A few years back I had a chance to visit Toyota in Nagoya, Japan. We were allowed to go on to a ramp that goes on top of the Manufacturing Line across the factory. You could stand there for about an hour and observe the Manufacturing process at various places on the shop floor. It was a Car assembly line running in the shop floor with all the support functions available right next to the line.
Typical to Toyota Culture, the line was stopped frequently to fix problems. The problems were so small, and the response was so swift that each of the stoppages was for not more than a few seconds! The relevant team would run to fix the problem. We understood that the line was running so well that they had only problems that can be fixed in a few seconds. But they were still encouraging their employees to stop the line and fix them. The line had the traditional Andon String running the length of the line.
It was obvious that the Assembly Line is the center of the whole Factory. Everyone was focused on the Assembly Line and supporting it. They were all clear that they are there to ensure the Line is being run continuously without stoppage. The Support to Manufacturing was overwhelming.
Status in many of our Manufacturing Companies
There are few Companies in India that run like this. I am sure all the Vehicle manufacturers run like this. Automotive Companies have evolved this way. One helpful factor is that huge moving line in the Shop floor.
The Status even in the Auto Parts Companies is not as good. The status in non-Automotive sector is worse. The focus on the manufacturing is simply missing. Everyone is worried about the Production and if it is not coming, everyone is preoccupied with that worry. No doubt about it.
But the Companies do not work with the Manufacturing at the Centre. The Manufacturing would be suffering for want of attention in the midst of the ‘Worry for Production’. It sounds like I am talking about opposites! It is true. In the midst of their Concern for Production, the Companies are not positioned to support Production.
In fact, I have seen a Company where the Top Management target the Plant teams regularly as they feel the Plant Team is not performing! All the Corporate Functions regularly target the Plants for their ‘inefficiency’. The heads of Plant Heads roll regularly due to their ‘non-performance’. This type of Top Management and a Corporate team is a nightmare to all Manufacturing Plants!!
While the above Problem of Top Management targeting the Manufacturing Plants is not very rare, there are several other happenings in these Companies where the Manufacturing does not get good support.
01. People: The Work of the Supervisor Engineers and the Manager in charge of the Shop starts with running for the Workmen. Almost on every day, they lose some of the NEEM Trainees or the Contract Workmen and they can’t run the lines right from the beginning of the Shift. They run to HR department to plead with them to give them more people. Then, there will be usual rush to get more people and HR pleads with the Contractors to get them more hands. It is not overstatement to say that most of Indian Manufacturing runs at the mercy of these Contractors!! The first 90-120 minutes in every shift is spent by the Supervisor running around to get people! Who is worried about the Shift Startup procedures!!
02. Material: In most of the Companies the Production Plan simply does not work as there will be Material shortages almost on a daily basis. The Production Plans have to be changed. If changing is not possible, then the Shop will idle till the material comes. The Supervisor Engineer is again running around to Stores / Materials Department to plead with them to get him the Material. Most of the times the Production team Produces the Product for which the material is there. Not what is planned and not what is needed by Customer today!
03. Quality: Next task to the Supervisor Engineer is to run after the Quality Inspectors / Quality Managers to take their help in resolving the Quality Problems. The Supervisor Engineers are conditioned in such a way that they have forgotten that they are Engineers and even for a small problem, they search for ‘Quality Engineers’. The Quality Engineers / Managers have to take a call about the Quality issues either about Incoming material or about the Process.
04. Maintenance: Suddenly there may be a Breakdown of a Machine and the Supervisor Engineer has to run for the Maintenance team. These guys may be available mostly on the Shop floor. But they may be busy in something else! This Supervisor Engineer has to go to them and impress upon them about his line/machine.
05. R&D: Most of the days there will be a few New Products that are running on the Shop floor. They don’t behave in a predictable manner. The Parts are not settled, and Process is not settled. So, the Supervisor Engineer can be seen running to the R&D to get the experts to handle the problems with the New Products. The Production Manager also will get involved in this as he has to handle some Big Shots!
This way the Production Supervisor and the Production Manager have to run around the whole day to various people to seek their help! Sometimes the Top Management will get angry with them that they are not coordinating well with all functions!!
In fact the HR would recruit the Supervisors who are good at coordinating. The demand for Problem solving skills, Product / Process Knowledge etc in Supervisor Engineers may not be even asked about. It is decided in most of the Manufacturing Companies that the role of Production Engineer is to go around pleading with the various Powers in the Company to help him run the Production!
As the whole Company’s focus is on the Production numbers (?!), the Supervisors / Managers in Production have to ‘Perform’ and they dance the whole day.. all around the Company!!
This has to change. In Manufacturing Companies, the Manufacturing has to be at the center of the Company along with the Customer. If we do not have a stable Manufacturing, then the whole company right from the Managing Director has to focus only on that. This is good enough reason to change this set Paradigm of Supervisor Engineers / Managers running around the whole organisation!!
How it should be?
Settle the Age old problems: A Manufacturing Company has to settle the traditional problems of Material Shortages and ensure the Manufacturing runs as per a Plan ! This is not impossible. Every Supplier wants to maximize his Business with you. So, if someone tells you that Suppliers are not supplying, read it as ‘the Supplier engagement’ is not okay in your Company.
Should be Available on the Shop: All the People who directly contribute to the Manufacturing should be available on the Shop floor. The Andon signaling is a simple system that can be used to alert the concerned persons when there is a stoppage of a machine or a line on the shop floor. All concerned persons should be able to see the Andon light physically.
- A HR Officer should go to every line in the morning and check about availability of manpower and take care of problems if any.
- A Maintenance Engineer should have a simple system of getting notified about a Breakdown and he should be measured on his response time.
- A Material Buyer should be going to every line and looking at the Kanban cards. He should be held accountable to any Shortages.
- An R&D Engineer should be held accountable to occupying the shop floor beyond the time agreed.
- A Production Engineer should be encouraged to own the Quality. He need not be running around to fetch Quality Engineer/Manager.
Restrict the Meetings: The team who are on the Shop floor cannot be called for meetings. If they are required for a Meeting, then someone has to step into that role while the person is away from Shop floor. This has to be implemented strictly. If you are not allowing the Engineers to do their job, then how do you expect them to deliver?
Review of Losses: The Losses on the shop floor should be given utmost seriousness at all times. The Plant Management has to treat the Production Losses as a very serious issue. They need to minimize the losses continuously. There can be no other priority to the Plant Management till the Losses are addressed squarely. The Top Management should support this approach. Many Companies try to do too much on the shop floor without these fundamentals. Top Management wants to implement every fancy concept before they settle this. That is the main reason why the new initiatives do not work on the shop floor. So, we have to be patient with Manufacturing Plants. Build the Foundation first.
Accountability: The various Functional Heads should be held accountable to the Production line stoppages. This should be the biggest focus of the Functional Heads. Someone who is not focused on this has to be corrected firmly. If they are held accountable to the losses, I am sure the Functional Heads will deliver.
Manufacturing should be the focus: The Manufacturing Team has to be given very high focus and support. They should be treated as very important people and they should have the ear of every Senior person in the Company. We are not talking about individuals. We are talking about giving priority to the function. When you do it, the focus on the Manufacturing will improve.
Change the Paradigm
Change this existing / outdated Paradigm of Manufacturing running around everyone else in the Company to take care of daily Production. It makes Business sense.
A Company where the Manufacturing is not settled, cannot do anything else. Right from Managing Director would be preoccupied only with that worry!
It makes a lot of Business sense to settle this problem here and now!!