Premium processes instead of fire fighting
In the Lean Production System of an automobile manufacturer, a premium model with high variant spread and vertical integration came off the assembly line. But then the new Director of Manufacturing set the goal of introducing two additional series on the same line within just five months. The company took advantage of this challenge, which was already particularly demanding in itself, to realign its manufacturing, in which the volume of finished cars was to be increased by 85% and product quality and lean production were to reach a higher performance level.
In collaboration with ROI, the automobile manufacturer mastered this "Lean Transformation". Not only did they ensure the start-up of the new series, they also achieved the 85% mark with impressive performances: in addition to a productivity increase of more than 20% and quality improvements, the team also achieved a 30% reduction in the assembly line cycle.
The project team develops a scalable approach for lean transformation of the plant. After starting in individual pilot areas of assembly, it transfers the improvements to the current line and finally, with further lessons learned, to the ramp-up of the two new models.MORE
Visualize lean theory and make it tangible; involve employees from all relevant areas at an early stage and quickly try out what they have learned in the line; ensure a solid methodical foundation, in this case 3P.MORE
ROI success model
Comprehensive lean transformation in three dimensions: in the technical (manufacturing) system, in the management structures and with regard to the lean skills or "mindsets" of the employees.MORE
To find the best lean approach not for one but for three model lines - that seems feasible. But what if two of the vehicle models have not even started yet and there is no room for manoeuvre to examine the work processes during ongoing production? The OEM of a premium brand was in exactly this initial situation. A limousine already rolled off the assembly line in well-rehearsed steps, the ramp-up of a coupe was two weeks away - and in the next quarter another limousine was to start in the same assembly line.
However, this ambitious planning also offered the opportunity to quickly bring the lean culture in the plant to a new performance level with a new approach. Up to now, productivity improvements have only taken place selectively, often in "fire fighting" mode and without a strategy to anchor and expand lean competencies in the team in the long term. At the beginning of the project, it was therefore not clear who knew which "improvement levers" along the process chain or was responsible for identifying them regularly.
Together with ROI's team of lean experts, the automotive manufacturer decided to develop a scalable approach for its lean transformation. It started the project in individual pilot areas of assembly, transferred the improvements to ongoing limousine manufacturing and finally, with further lessons learned, to the ramp-up of the two new model series. In order to anchor the approach in the organization over the long term, the project team defined lean principles for three dimensions: the technical (manufacturing) system, the management structures, and the lean capabilities or "mindsets" of the employees. In this case, for example, this meant redistributing the work content and reducing the number of processes and workstations in order to improve processes in the assembly line and in the pre-assembly areas. A change in the way information is passed on on the shop floor from "manual" to "digital" also saved time and improved communication within the team.
Structured lighthouse project
At the beginning it was necessary to find the right methodology in order to master the "operating at the beating heart" of the current production in the set time. This was solved by the Lean Transformation Team with a "Lighthouse Project" in pilot areas of the assembly line, which
- a structured, repeatable procedure with a fixed time cycle of two weeks analysis, two weeks conception, eight weeks implementation and eight weeks support (see graphic);
- under the leadership of the dual leadership of a ROI Lean Trainer and a "Lean Transformer" from the company for 15 to 35 employees each;
- The focus per division was on the KPIs Hours Per Unit (HPU), Defects Per Vehicle (DPV) and Right First Time (RFT).
The fact that this approach worked was evident in the ongoing implementation of the identified improvement measures. After only eight weeks, the plant achieved a productivity increase of between 15 and 25%. The team used the lessons learned and experiences from this phase directly when introducing the new models, added new ideas and insights - and will continue to "roll out" this principle to new areas in the future.
Build employees as lean experts
A major part of these rapid successes was played by the employees, who from the very first day of the project contributed highly motivated suggestions for improvement. In order to activate this knowledge from the team for lean transformation, three elements proved to be particularly valuable: firstly, to visualize lean potentials in video analyses and thus make them tangible; secondly, to encourage employees to experiment and to let them quickly try out what they have learned in practice. Thirdly, the 3P approach (Production, Preperation, Process) is to create a solid methodological foundation for the ramp-up of the new models in the line.
Making Lean Principle a tangible experience
What unnecessary distances do employees cover at their assembly stations? Where are tools and vehicle parts stored unfavourably? Using video analysis, the project team quickly and comprehensibly illustrated where there were opportunities to save time or where tools should be used to minimize quality losses. Video analysis also contributed to the successful launch of the new models, as it allowed employees to rehearse and refine new workflows. The visualization of the entire lean transformation in the plant with a project map, the "control room", also proved to be very helpful. On the one hand, it showed the essential milestones and (interim) results for C-level management, and on the other hand it could be used to address, escalate and advance cross-departmental issues.
Encouraging the joy of experimentation
Many employees tried out the theory of lean principles and methods directly in their work area. This not only made what they had learned tangible, but also motivated them to search for further time savings. For example, when assembling seats in limousines, the employees distributed their tools and smaller components in the footwell and on the seats. During the ramp-up of the coupe, the team had already developed and tested an assembly car for tools and parts that follows the vehicle on the conveyor belt and can be quickly pushed into the interior. This not only saves the material within reach and time when moving in and out - it also significantly reduces the risk of damage to the vehicle during this work step.
Simulate Hot Spots in the 3P Workshop
In this case it was added that different vehicle models were introduced to the assembly line with a very tight schedule. Many processes then vary, such as the wiring, which is more extensive and complex in the new sedan than in the other two models. Since this was also the first series, there was no knowledge of the problem points. The project team therefore took a two-track approach: for the ongoing production of the limousine with the classic lean approach. For the new model, it identified the "hot spots" with the launch managers in advance: What are the fundamental differences between the models? In which processes is there more content?
At a glance: Success Factors for Lean Transformation
- The right team: leaders, line leaders and Lean Evangelists who keep the topic alive in the team with enthusiasm.
- The right experience: Reproduce existing or planned processes in a test environment and repeat them. Visualize information and learnings.
- The right process: is not only designed on paper, but also confirmed in tests.
The project team improved these processes in a 3P workshop for the limousine first. For this purpose, it set up a "test field" with a complete vehicle next to the line and went through each process five or six times anew with improvement ideas for the section of the cable harness installations. This intense debate led to the process time for this part falling from 14 to 9 minutes.
Especially for premium and luxury class vehicles, customers regard high quality down to the smallest detail as a hygiene factor. At the beginning of the project, it was not clear which starting points would be best suited for quality improvements in the ongoing assembly of the limousine. The team was all the more proud of the success in achieving a 30% increase in error-free manufacturing right from the start (RFT, Right First Time). The aim of the ramp-up of the second model was to maintain and improve this level.
ROI's approach is to "release air out of the processes", i.e. to reduce the cycle time and at the same time add further activities to the work process. On the other hand, the quality key figures for "Right First Time" and "Defects Per Vehicle" must be collected at an early stage and communicated clearly to the shop floor for each employee. This was again supported by the high motivation in the team to actively contribute ideas. For example, employees first removed components of the boot from their packaging in the vehicle and then installed them from the inside of the boot, which regularly led to minor damage. This quality risk is eliminated with a tool trolley that now follows the vehicle on the belt with parts that have already been unpacked.
Productivity targets exceeded
With these and many other improvement measures, the Lean Transformation project achieved extraordinary results. Following the successful ramp-up of the new models, the plant was able to increase its manufacturing volume by 85% and achieved a total productivity increase of 20%. And not all lean potentials have been tapped yet. In addition to the clocked lines, there are other areas that process and supply components such as leather according to the principle of workshop or island production. For the committed employees in the company, this is an ideal terrain for developing new, lean "premium" processes.