to all aspects of our partnership.”

Making it work

Ultimately, solutions were found for all three projects by using kaizen principles. For the first project, storing and organizing commodity goods, the team was able to remove five touches, and the process flow of commodity replenishment will benefit from a supplier-owned future state that relies on the supplier to review, order, and stock all necessary goods.

The results of the second project, tracking and organizing service-department artifacts, led to implementing a simplified, easy-to-use tracking system to locate and ascertain the status of service artifacts, which dramatically reduced the potential need for costly shipping fees.

Project three addressed non-inventory items, some of which were personal to employees. These will be discouraged from being sent to the workplace, but during the interim, those items will be kept in a safe location and will be available for pickup during a designated time slot.

All three teams gained sufficient and valuable ground for their projects, each serving as a stepping stone to more (and larger) improvements to come. The workshop resulted in a high-value collaboration to solve problems, which will ultimately improve yield and cycle time. Moreover, the problem solvers got to know each other better while using their strengths to find sustainable solutions. The supply-chain participants were given a valuable opportunity to concentrate on precisely what their customer wanted and needed to achieve maximum efficiency.

“If the state’s workforce embraces these tools and techniques to make improvements and succeed, businesses will flock to Rhode Island just for our labor pool alone,” Nester concludes. “It is imperative to get our top OEMs involved in these types of programs, because they are the experts in their fields. Our supply chain is equally important. As they gain a better understanding of their customer’s needs and expectations, they can act in their client’s best interest.”


About The Authors

Kyle Pheland’s picture

Kyle Pheland

Kyle Pheland is the Marketing Coordinator for Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, North America. Pheland is responsible for day-to-day media fulfillment, and assists with the development of marketing and advertising campaigns for Hexagon's broad range of products and services for the metrology and manufacturing markets. Kyle is a regular contributor to Hexagon's Talking Points Blog. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from Salve Regina University.

Belinda Jones’s picture

Belinda Jones

Belinda Jones is the founder and owner of HiTech Marketing LLC, in Westbrook, Connecticut. For more than a decade, Jones has written articles and commentaries about manufacturing, engineering, quality assurance, CAD/CAM/CAE applications, and other high-tech topics. She has extensive experience in marketing communications, technical sales, and applications engineering. Before joining the computer industry, she was a broadcast copywriter for four years. Jones holds degrees in fine arts and mechanical engineering, and studied cultural arts in Europe.