Volume 10, Issue 7 - September 2009

protect the view

“It Served No Useful Purpose”
Use This Phrase to Analyze Your Plant
by Mike Burk

Growing up I always believed that our family name, Burk without the “e,” had a long family tradition. I guessed it dated back to times in Ireland when we were different from the rest of the Burkes. In my younger days, I always made sure that it was spelled correctly, always wondering why most people would always add the “e.”

However, during a recent visit I learned there was no long family tradition. My grandfather, Charles Ezekiel Burk, born in Stanford, Ky., decided to drop the “e.” Charles told anyone who asked that he dropped the “e” because “it served no useful purpose.”

Look at Operations with a Critical Eye

For some reason the phrase “it served no useful purpose” stuck in my mind. Now, I look a little differently at some of the things that I do. Since I spend so much time in insulating glass facilities, I’ve started applying this line of thought to the insulating glass manufacturing process.

We have many valuable, proven tools to help improve our manufacturing processes. We have Kaizen events, Six Sigma, ISO Certification, Total Quality Management (TQM), Quality Management Systems (QMS) and Statistical Process Control (SPC). We understand take time, 5S, benchmarks, control charts, fishbone diagrams and the seven wastes. But what would happen if we simply walked out to the manufacturing area, stood back and, while observing the entire process, asked ourselves if every activity we witnessed served a useful purpose?

Give this Gemba Kaizen style of observation a trial. Gemba is a Japanese word that means “real place.” It has been adapted in quality management circles to mean the workplace, the place where value is added or, in manufacturing, it usually means the shop floor. Take a few minutes to observe the people in your production facility. See what they are doing. Watch their movement and their work to make sure it serves a useful purpose.

Determine that the fabricators are safe. Ensure that they are wearing the proper personal protective equipment and are trained to use it correctly. Ensure that the protective equipment serves the purpose for which it was designed. Look for misuse, such as wearing non-stick gloves when cut-resistant gloves are required. Verify that wrist protection is fully covering the lower arm; and watch for missing or worn waist protection, safety glasses and noise protection gear.

Look for any action that might cause harm, such as lifting large lites or IG units. Is anyone carrying glass through confined spaces? Are people using safety aisles or taking shortcuts through more dangerous areas?

Look to see if the actions and the movements of the fabricators truly add value to the process. Do the operators lift, carry or handle glass or components for required purposes or is excess work in process moved from one place to another throughout the day? Are the tools they need to complete their work effectively readily available or do the fabricators go in search of a required tool? Are assemblers making repairs or using workarounds rather than correcting the cause of the defect? If production is stalled or slowed, where is the bottleneck?

It may be time to clean house. Look for the excess “stuff” that accumulates in the production area. Manufacturing areas often are cluttered with empty barrels, unused shelves, storage boxes and message boards that are no longer used. Items that block the view, increase the number of operator steps or reduce valuable floor space serve no useful purpose and should be removed. Ensure that the production area has sufficient lighting and ventilation. Are safe fans available to cool the operators without spreading contamination or affecting temperature-critical equipment?

Masaaki Imai writes in his book Gemba Kaizen that “whenever abnormality occurs, or whenever a manager wishes to know the current state of operations, he or she should go to gemba (the workplace) right away.” Take a walk; go to the workplace. Try combining the philosophy of a man known as the “father of continuous improvement” with the simple philosophy of a bread truck driver from Kentucky as you work to manufacture windows that will protect the view safely and efficiently. y

Mike Burk serves as technical service manager for Edgetech I.G. He may be reached at mike.burk@edgetechig.com. Mr. Burk’s opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.

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