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Fabrication (Part 2)

Fabrication processes are generally target-rich environments for continuous improvement. There are great chances for visual management and 5S to make processes run more smoothly. There are immense chances to reduce setup time to help lower lot sizes. Kanban helps with knowing what to make—especially on the extremely large machines. Right-sizing machines can help make flow better—smaller machines fit in smaller spaces that can be set up as dedicated lines for higher volume products.

Fabrication processes tend to have another great opportunity in continuous improvement—people. ‘Fab’ processes tend to be hot and grimy. Small metal shavings are everywhere, as are coolants and lubricants. Parts are often heavy. Smoke and debris is in the air. Safety concerns abound. To top it off, machines are unforgiving. They are designed to work with metal—hands and other body parts don’t even slow them down. They are extremely loud. Unless you have experienced it, is it hard to imagine the volume of the rapid punching of a piece of quarter inch sheet metal. In short, fabrication processes often contain the lion’s share of the dirty, dumb, and dangerous work in a company.

Continuous improvement in general, and Lean specifically, provide you with a great avenue to focus making your fabrication processes less disrespectful to your team.

Take a close look at your fabrication processes and identify all the issues that pose safety risks or that are generally frustrating to your team. Rank order the problems. (Note: The safety issues should be at the top of the list.)

Begin applying your Lean toolkit to removing these issues. It might sound a bit like a haphazard approach, but the goal is one that aligns with the big picture. You are attempting to build support for the problem solving processes that continuous improvement demands. Once team members see that there is some benefit to them, they will be more willing to take on the bigger projects that improve flow.

Those types of changes—running smaller lots and arranging by product line rather than function—generate much more resistance. Having a solid track record of success makes people more accepting of change.  

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