The Benefits of One-Piece Flow
When I talk with clients undertaking their lean journey about heading towards one-piece flow in their processes, they tend to be slightly nervous. There are lots of discussions about how that will make things more expensive (it doesn't) and that it will slow things down (it won't) but mostly the thing I get is, well that may work in some places but it wont work here, which is always interesting. Here are some of the points that we discuss about moving towards One Piece flow is so true for any organisation.
Towards One-Piece is OK
We talk about moving towards one-piece flow rather than pure one-piece flow which is always the goal but sometimes it genuinely isn't practical or possible. Its important to remember that lean within your organisation is about your organsiation, it isn't a religion that you need to follow exactly to the dogma set out in a revered text, it should be a living breathing thing. Take, for example, a molding process. Depending on the size of what you are molding it may just not be practical to have a single unit cavity in your molding system. You may need to have 2 or 4 or even 6 cavities in your mold to make it work.
Working towards one-piece flow lets you take small (or large) steps in the right direction and understand where the problems are that you need to fix to get to the smaller batch sizes. Tooling or machine change overs for example may be a barrier you need to overcome. So, think about it as a journey towards one piece and not an instant, don't get me wrong a step change can be done in the right places but think before you leap.
Your Quality Improves
How is that possible, you reduce your batch size and quality goes up? Sure it does! If you think about it each person in the assembly chain is looking at a smaller number of parts, if there is an issue they are going to stop it sooner so it will impact fewer parts. You can fix the issue and keep going knowing that all the rest are free of this defect resulting in higher quality. Just make sure you empower your people to stop the process when they see a problem
It Helps Improve safety
Again, I normally get a side wards look here but think about it for a minute. If you have less inventory around clogging up the place it's easier to get around. It's easier to spot things and less likely you will bang into things, trip over a pallet (since you don't need the pallet anymore) less forklift movement, less material handling issues since you are handling lighter loads. All these things add up, not to mention with less inventory the place just feels brighter and better giving an emotional lift to your people's well being as well!
Gain Improved Throughput (Productivity)
Lean is about removing waste and reducing batch size is all about removing waste. Typically, we are pulling out motion, transport, over production, inventory and defect wastes here. These wastes become apparent as your batch size reduces and so you are forced to fix them to keep going. We tend to find that people get annoyed about the wastes more so really get stuck into fixing them.
Your Inventory Reduces
Inventory reduces hugely when you run a one-piece flow process. Not just work in progress but finished goods as well since you can have faster through put and are more flexible you can replenish your kanbans quicker. All of this result sin freeing up cash that goes to only one place, the bottom line, that's right, free money to reinvest in your people and your plant.
Gain Free Floor-space
Since you are moving faster now and you have less inventory stored around the place guess what else you have? Empty Floor space that was once covered in WIP or stock or large benches and racks you didn't really need. You can then turn that floor space into a new work cell that you could make a new product or increase the output of an existing product if your customers are buying more than you currently produce.If your factory costs you $65 - 80 a square meter, and you manage to find a spare 200 square meters that's a pretty big annual saving.
As you reduce your batch size towards one-piece flow something else happens, you become more flexible and able to respond quicker to changes in customer requirements or design changes. You no longer have to run out the entire batch you can just finish the small quantity you have in progress and then change. Think about the impact on your ability to deliver a range of different products to different customers verses what your competitors do, if your lead time is days or a week and your competitor is 6 weeks, who will the customer order from? Would they even pay a slight premium for it?
It Reduces Product Implementation and Scaling Costs
Since you are now running smaller batch sizes you don't need huge equipment, smaller more number machines or tools will do. A focus on the speed at which you can change over things becomes the thing you focus on rather than how big and how fast will it be which ultimately you are going to pay a lot for. That speed usually isn't really needed
Material Replenishment is Easier
Again, this is just common sense isn't it. If you have less WIP around, smaller quantities to replenish, more space and less hazards then the role of the stock replenisher (water spider) is made far easier and safer than it was previously. You also limit the risk of the wrong materials being kitted and used!
And There is More
Now all of those things sound quite appealing to me and to most reasonable people but there is another couple of things to think about as well. Organisations always tell me that they start out with great intentions of doing continuous improvements, but it deteriorates over time and that makes sense (we'll explain this in a future post). By implementing a program that works towards the smaller batch sizes you actually create the conditions that actually encourage continuous improvement, kaizen to happen. Couple the changes with a Toyota Kata process and it's virtually unstoppable!
The other incredible thing that happens with this is again, when you think about it, not really that surprising but it always catches management by surprise, morale goes up. Now we aren't just talking about the Hawthorne effect where morale goes up just because you are paying attention, we are talking really genuine and sustained morale increases. Think about this for a second, you have a workspace that is tidier, safer, easier to work in, gets more out with less effort, has higher quality and they have direct input into how this happens not just daily but hourly. How much personal satisfaction would that give you?
One-Piece flow has many many benefits but a lot of them do need to be earned, jumping right in and changing to it is a challenge and its Ok to earn your way there as you improve. The benefits are huge, safety, quality, engagement, output, the list is a long one and more over you can achieve all this while improving the responsiveness to customers and without adding cost. So, tell me, what would stop you working towards one-piece flow?
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