The second week in July 2018 marked Norbar’s third, full scale Rapid Continuous Improvement (RCI) event, consisting of four teams, each tasked on a different, week long, intensive project. Each team had differing objectives but all had common goals: to help make the factory more productive, easier to work in, and safer.

Each team consisted of 9 members, all of differing standings within the business, shop floor to directors, with one team member being a representative from another part of the Snap-On group. The whole event is supported by our upper management, and all undertaken under the watchful eye and guiding hands of our RCI consultant – Sensei Takahashi.

Having being involved in both previous events, this time I was fortunate enough to be asked to lead a team, our task being to create a manufacturing cell focussing around our gear generation machines. This being my first time leading any group of people at work was initially daunting, however the enthusiasm and determination of everyone to get the task done made my job that bit easier.

Our team’s objectives were;

- To identify at least 3 machines to be repositioned

- To work in optimising the small lathes to allow for more 30mins more productive time per day

- To reduce the floor area utilised by machines, freeing up 50m² of useful space

- To plan the replacement of one of our ageing bar feed lathes

- To remove 5 sub-optimal health and safety practices

Being involved in an RCI project is very different to the usual work experience; the normal working structure being broken and boundaries being removed. Each team members’ opinion and ideas must be respected with equal weight, regardless of job role, experience or background – creativity is key to progress. By allowing the freedom to question what we do, how we do it, and sometimes why we do it, this helps the team to identify what’s truly critical to a manufacturing process, allowing us to cut the unnecessary, saving time, effort and money without compromising quality.

As we knew that to achieve our objectives within a week was a tall challenge, prior to the event our team met a number of times to discuss what challenges we would face and to make necessary preparations. This ensured that we would be able to complete our objectives while minimising machine downtime as much as possible during the move. We identified that the removal of some railings was necessary to allow freedom when positioning the machines, that we could speed up the lifting and movement of machines by renting a higher capacity forklift rather than jacking and skidding, and that fitting additional power supplies in advance would be necessary to minimise disruption. By being fully prepared this gave the team the time to focus on making sure that the layout was optimised rather than wasting time doing ancillary work.

When the team first met 10 weeks prior to the event I think everyone felt that we would struggle to complete all that had been asked within that timeframe, however, on the Wednesday afternoon we’d just finished re-positioning the third (and final planned to move) machine and I was asked by the team “What shall we move now?” so halfway through the week people were looking to expand our horizons. Ultimately we opted to leave more machine moves for another time and instead focus on consolidating our efforts, making sure that everything around the machines – benches, fixtures racking and computers was back in place to support production.

Going back to our objectives, I’m pleased to say that we completed all of them:

- Two machines have been placed into their final locations, with a third planned to join the newly formed cell once some modifications have been completed, we displaced one machine into the start of a new line (with others to join it soon).

- By re-organising the workload on the lathes, moving jobs to more suited machines we estimate that we have freed up approximately 20 minutes of machine time per shift. The new layout has led to the creation of an 82m² area of free space, perfect for expansion, or bringing outsourced processes back in, once we position the final lathe into the line, this free area will be 113m²!

- The team identified the replacement bar feed lathe we’d like – duplicating our other bar feed lathe acquired 4 years ago, this would allow flexibility of work, minimise operator training required and has proven to be a solid workhorse so far.

- Removal of 5 sub-optimal health and safety practices mainly focussed around reducing manual handling issues, ensuring that shelving is at a suitable height, minimising operator walking distances and feeding power supplies from overhead to reduce trip hazards.

Being involved with creating a machining cell was insightful and enjoyable, there are lessons learnt for next time:

Make sure that benches and shelving are only as big as they need to be – if you’re running a CNC machine you probably don’t need a 2.5 metre long bench!

Drawers and cupboards can be useful, but make sure everything has a place, don’t just fill them up with junk!

Ensuring line of sight from walkways is an important consideration; it allows the supervisor to see if there is an issue, whether it’s a machine issue, quality issue, or other, without having to delve into every corner of the factory.

While the week’s work was done, there is still much further to go, we have a number of outstanding tasks to complete to bring this phase to a conclusion, the hard part now is to maintain the momentum and push through to completing the tasks as quickly as possible (It wouldn’t be Rapid Continuous Improvement otherwise).

All in all, it was a very good week, I believe that all involved enjoyed the challenges presented and rose to them. A number of people involved have already been asking to take part in future RCI events – a sure sign that the desire and drive for a better future is here!