At an IMEC conference organized by the University of Toronto, Art Rice of Maintenance Technology Magazine said that in many cases “Lean is a form of Anorexia”.
That got me thinking and I realized that in many cases where I’ve seen attempts at “lean manufacturing” the lean really means “understaffed”. In those cases some of the lean manufacturing tools have been implemented, often with the help of outside expert help but lean results haven’t occurred. The introduction of “lean” in those companies was yet another attempt to cut costs without any deep thought as to what caused the high costs before introducing “lean”.
Cost cutting on its own will always remove people from the organization and not necessarily change the way that things are done sufficiently in order to really save the money. I’ve seen staff laid off but replaced with more expensive overtime or contractors. The real causes of unacceptably high costs are seldom really dealt with.
The “Achilles heal” of lean manufacturing is usually reliable operation of the plant and equipment. Without highly reliable performance from the assets themselves the objectives of lean – removal of waste, cannot be achieved. If equipment is unreliable, then inventories of work-in-process and / or finished goods must be maintained to accommodate the frequent and sometimes lengthy downtime incidents. Optimizing your maintenance department to “fight fires” faster isn’t cost effective yet it is easy to do and thus becomes the choice that most companies make. Rather than get to the root of the reliability problems and deal with them proactively the choice is often to deal with them reactively. They fix the failure (which has to happen anyway) and then do some form of root cause failure analysis. Of course that often works but it is always after the fact. You never quite catch up with all the failures and never quite move to a steady state smooth operation.
If you think that RCFA is the solution – then ask yourself this question: “would you fly in a newly designed aircraft if you knew its maintenance program was being designed using RCFA?” I think I know your answer.
Yet, you fly, or would fly, and you’d feel fairly comfortable that you will depart, take-off, fly, land and arrive – all safely. The airlines have proactive approaches to managing failures so that safety and performance are enhanced. They rarely wait until something goes wrong first and then respond.
Reliability and reliable performance is achievable. High levels of availability result from high reliability, but more importantly, sustainable long and incident free operations depend on it. In addition to enabling lean reliability also leads to improved performance in the areas of safety and environmental compliance. Finally, something your finance people will love to hear – it’s actually less expensive to run reliably than it is to run a reactive approach.
Ask us how you can get there.