When Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control decided to make simulation a mainstay of weapons’ design, technical challenges were many. The group had major facilities in Orlando and Dallas, with designers on other sites also contributing to each design.
Issues like centralized versus local storage, bandwidth and updating were all discussed over and over again. But changing the culture of engineers who were comfortable with existing techniques took even more management focus.
“The technical challenges were easier to overcome than the others,” says Glen Oliver, manufacturing simulation lead at Lockheed’s Dallas facility. To solve the cultural challenges, Oliver and others got management to embrace simulation, and started an outreach program to draw in the engineers. They also made sure each facility had a specialty so all would be involved in the programs.
This focus on cultures is gaining more importance as companies strive to continue improving productivity. Toyota is among those leading the movement, detailing processes that determine the operational behaviors that create the right results.
In the popular Toyota way, new managers don’t bring in their own ideas. “When anyone leaves a role, the next person who comes in needs to use the same process to keep the system running correctly,” says Kenneth Kreafle, general manager of vehicle production engineering at Toyota Motor Engineering in Erlanger, KY.
The aircraft industry doesn’t have the high volumes of autos, but manufacturers are also finding that employing technology without altering the groups that use it is not a viable way to boost efficiency. For example, Bell Helicopters is currently validating a handful of simulation tools it plans to roll out throughout its operations.
When the Fort Worth, TX, helicopter maker deploys the software, a key benefit will be the ability for manufacturing to easily provide feedback to designers. But before this two-way communications can happen, “We have to form a manufacturing simulation group,” says Mike Wilson, manufacturing development engineer at Bell.
Even the companies that make the development tools these companies purchase to boost productivity agree there are substantial benefits to be gained by altering the groups that use their tools. “When you do things with the computer instead of paper, you can save 5-10 percent. With the right processes on top of that, you can save 30-40 percent,” says Peter Schmitt, vice president, marketing and business development at Delmia Corp.
A key aspect of the processes being employed by successful companies today is to make sure all segments involved with a decision have input. A common technique is to make sure manufacturing and design teams are aware of how their decisions impact the other group. “It’s critical to look at the impact design changes will have on manufacturing. You’ve got to look at changes from the overall perspective,” Schmitt adds.
Toyota uses standardization as a way to make sure that when problems arise, they are handled in a way that prevents them from returning. This focus extends to the time new tools are deployed. Rather than utilizing tools just because new equipment is available, Toyota’s standard approach is to use them only when they’re necessary. “We want to give people the best tools, but we only give them those tools when the need is there,” says Kreafle, who directed production of Toyota’s Avalon.
This focus on processes has helped Japanese automakers reduce their costs substantially. Though much of the focus is on the interplay between design and manufacturing, the change in processes runs right down to the plant floor. SKF Reliability Systems, which helps companies develop service solutions that optimize plant asset efficiency, is currently focusing on what it calls operator-driven reliability.
This technique asks the operators who use equipment every day to perform simple maintenance or alert maintenance personnel when something seems notably different. This type of preventive maintenance can have a big impact in reducing unplanned downtime. “We call this the hidden plant, where companies can get 25-35 percent more productivity once they think they’ve implemented all the best equipment,” says Dave Staples, business development manager at SKF.
Toyota is finishing up a $330,000 pilot program that uses simulation to examine the postures of installers on the line. This project should reduce $1.8 million in posture-related injuries, while also making it possible to begin training installers before the line is completed, helping increase productivity in the early stages of production.
A number of companies are also beginning to use tablet computers to help plant floor personnel see how products are built and what tools are needed for their role. Observers note that as with engineers, it’s not always easy to get plant floor workers to change the way they do their jobs. “It takes a lot of hard work to get a system that people on the plant floor will instantly want to use,” says Ed Miller, president of CIMdata of Ann Arbor, MI.
Throughout the entire processing of designing and building a product, yet another benefit of using standard processes is that it becomes much easier to determine the status of jobs. When related groups use many different approaches, it can become difficult to determine what’s been finished and what hasn’t.