Process Improvement - Spanish Version
Even minor changes can make an impact
by Danielle F. Detweiler
As quality professionals, we use phrases such as "we need to improve the process," "let's dissect the process" and "the process was not followed," because we have learned the development of sound processes can greatly enhance product quality and productivity.
Prior to my life in automotive quality, I worked in the consumer industry. As a new quality engineer, I was thrilled with the opportunity to lead my first process improvement team, which was comprised of quality, manufacturing and engineering personnel.
I stood before the group and began to recite the team's objectives, "We need to increase productivity, reduce defects and enhance overall part quality by improving the process." I then presented the textbook definitions of a process.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a process as "a course of action or proceeding, a series of stages in manufacture or some other operation."1 ASQ's definition says a process is "a set of interrelated work activities characterized by a set of specific inputs and value added tasks that make up a procedure for a set of specific outputs."2
I was eager and task oriented, so I moved on to a brainstorming session to kick-start the team into action. As you know, no ideas brought forth in a brainstorming session are considered out of the realm of possibility. However, many of the ideas the group put forth were large and costly. I wrote down all their ideas, thanked them for their time and went home sorely disappointed.
The session played over and over in my mind that evening. I realized I was not communicating with my team in terms to which they could relate. I had not given them examples of how even minor process improvements can impact the overall process.
At the next weekly meeting I started with the following analogy:
The first time I bathed my newborn son, I assembled all the tools, including the infant bathtub, shampoo, washcloth and towel. I filled the bathtub with water that was just the right temperature and placed my son in the tub. One of my hands held onto his tiny head to keep it from slipping under the water, and the other reached for the shampoo.
Once I had the shampoo in hand, I realized my dilemma. The cap was screwed on tightly, and I had but one free, wet hand. I attempted the one-handed approach, then tried rolling the cap against my shirt, both to no avail. Finally, I placed the cap between my teeth and turned. This worked, but now I had one wet, cold and loud baby.
In preparation for his next bath, I had a few options. My first thought was to buy a new bathtub that had an angled back and would allow me to have two free hands, or ...
As I paused, a man in the back said, "Just open the cap before you start the bath." That man had just pointed out a process change I could make to greatly improve the process I use to bathe my son.
This first bath experience was much like a new product launch. Though I assembled the items I needed, I had not developed the process, and I did not have the experience to know the potential issues I would encounter.
In the case of my team, we were dealing with a bottle fill equipment process. The equipment could fill 4-ounce, 8-ounce, 12-ounce or 22-ounce plastic bottles, and the bottles traveled through a detailed conveyor system to each step in the operation. After the bottles were filled, capped and labeled, we ended up with a multitude of filled bottles packed and ready for shipment. All of this was done without the aid of human hands.
If we could reduce the changeover process time between bottle sizes, which at that time was at least three hours, we could meet our team objective to increase productivity and reduce setup scrap and defective product.
By documenting all the details-conveyor widths, fill volume, conveyor speeds, liquid fill volume, cap torque specifications and label application speed for each of the product sizes-we were able to create a setup document. When these setup procedures were followed, the changeover time decreased from three hours to one hour.
I learned two lessons from leading that team. One was that textbook definitions do not always explain how a process relates to basic improvements. The other was that people tend to want to make big changes right away and often overlook the small, powerful ones.
1. Oxford Dictionary, 1998 edition, p. 651.
DANIELLE F. DETWEILER is a quality assurance manager at Plastech in Newton Falls, OH.