Northern Hi-Tec Ltd, a Lancaster based electronics design and contract electronics manufacturing company introduced a lean manufacturing programme in early 2008.
Gary Hewitt, Managing Director takes up the story, “Our business has been trading for over 25 years. However, we felt it necessary to take a fresh look at how we both designed and manufactured products. The increase in global competition over the past decade has meant that our industry has been slowly ravaged by companies operating in low cost geographies and as a result we needed to find a fresh competitive advantage.
Like a lot of companies we started the lean journey a number of years ago but as time went on and the initial focus was lost, we let the benefits of the programme lapse. To re-invigorate the lean programme we felt we needed help from a specialist training company to both guide us on the way forward and help us create an environment of sustainability.
After a comprehensive search, we selected Aster Training because of their excellent lean manufacturing credentials in our industry and their ability to offer us on site lean implementation support through their interim management division. We decided to use one of their lean experts on a two day per week programme for a total of 15 weeks. We set a number of objectives with Aster Training and decided to measure their contribution by holding a weekly meeting with their interim manager throughout the duration of the lean implementation programme.
The lean programme started with an initial appraisal phase. This time was used by Aster to understand our business and recognise where the largest constraints were within our company. At the end of this phase we sat down with Aster’s lean implementation manager and agreed upon a prioritised programme of improvements.
After taking advice from Aster, we decided to split the manufacturing operation into focused cells based upon a product matrix. This allowed each cell to be managed by a customer facing management team. I think we had lost sight a little of what each customer really wanted and had a ‘silo’ departmental structure in place operating within manufacturing where each assembly process worked to their own set of objectives. By the implementation of cellular manufacturing each cell now had responsibility for the whole process across their respective product range.
After the cells had been set up and the roles and responsibilities assigned we introduced some basic lean manufacturing training to a number of the key staff members in each cell. This team would later become our lean steering group. We then set about a major visual enhancement of our factory. We decided (with Aster’s help) to introduce daily 5S checklists to both machine and manual assembly areas. We selected a pilot area, drew up the checklists, implemented them and within a little over 2-4 weeks totally transformed this area”.
Andy Davy, Red Cell Manager states, “It is quite amazing what can be achieved in a short period of time when everyone pulls together working to a common set of goals and objectives”.
Hewitt continues, “We also significantly improved work flow. The products manufactured in our pilot area were reviewed and standard work principles adopted enabling the assembly stages to be balanced in line with TAKT time. This allowed us to introduce a U-shaped production cell incorporating both successive checking and poka yoke methodology.
As a result productivity in this cell increased by over 33%, first time pass rates improved by nearly 10% and all with 12% fewer staff in the cell.
After this initial success we rolled out the 5S campaign across the site and created competition between the cells by introducing a monthly reward. We challenged staff to think ‘out of the box’ by creating user friendly, ergonomic work places where everything could be found in 30 seconds or less.
Because the team leaders had been re-energised and now had a greater appreciation of the 7 wastes, we also made a number of more subtle work flow changes including the setting up of both runner and repeater cells and a prototype cell. We marked out walkways on the shop floor and created dedicated storage areas for raw materials and work in process.
We also introduced a number of new KPIs including Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). This allowed us to monitor our surface mount equipment in particular in a standard manner with regards to availability, performance and yield.
After running the programme for 3 months we are very pleased with the results. Not only has Aster helped us breathe fresh life into our lean manufacturing programme but I also believe that they have given us further tools to fight back against low cost offshore competition – all by working smarter and not harder, which was one of our initial objectives.
We would highly recommend Aster Training to other manufacturing businesses”.