Kanban and management skills
Kanban and management skills
At one point I was working for a local manufacturing plant as a continuous improvement (industrial engineering) engineer. I was tasked with implementing kanban and heijunka systems across three facilities. To be blunt, the supervisors didn’t like these systems.
For those who don’t know, kanban systems are trigger points based on capacity of manufacturing versus customer demand with buffer stock on hand. The idea is to eliminate human decisions as to when to produce given parts and to change over from the production of one part to another on lines which produce more than one part. Some kanban systems are electronic, but in their most basic state, it could be a series of cards that get turned in when a material quantity is removed. When the determined number of cards are collected, that triggers the need for that part number to be produced next from a given production line.
A next level up of kanban is the utilization of an heijunka box. Heijunka is a mechanism to trigger the pulling of inventory for shipment that matches the customer’s cycle time usage.
Let’s say the customer has two parts which we ship to them. Part A is used at a rate of 8 containers in eight hours. Part B is used at a rate of 2 containers per 8 hours. The same production line makes both parts requiring a change-over of equipment on the line. The time it takes for change-overs of tooling and equipment is calculated into the line’s overall capacity.
In this simple illustration, the cards for containers are placed in a rack or box which has rows for each part number and a time scale across the top. This scale could be as detailed as by the quarter hour and go for 16 or even 24 hours.
At the end of each hour, matching customer use at their location, one rack of Part A would be moved to shipping. Meanwhile, spaced out to pull two containers of Part B are spread across the day. As cards accumulate, when a given number are reached (based on inventory and demand) this triggers the next changeover from part A to B on production.
When presented with these changes to their production methodology, supervisors invariably reacted negatively. When they asked what they were supposed to do if the cards were going to manage production and change-overs, I told them “develop your staff.”
Far too many people are promoted because of their technical expertise and yet companies don’t develop them as a supervisor or a manager. Aspects of this were pointed out in last Sunday’s New York Times.
In her New York Times column, “No More Working for Jerks!” 1/9/2022, Emma Goldberg quotes Janine Yancey, who runs Emtrain, which provides workplace training.
“Over the last couple decades, companies have not invested as much time and resources in developing leadership and management skills. Everyone’s focused on the technical skills, the what, but not necessarily the how.”