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Ron Kirscht

Quality Insider

The Latest in Lean: Training Within Industry

A case study

Published: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - 21:00

Donnelly Custom Manufacturing of Alexandria, Minnesota, a short-run injection molding company, knows that proper training is vital to productivity and quality. Still, using traditional methods, training at Donnelly was taking longer than desired and employees often weren’t retaining enough of what had been taught. Donnelly was committed to continuous improvement, and the company needed more advanced training practices to help employees more fully understand their jobs, improve quality, and eliminate any turnover associated with job confusion.

Sam Wagner, job methods certified trainer at Donnelly, has this story to share about teaching Donnelly employees this method.

“One group I taught came to class in the second day with only one example for improvement rather than the two I had asked for. When asked why there wasn’t a second example, a trainee said he walked the floor from one end to the other but was unable to find a job that could be improved.

Unable to accept this, I asked them to randomly select a press on the floor and said we’d find ways to improve it. To test me, they selected the most streamlined and automated press in our plant.

We focused on the process from start to finish and, using the method, we began to list and then question every detail, leading to ideas for improvement that could be implemented immediately.

Detail: The operator closes the chute and lifts the transfer box onto the table. Questioning: Why is it necessary to lift the box to the table; what is its purpose? Idea: The table isn’t necessary if the parts fall directly into the finished goods box.

Many more improvements came out of the class as a result of this exercise. One participant said after the class that the best part of the training was, “shattering the box I was functioning in, and I usually pride myself on being an out-of-the-box thinker!”

Through Minnesota Technology, a nonprofit organization that helps Minnesota manufacturers continuously improve, Donnelly learned of a lean technique called training within industry (TWI). Developed in the Unites States during WWII, TWI was brought to Japan to help them rebuild following the war. Still today, Toyota Motor Co. uses TWI as part of its development of lean manufacturing, and now the practice is being rediscovered and adopted by American manufacturers. TWI provides supervisors with critical leadership and analytical skills to help them rapidly and consistently train employee teams and recommend process improvements.

The goal is to make the best use of the people, machines, and materials available—a goal Donnelly shared. The program also fosters improved quality and increased productivity. Donnelly has found TWI produces positive results by encouraging people to work better, not harder.

Getting started with TWI TWI consists of three teachings: Job methods, job instruction, and job relations. Understanding these areas is the first step to implementation, and the key is getting front-line supervisors on board because they are the most important people in the process. They spend the most time dealing with people and process issues by encouraging, coaching, counseling, guiding, addressing problems, and promoting change.

At Donnelly, the next step was selecting three employees to be certified in each of the TWI areas so they could implement the process. Once candidates were selected, their certification consisted of a week-long course. The certified trainers then taught other employees in five sessions lasting two hours each day, so the participants could apply the content they had just received to better learn and deepen their understanding. Class sizes were limited to 10, which helped support the “learning by doing” philosophy. Participants learned the basics in day one, and the remaining four days were full of solving real-life challenges in output, quality, scrap, rework, and working relations that the participants bring in from their everyday work.

Job methods The job methods division of TMI teaches supervisors how to analyze jobs to reduce cost, work in progress, and inventory, thereby improving quality and increasing throughput. The process isn’t about determining what new automation to add, but about gathering people’s ideas to find and eliminate waste.

The four-step process involves working in teams to:

  • Break down the job to its simplest terms
  • Question every detail to find possible improvements
  • Develop the new method
  • Apply the new method
The objective is to develop and prepare people to become problem identifiers and solvers. Employees learn to work as a team to reduce or eliminate waste with what’s available, typically with no capital expenditures required. Highly trained people who solve problems create better quality, elevate productivity, and improve working conditions.

Job relations follows a four-step method to solving the problem as a group: get the facts, weigh and decide, take action, and check results. Here’s how Donnelly’s job relations trainer Dave Lamb describes a problem his group solved using those steps.

“We encountered a situation where a very new employee was abusing the company’s cell phone policy. This person had been informed of the policy, warned, and even written up in this short time. Someone observed this person misusing their cell phone at work once again and, skipping the “get all the facts” step, went straight to weighing, deciding, and taking action, determining this person should be let go.

“After going back and using the proper steps of job relations, we discovered that the person with the most recent cell phone offense wasn’t the same one who had been warned. They were both new and started at the same time, and the reporting employee had been mistaken. Further questioning revealed that the call was taken for a family emergency, as well.

“The situation went from near-firing of an employee to feeling quite empathetic toward another. This is just one example of how absolutely critical it is to talk to all concerned and take the “get the facts” step seriously.”

Job relations The job relations phase of TWI teaches supervisors how to evaluate and take proper actions to solve and to prevent problems with people. People problems often are ignored or avoided because they aren’t fun or may seem too personal or uncomfortable. The objective of job relations is to build relationships and cooperation to solve problems before they get out of control.

The focus of the training is on how to resolve conflicts. Participants spend most of the week learning to apply the methodology by bringing in issues that are actually happening. They use the methodology to solve their issues and practice on the problems they bring. Then they learn from other students in the class by seeing how the method is used on their problems and their issues.

The outcome is better employee relations, improved morale, fewer complaints, more consistent attendance, less equipment damage, improved quality, increased production, and profits.

Job instruction The third phase of TWI is job instruction, which teaches supervisors how to train employees to do a job correctly, safely, and more effectively and efficiently. The mantra of this phase is, “If the worker hasn’t learned, the instructor hasn’t taught.” The goals are:

  • Reduced training time
  • Increased production
  • Fewer accidents
  • Less scrap and rework
  • Less tool and equipment damage
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Improved quality
  • Increased profits

The process shows supervisors how to set up a training plan by focusing on important steps and keeping it simple. It involves distilling the job down to its most important steps, key points (tricks and tips for 10 percent of the trickiest parts) and reasons for each key point.

The process recognizes that new employees often are overloaded with too much information and can’t remember everything they learn in training. The method includes informing the employees how to perform a process, showing how to do it, and then performing that process while being lead through it.

Effective learning through job instruction

Brad Andrist, the job instruction certified trainer at Donnelly, shares a situation he encountered that is fairly common.

“In a recent meeting, one of our new employee trainers asked if everyone was trained on “how to run an injection molding machine.” For an injection molder, it seemed like a strange question: It’s so basic to those of us that do it every day that we don’t consider that some new employees don’t really know how to perform many basic tasks.

“It turns out that we didn’t even have any standard instructions written down on how to run an injection molding machine. I thought back to my TWI training and it all made sense. Of course something so basic to me is very important to a new employee. So as a group, we broke down the job of running an injection molding machine and documented it.

“Now, every new hire in manufacturing is informed how to do the job, then is shown how to do the job, and most importantly, performs the job with someone helping and watching until they know how to do the job.”

Results Since beginning TWI in August 2006, Donnelly has trained 25 percent of its 230 workers in job methods and implemented more than 300 improvements—exceeding its goal of implementing one job method improvement per shift per week.

More than 50 percent of the improvements resulted in at least a 20 percent improvement in the labor content of job; a third resulted in 15 percent to 20 percent improvement. Donnelly has implemented more than 98 percent of proposals resulting from job methods completed by employees.

Implementing the new training methods based on TWI’s job instruction resulted in a dramatic cut in training time: From months to days. Also, turnover rates continue to remain low.

Finally, employees have said the training makes their jobs less stressful and more productive, supporting our core value of “Always work as a team.”

Job relations training has resulted in improved scores on employee surveys for fairness, increased confidence in supervisors, reduced stress on the job, and improved communications among workers.

TWI gives supervisors the tools they need to be successful by creating a top-down, cascading model to implement the processes. Getting people to think and take initiative is the key to success with TWI. Most importantly, it closes the competitive gap and keeps quality high and U.S. manufacturing competitive.

Donnelly has since shared these methods with suppliers and customers and helps them implement the same continuous improvement processes in their operations.

About the author Ron Kirscht is president of Donnelly Custom Manufacturing Co. and has been instrumental in leading Donnelly's relentless pursuit to set the standards in short-run molding, including the development of an outstanding manufacturing launch process, shortening lead times, collapsing mold changeovers, adopting lean concepts, and meeting the demands of just-in-time inventory management. As a leader at Donnelly since 1991, he understands the nature and necessity of profitability and financial stability. Kirscht combines business strategy with the manufacturing innovation that's critical to mid-market manufacturers.


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