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Gorur N. Sridhar

Quality Insider

SMED: It’s Not Just for Manufacturing

A thought exercise in applying setup reduction to human resources

Published: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 12:49

Single minute exchange of dies, or SMED as it’s commonly known, is defined as “the time elapsed between when the last good piece of product A comes off and the first good piece of product B starts.” SMED is probably one of the most important lean manufacturing tools, if not the most important, for enabling just-in-time (JIT) production.

Figure 1 below depicts the SMED concept.

Figure 1: Single minute exchange of dies (SMED)

Why do we need SMED?

With lean manufacturing and JIT, we aim to reduce waste within the system. The Toyota Production System (TPS) further defines this waste as muda (nonvalue-adding), mura (unevenness), and muri (overburden). SMED tackles all of these waste areas, but its greatest strength is in helping us eliminate mura. This is particularly true when working with small batches where a greater number of change-overs is the norm.

To better understand the concept of SMED, we must first understand its two main components: internal activities and external activities. Internal activities are those that can only be done when the process is stopped, such as unbolting the tool in the machine. External activities are those that can be done while the process is still running, such as fetching the next tool.

Obviously, SMED is a useful improvement tool for shop-floor activity, but could it be applied to something like the human resource (HR) department? How is it applicable? How might it be implemented?

Let’s look at the seven steps of setup reduction, as shown in figure 2, then map them to our HR activities and see how SMED can be implemented there.

Figure 2: Seven steps of setup reduction

An HR scenario

Due to rapid attrition on one of the project teams, there’s an urgent request from the affected project manager to replenish team members with new hires with equal or similar skill sets so that the customer deliverables don’t suffer either in schedule or quality.

The average time for a new resource to get up to speed (i.e., gets trained on the requisite skills and unlearns old behavior) is approximately two to three months, which we can think of as our setup time.

Now let’s map and apply the seven steps of SMED to this scenario.

Step 1: Separate internal and external activities
The activity identified as “acquiring the requisite skill sets—training on one of the CAD packages” could be deemed an external activity because the new hire can be asked to acquire the skill during his notice period from his previous employer (which is normally assumed to be one month). This will reduce the resource’s lead time that would otherwise become an internal activity.

Step 2: Standardize external activities
The HR department could standardize step one by sending the candidate a checklist of the skills to be acquired along with the offer letter. Once he starts work the skills can be fine-tuned as appropriate, thereby drastically reducing the lead time needed to put him on the job.

Step 3: Convert internal activities to external
The previous two steps have now converted the internal activity of training the resource to an external activity.

Step 4: Improve internal setup activities
Any activities that can be processed simultaneously before the new hire is put on the job should be considered. These could simply be preparing all the necessary paperwork and workbench tools that must be in place before the employee starts.

Step 5: Improve external activities
To more effectively streamline the external activity, the new hire can be asked to undergo training at one of the authorized training centers as recommended by the recruiter, thereby ensuring consistency in the acquired skills. This will shorten the lead time still further.

Step 6: Mechanization of activities
This step, if needed, can be achieved by administering a test to check the new employee’s acquired skill level, which would become a baseline for further training.

Step 7: Complete elimination
Fine-tuning this process and standardizing it would ensure that the lead time for recruiting and placing new hires on the shop floor is drastically reduced.

Lean tools, concepts, and principles aren’t just applicable to a manufacturing sertting; many can be mapped and implemented in any department. A critical tool within lean manufacturing, SMED can also be applied in more nontraditional areas, such as HR. It just takes a bit of inventive thinking.


About The Author

Gorur N. Sridhar’s picture

Gorur N. Sridhar

Gorur N. Sridhar is a mechanical engineer and a Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He has more than 24 years’ experience in manufacturing, quality, and design. His use of value engineering methods, process improvements, and failure analysis has been instrumental in obtaining substantial cost savings. Sridhar is an internal auditor for ISO 9001 and AS9100 quality systems, and has mentored more than 100 Six Sigma and kaizen projects. He has worked on implementing and sustaining level-five Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) activities. Sridhar has contributed to environmental, health, safety systems, and community development programs where he resides in Bangalore, India.


SMED practices

I've seen many interesting - and significantly time reducing - SMED examples in plastic moulding and metal-working industries, where moulds are pre-assembled and pre-heated, and dies pre-set. yes I honestly admit it's quite difficult for me to see it applied to HR. It's a question of vision, for sure, but would it mean that companies would be ready to switch manpower and technicians or leader as manfucaturing or a project goes on? Your point of view is very challenging, may be too advanced at present.