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Tooling is a generic term for any of the variety of equipment associated with production machines, especially ones that do fabrication. Cutting tools, dies, precision clamps, injection molds, jigs, and fixtures all fall into this category.

Most companies with more than just a few production machines will have a tooling group. Its role is to design, build, and maintain the company’s tooling.

The development of complex tools is often outsourced to specialized companies.

In a Lean company, the role of a tooling group expands. Part of this stems from the fact that large machines are often replaced by multiple small machines dedicated to individual product groups. This creates more pieces of equipment to develop and maintain.

Production teams also tend to come up with more ideas for fixtures as they become more proficient at process improvement. They start using more jigs, fixtures, and specialized tools to get rid of a variety of waste. They also increase the use of poka yoke (mistake proofing) devices in existing fixtures. This can substantially increase the load on the tooling team.

Tooling groups will also see a greater workload as they increase their own Lean proficiency. They will replace screws and bolts with clamps. They will try to standardize fixture heights to simplify changeover. They will work to be able to swap heavy fixtures without cranes that are notorious for their lack of precision. 

  • Make sure to develop a process for when kaizen teams need help with the project. The speed requirements of these requests often mean they get pushed to the front of the queue. Be sure that other people understand that that will happen to prevent conflict.
  • Kaizen the tooling groups processes to keep them from getting overwhelmed by the increasing demand. They may see a doubling or tripling of workload once Lean takes root.
  • Work to increase the capabilities of the tooling group. They will be asked to do more types of things that maybe outside of their normal comfort zone. Get them trained. The more they can do for the teams they support, the faster the Lean journey will go. 

The tooling group is one of the great enablers of Lean. Large batch sizes hamper a company’s ability to produce with one piece flow. The biggest barrier to smaller lots is a long changeover time. To become Lean, especially if there are a large number of CNC machines, the tooling group has to be at the top of its game. It also has to be large enough to handle the increased workload.

It will also acquire new customers from around the company, further adding to workload. Assembly teams will request substantially more production tools and fixtures. Kaizen teams will often need new tools or modifications to existing ones as they work to improve processes.

Senior leaders need to plan for the expense associated with this increased demand for the tooling group’s services.


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