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Chet Kagel

Six Sigma

Medical Device Manufacturer Cuts Costs With Kaizen

Lean manufacturing at Command Medical Products

Published: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 - 23:00

Command Medical Products of Ormond Beach, Florida, is a medical-device manufacturer that designs, manufactures, assembles, and packages disposable medical devices such as intravenous tubing, blood bags, IV bags, and catheters. Command Medical initiated its journey into lean manufacturing to improve manufacturing processes in order to maintain its competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Command Medical hired HPK Group to provide lean-manufacturing training workshops and to facilitate its first kaizen event, which involved the extrusion of medical tubing along with the assembly of a clamp to control flow and a spike for connection to other medical devices.

Initially, the tubing was produced on an extrusion machine at a rate of 300 units per hour and conveyed to an initial assembly area where the clamp was added. The partially assembled tubeset was coiled and packed into cardboard boxes for intermediate storage as work-in-process (WIP). The staffing in the extrusion area consisted of an extrusion operator (who runs two extrusion machines), two assembly operators to add the clamp and coil the tubeset, and a material handler who packed the coils into cartons. These cartons were usually produced the week before they were needed for final assembly and were stored in the warehouse. This was the start of a traditional batching operation where the tubesets were produced in quantities of 10,000 to 20,000 units. The following week, this WIP was moved to a clean room to complete the assembly process. The first operation consisted of bonding a spike to one end of the tube utilizing between two and four personnel who averaged 120 units per hour per person. The product was then moved to shelves where the bonding adhesive cured for several hours before the assembly process was completed. Next, the product was moved to multiple assembly tables where two to eight people inserted the control wheel into the clamp and individually tested each clamp for ease of operation at an average production rate of 80 units per hour per person. This product was then placed into totes and moved out of the clean room to be packed out by a material handler.

Packing out 


Tube winding station


A kaizen event was held to monitor the existing process and improve it. The team consisted of cross-functional members from production, engineering, and production planning. The initial objective of the kaizen event was to reduce the bonding cure time down from a two hours, and to reduce material handling of the product. Because a reduction in the cure time was essential and it might take longer to resolve than the four-day kaizen event, some prior testing was done. Within the four-day kaizen event, the team constructed a fixture and drying tunnel and simulated the production of a continuous conveyor line running from the extruder through the complete assembly process to eliminate batching. Julio Santiago, a manufacturing engineer, was able to fabricate the necessary fixtures quickly, utilizing Command Medical’s maintenance machine shop. He continues to address the cure time in an effort to reduce it even further. This simulation indicated that the total staffing would consist of 5.5 people for the new method, down from 11 people from the original method, and the new method would be capable of producing at the rate of 300 units per hour. This reduction in staffing has proven to be the case. One-piece flow is maintained instead of batching by slowing down the conveyor to allow sufficient drying time between exiting the dryer tunnel and the final assembly operation.

Chris Ferguson (left), Julio Santiago (right)

When asked if the kaizen event was successful, Chris Ferguson, superintendent of production, says that she is extremely pleased with the significant reduction in labor and their ability to maintain a reliable production rate of 300 units per hour throughout the entire process. She also likes the reduction in WIP and the material handling labor associated with the batching operation. With the hindsight of the continuing cure time problem Ferguson says the kaizen event “would have benefited from more testing of potential cure time solutions prior to the start of the event.” Ferguson notes that this first kaizen event definitely changed the production employee’s point of view for the better on the value of lean.

Box Score

Reduction in Personnel

  5.5 people (↓50%)

Reduction in WIP

10,000 units (↓50%)

Reduction in Lead Time

1 week (↓50%)

Reduction in Cure Time

60 min (↓50%)

From a consultant’s perspective, this particular project points out the need for the continued monitoring and improvement of a process after the kaizen event has ended. Just because a kaizen event is concluded within a set number of days and an improved solution is implemented doesn’t mean that all of the problems have been resolved. At Command Medical, the manufacturing engineer, superintendent, and production operators continue to refine the process on a day-to-day basis. David Slick, Command Medical Products' senior president, CEO, and founder, sums up its use of lean manufacturing principles as: “The potential is astounding!”




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Chet Kagel