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Noise (Sound)

Noise has a rather significant impact on operations. High levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss. There are basically two things you can do to avoid the loss of that vital sense: eliminate the noise, or wear appropriate hearing protection.

There are also other impacts of noise. People do not like working in overly loud places, and thus job satisfaction is diminished. In addition to the noise itself, morale is also reduced by the need to wear bulky or uncomfortable safety equipment.

Noise also restricts communication. People cannot clearly present ideas in loud environments. It makes working as a team and solving problems much more difficult, and can also pose a safety risk if instructions are misinterpreted.

This impact of noise does not only apply to employees. It has a further undesirable effect upon customers. They may perceive a loud workplace as chaotic, and thus a less desirable place to spend their money. 

Work to reduce noise in your environment. Many continuous improvement efforts have a significant impact on the amount of noise in a facility. Consider inventory. Moving it around takes forklifts, lots of pallet banging around, and beeping when machinery is operating. Lower inventory levels require less of all those things, and thus create less noise. The same holds true for JIT production. Producing less and at just the pace of demand tends to reduce noise.

Making processes easier will also reduce noise. You will hear fewer hammers as operators try to force pieces together when the design is poor, or if the parts are not made to specification. You will hear less yelling (and cursing!) People get louder when there are problems and they are calling out to each other.

One interesting note about noise. Rework tends to be louder than the initial production process. There is less flow to the work. This results in more dragging components and tools around which tends to be somewhat noisy. There is also the directed application of high velocity adjustments (i.e. hammers), which tends to add to the decibel level.

Sound is also a good indicator about wasteful processes. Many problems have telltale sounds, such as the hammers mentioned above. Others include grinders, falling parts, and the hissing of air leaks on the shop floor. In the office, you might hear unanswered phones, angry voices, or the sound of shuffling through papers. (A more extensive list of “15 Sounds That Shout Waste” is available at http://www.velaction.com/identifying-waste/.)

  • Don’t take any chances—hire a professional to assess the noise in your facility and make safety recommendations.
  • Leaders, don’t let noisy facilities deter you from spending the bulk of your time at the gemba. If it is too loud for you to work effectively there, it is also probably not pleasant for your team.

While noise is generally accepted as part of the cost of working in a factory (or other loud environment), you can take some actions to help reduce the unpleasantness.

In a Lean organization, you will have a lot of say in projects. You’ll be empowered to take on small daily tasks, you’ll be asked to participate in bigger projects, you’ll have a voice at daily standup meetings, and you’ll play a large role in data collection.

If noise is a problem for you, create a personal agenda in your improvement efforts. Unlike some self-serving activities, this one has the major upside in that the things that help you will also help your company. Obviously, you should maintain your integrity. You should not intentionally alter data, for example. But if you train yourself to look for the problems behind the sounds, and diligently add those issues to issue logs, you’ll be able to steer the improvement activities of your team.

Noise will tell you a lot about your facility. Go into your workspace, and listen. Do you hear phones ringing unanswered? Is there a frantic pace of typing? Are there buzzers going off on your office equipment?

On the shop floor, do you hear the hammers mentioned above? Do you hear the hiss of air leaking? (Note: In addition to the added noise, leaks are an indicator of poor overall maintenance.

Is there a din, or a production symphony going on? Are you hearing lots of crashes when inventory is moved? Do you hear parts falling and banging?

Your first goal should be to reduce the things that make the sound in a facility. Continuous improvement will do wonders for the work environment.

If you still don’t get the noise down to acceptable levels, there are other ways to try to make the sound more manageable. Sound dampening materials and white noise generators are two approaches, but both are best implemented by a professional, and it can be pricey. Again, look towards continuous improvement first to reduce the unwanted sound.

  • In a Lean organization, team members can take actions to eliminate the source of the sound.
  • Noise hurts morale, productivity, job satisfaction, and the impression customers have of your company.
  • Noise can damage hearing, and can also increase injury risk due to poor communication.
  • Noise is a good indicator of problems and waste. Treat each noise as an opportunity to make an improvement.

Do a noise audit. Listen to the workplace for a few hours, recording every sound. Categorize those sounds into normal operations and abnormal conditions.

For the normal operations, look at the loudest sounds and check if the process can be redesigned to limit the sound. A smaller number of larger bolts, for example, might be less noise intensive to install with an air ratchet than a larger number of smaller bolts.

For the abnormal conditions, identify the underlying problems, and work to eliminate them. If you have some way of prioritizing the problems, make sure that these issues get into the decision-making mix.

Poka Yoke Lego Exercise

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