InterConnect Wiring was constantly needing to be ahead of schedule in assembling its aircraft kits, causing unneeded stress and an unbalanced workload. By utilizing Lean and Six Sigma concepts, the organization was able to make significant improvements to its processes.
Despite already being a very successful organization, InterConnect Wiring was able to utilize Lean and Six Sigma tools to make dramatic improvements to how it ran its business.
InterConnect Wiring Had a Problem
InterConnect Wiring was founded in 1993 and is widely regarded as a world leader in the supply of aerospace electrical products. The organization’s clients include the military, commercial prime contractors, and the Department of Defense. Its primary focuses are electrical products and services, engineering design, wire harness and panel assembly modification and repair, and full aircraft wiring removal or replacement. The company’s commitment to excellence has led to industry recognition for its achievements with a variety of accolades and awards over the years.
Even though the company was doing well, it knew that there were areas that could improve. One such area was in one of its primary production lines. With its aircraft kit assembly line, the organization was maintaining an impressive 99% on-time delivery rate. The hoops they were having to jump through in order to maintain this rate, however, were a problem. The team had issues in their process, like an unbalanced workload, having to wait too long for components, excessively high levels of work in process, and waste during transport between buildings and reworking.
Knowing that there had to be a better way, despite how successful the organization was, the company decided to lean on its core values. This meant not simply doing business as usual, always looking toward better solutions, embracing new technology, and always being on the lookout for new areas to improve.
In order to find ways to improve its aircraft assembly kit processes in a manner that was in line with its principles, the company looked toward Lean and Six Sigma.
InterConnect Wiring Utilized Such Tools As Value Stream Mapping
The first step at Interconnect Wiring was to get the workforce onboard with making changes. This involved assembling a team and training the workforce in the basic principles of Lean and Six Sigma. The reason for doing this is that, for these methodologies to be as successful as they can be, all of the staff needs to be behind their implementation. They must understand the benefits that these methods can provide in not only eliminating waste and improving productivity but also in creating a better and more smoothly operating workplace overall. A place of business that has well-defined processes that can minimize waste cuts down on stress and overwork, which contributes to a happier work environment.
The team that InterConnect put together was made up of key members from within the organization, with each member clearly understanding the role they would play in helping to ensure the project’s success. These key members then analyzed the current process with a waste walk. This involves going through the area where the work is performed as it is happening and identifying any areas of waste, as defined by the 8 Wastes.
The 8 Wastes are Transport, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Overprocessing, Defects, and Skills. Here is an explanation of how each can affect an organization:
Transport: Transportation waste can include the movement of people, equipment, inventory, tools, and products more than is truly necessary. Materials moved excessively can contribute to the damage of products or the greater likelihood of defects. The excessive movement of the people in a workforce or utilizing your workforce to needlessly move around equipment can contribute to overwork, exhaustion, and body wear and tear.
Inventory: Excess inventory can be wasteful in that it can cause a greater lead time in production, capital being allocated inefficiently, and problems with products being buried away in the inventory.
Motion: Motion waste refers to tasks that require a greater amount of motion than is necessary for your workforce. This lowers the quality of the work of your personnel and decreases their health and safety.
Waiting: This type of waste can include equipment that is idle or having to wait on equipment or materials.
Overproduction: Overproduction is a waste that comes from the manufacture of products too far in advance of when they are needed. This can create wasteful storage costs, excessive lead-time, and the overlooking of defects.
Overprocessing: Overprocessing waste derives from having more than the necessary number of components, overworking, or having more steps in a process than needed.
Defects: Defects happen when an item turns out to not be fit for use and usually lead to product scrapping or reworking. This creates waste because of the overwork involved without adding value.
Skills: This waste occurs from wasting human ingenuity and not properly utilizing the available talent.
Once InterConnect’s key members had observed the work area and found where there was waste in its processes, they were a bit embarrassed that so many wasteful practices had managed to creep into the aircraft assembly kit production line over the years. They found that they had let their success cause them to rest on their laurels, which allowed waste to creep into processes. Once these wastes were identified, the organization committed to eliminating them and making their processes better than ever.
After the wastes were identified, the team put together a Value Stream Map in order to find bottlenecks and areas where there could be opportunities to improve. They also plugged in the areas of waste that they had already identified and used the Value Stream Map to locate others.
A Value Stream Map is a diagram that breaks down every step involved in taking a product from the time that it is ordered to its delivery. The point of it is to find areas that do not add value for the customer and to do away with them if they are not necessary.
Value Stream Mapping involves a step-by-step process that goes something like this:
You begin by identifying a process that needs improvement. It is here that you also note the roles and responsibilities of the team that you have assembled to carry out this project.
After identifying a process, you will outline what the objective is for improving it. Also, it is at this stage that you will define what the scope of the project will be. That means setting the parameters for a specific start and end point for a project.
Mapping out the current state
Once the scope is defined, next comes documenting the process as it currently is. This means all of the current steps, what is involved, who is responsible, and how long each step takes.
Inefficiencies and areas to improve
After the current state has been documented, the team will then spot all inefficiencies and areas where it can improve. This includes the identification of redundancies, bottlenecks, and anything that falls under the 8 Wastes outlined above.
Mapping the future state
Once all areas of improvement have been identified, it is time to map out the ideal future state of the process. This means showing what the state of the process will look like once the areas that need improvement have been optimized.
The final step is to implement the new process. This involves creating a realistic plan of action, putting it into practice, having a project manager help ensure that it runs smoothly, and keeping everyone involved accountable.
There were a few problems implementing the new process. The biggest ones were the adjustment period needed for staff to adapt to the changes as well as establishing proper communication between suppliers in order to make sure the line was being fed appropriately and delays were avoided. Once these issues were ironed out, the improvements that were made were able to shine through, and the benefits of the changes made became clear.
The Outcome Was Irrefutable
Once the line was stabilized, the results were clear to the team. The process lead time had dropped to 5 days or less. This was in stunning contrast to the lead time before the changes were made, which was an average of 92 days. Work in progress declined from 90 days to 7 and down to $30K from $150K. This amount of savings allowed the company to invest in speeding up production in other areas that could use improvement by purchasing new tools and more worktables. These improvements had a massive impact on morale as well as engagement, while also being a powerful showcase for the benefits of Lean and Six Sigma to other departments throughout the company. The decreased lead time has also gained more confidence from customers, which has led to increased business.
4 Best Practices When Implementing Lean and Six Sigma Improvement Efforts in an Already Successful Organization
Despite being as successful as they already were, InterConnect Wiring found that they had a lot of areas in which they could make improvements. Here are some things to consider in regards to implementing Lean and Six Sigma improvement efforts, even if your company is already doing well:
1. Recognize that there is always room for improvement
Just because things are going well does not mean that there are no areas that could use improvement. A big reason that successful companies stay that way is that they find ways to be better at what they do and areas to innovate.
2. Listen to the Voice of the Customer
Your customers are the reason your organization is successful. It is vital to listen to their needs and to make adjustments in how your business is run in order to meet those needs. Despite how successful InterConnect already was, customers did not have enough trust in the company’s aircraft assembly kits to be able to meet their needs due to the excessive lead time. Once the organization was able to make adjustments to its process and decrease the lead time significantly, customers responded by giving the organization a swift boost in business.
3. Do not let apathy set in
If your organization is successful and an industry leader, it can be easy to coast along on your success so much that you ignore things beginning to slip with how efficient your processes are. Over time, this can lead to your processes being extremely inefficient. No matter how well it appears your business is doing, always monitor each step of your process to determine if things are starting to slide and respond accordingly.
4. Get your team onboard
In order to get the full benefit of implementing Lean and Six Sigma methods, it is necessary to have the entire team in an organization onboard with the changes. This can be a challenge when it appears that everything is going fine. You will need to show the team the sort of impact that these changes can have on the organization and how much better it will make working conditions and morale for the staff, as well as how it will improve relationships with customers by building trust. The team will also need to feel personally invested in the journey and be shown just how exciting it can all be. At InterConnect, the team has a daily energetic meeting where performances and expectations are addressed. They don’t stop there, however. The team also recognizes employees, plays games, enjoys music, and has a disco ball spinning. This serves to keep everyone involved as a unit and lets them know that they are valued as part of the efforts being made.
Maintaining Success in an Organization With Lean and Six Sigma
InterConnect Wiring is an excellent example of how implementing Lean and Six Sigma tools can help make an already successful company even better. Whether you are a newer company that has found an initial run of good fortune or an organization that has been around for generations, Lean and Six Sigma tools can help make sure that your company can build on that success for many more years to come.