Leading change from vision to reality
Turner Powertrain Systems, based in Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom, traces its history back to 1875. Over the years, it has manufactured everything from tractors to generators. Today, the Caterpillar subsidiary manufactures hydrodynamic gearboxes for 60 to 130-hp off-road applications, mainly in the building and agricultural industries.
Turner Powertrain Systems, based in Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom, traces its history back to 1875. Over the years, it has manufactured everything from tractors to generators. Today, the Caterpillar subsidiary manufactures hydrodynamic gearboxes for 60 to 130-hp off-road applications, mainly in the building and agricultural industries. TPS also supplies transmissions to other vehicle manufacturers, including Manitou, Case New Holland, Terex and John Deere.
The production operation covers more than 150,000 square feet in three buildings. It used a traditional ‘white card’ system to determine the capacity and overall equipment effectiveness of its machine assets, and the calculated 51% average OEE was considered reasonable for the business.
Reasonable until a contract review against an Indian supplier found that Turner Powertrain was unable to compete. The costs for machining shafts and gears were much higher than in India.
he loss of that contract prompted an investigation by Turner into every aspect of the cost make-up of the product. That’s when the OEE figure became the focus. “An investigation showed that, while our labor cost was higher, the predominant reason for losing the contract was the inefficiency and organization of our manufacturing processes,” said TPS operations manager Matt Bulley. “Even worse, we had based our proposal on an OEE that was at best subjective and didn’t leave us any room to maneuver.”
In an effort to streamline process information and get a handle on ways to increase the OEE numbers, Turner embarked on a search for a manufacturing execution system that allowed them to measure and act on plant-level data.
Power in measurement
The process takes objective information from machine PLCs throughout a plant and synchronizes it to present a clear vision of the operation in an easily implemented package. Showing how machines operate within the process and perform relative to each other is a powerful tool for line-balancing and other efficiency improvements.
When an improvement is complete, the results can be quickly assessed. When the TPS team realized what the system was capable of, they formed an MES group to oversee the system’s implementation, administration and interpretation.
Implementation began with strategic value streams consisting of groups of machines that make key components. It was then rolled out to individual machines and subsequently to the company’s assembly facility.
Workstations are strategically located to allow operators to interact with the software to explain a machine stoppage or call for maintenance support. And because workstations give everyone access to the same information, managers and operators can see the real-time OEE for every machine and value stream. When that data was first available, it proved to be both a revelation and a concern. “It presented us with a significantly lower but accurate OEE compared with the subjectively higher figure provided by the white card system, causing initial concerns about how the 30% difference would be interpreted by the management team,” said MES administrator Simon Garbett. “A negative reaction would accept it as proof that we weren’t competitive; a positive response would see an opportunity to improve our OEE by at least 30% and probably more.”
How the management team reacted to the information would determine the future of the company. “Having lost one contract to global sourcing, we could have accepted that the lower OEE meant it was only a matter of time before all of our manufacturing moved east,” said Bulley. “Fortunately, the system convinced us otherwise and proved that we can be competitive.
“There was an initial concern that people would see the system as ‘Big Brother,’ but we were determined that the data shouldn’t be used simply to put pressure on machines and operators to work faster,” Bulley added. “We believed it should expose the issues we had, solicit ideas for resolving them and help us improve at every level.”
Thanks to the management team’s positive approach, real-time information is enabling the company to restructure and making it possible for team leaders and supervisors trained on the system to maximize machine availability.
Because operators have access to the calculated OEE of each machine and value stream, they can see that process efficiency is increasing, costs are reducing and quality is improving. There is complete transparency of information. When machines are running to schedule, the plant is now achieving average OEE figures of up to 70% and managers are convinced that the data available through systems can help resolve remaining issues of flexibility and manpower to move the plant toward a world-class manufacturing standard.
Finding, fixing problems
Improvements are gained through Six Sigma projects using a team that typically consists of a black belt, two green belts and members of the value stream and maintenance team.
Six Sigma black belt Simon Lucas of TPS talked about a cell producing transmission shafts that was the subject of a Six Sigma project to increase output using a combination of operator training and material handling improvements.
The project team consisted of Lucas, Garbett (also a Six Sigma green belt) and operators from the cell. The process involves green-state shafts being turned, spline-milled and drilled in the first stage, before being heat-treated, ground and welded. The Six Sigma project focused on the first stage where, in order to balance the line, the turning process operates on a two-shift system and the slower, spline-milling process runs three shifts. Initially, both shifts were benchmarked to establish an OEE and then monitored separately over a set period to measure the performance of the process itself and the individual machines.
Within minutes of receiving the initial report, the team had identified a flow differential between the two machines and the cause: a feed issue in the turning process. Neither had been obvious from previous white card data.
Interestingly, the data also recorded an immediate 10% to 15% increase in the OEE, which is normal when monitoring is first introduced, because operators are conscious that their performance is being measured. A combination of operator training to resolve the feed problem and SMED activity — examining machine change-over times to reduce batch sizes — produced an additional productivity increase and helped boost OEE further. Explaining the significance of the project, Garbett said that in the past it was difficult to evaluate and sustain change based on operator-driven white-card data. But measuring and reporting OEE changes in real-time enabled the group to validate improvements within minutes rather than days or weeks — and sustain them.
Building a system
The specific solution to the issues at TPS was developed by BP, a company best known for its petroleum products. Through experience with many systems that provide a view into their own closed-process operations and understanding gained serving thousands of manufacturing customers, BP realized that other manufacturers could benefit from a similar view. While discrete manufacturers face the same issues, their operations present significantly greater technical challenges — an ever changing environment with disparate machines, all speaking different languages and many intervention points. BP deployed the MX system designed specifically to meet these challenges.
Turner Powertrain Systems immediately saw the value the operational view BP MX could bring them. “At TPS, the management team recognized the need to accelerate change, which required them to move the conversation from ‘what the situation was’ to ‘what we need to do,’” said Bryan Rabenau, managing director for BP MX. “Once they decided on the solution, they understood the importance of widespread support and developed a communications and engagement plan that was used to engage the wider plant population.”
There are lessons in the TPS deployment for other manufacturers as well, Rabenau said. “Aside from the obvious assessment of what functionality will liberate the most value, two often overlooked items are speed of implementation and ease of use,” he said. “Quickly installed projects maintain better momentum with reduced intrusion and burden, while getting to a position to access its benefits earlier. Once implemented, obtaining full value potential is only achievable subsequent to adoption and utilization, which is reliant upon the system’s relevance and ease of use for personnel at all levels.”
And as happened at TPS, the overall equipment effectiveness statistics may go down before they go back up. “It is typical when moving from a manual system to an automated system that OEE figures will shift down. To what extent this shift will be is difficult to say, as it will vary from plant to plant, but you should definitely expect it,” said Rabenau. “To some, this may serve as disappointment, but at TPS, they saw the drop as untapped efficiency and capacity they could access.”
Because information is taken directly from the machines, the system can reliably baseline a project in a couple of hours — the sort of baselining that could tie up a Six Sigma black belt for up to 12 weeks. Not everyone has Six Sigmas of any belt color, but systems like the BP MX lead manufacturers to positive outcomes. “You do not need Six Sigma personnel on site to make MES solutions work,” said Rabenau. “But MES solutions empower personnel leading continuous improvement activities and accelerate realization of their benefits.”
|Dennis Cantillion is a freelance technical journalist based in Stroud, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom.|
The Bottom Line…
Showing how machines operate within the process and perform relative to each other is a powerful tool for efficiency improvements.
Workstations are strategically located to allow operators to interact with the software to explain a machine stoppage or call for maintenance support.
Measuring and reporting OEE changes in real-time enable users to validate improvements and sustain them.
The overall equipment effectiveness statistics may go down before they go back up.
Because information is taken directly from the machines, the system can reliably baseline a project quickly.
OSHA reaches out to achieve safety goals
Recently, I attended a meeting on fall protection equipment standards. The discussion turned toward small business outreach, when one of the attendees mentioned the difficulty in making employers aware of OSHA requirements for fall protection. For example, in construction, a subcontractor may not even have a true office.
This employer may, or may not, encounter an OSHA inspector on site. OSHA, however, prefers to prevent accidents, rather than work reactively. How can OSHA help employers who have no fixed location, or who are so small that they have no resources for safety and health?
OSHA administrator Edwin Foulke gave a speech on Nov. 6 at the 2006 National Safety Congress. He related the story on an employer he spoke to who was afraid to visit the OSHA Website for fear that OSHA would record his visit and target him for an inspection. This employer, for fear of a visit by OSHA, missed out on a vast inventory of invaluable information on protecting his employees during their time at work. (For the record, OSHA does not track visits to the site and searches will not trigger an inspection.)
One of the speakers at a seminar I attended a few months ago spoke about the difficulty of attracting employers to free training seminars on safety and health topics. He felt that the reason employers were reluctant to attend were twofold.
First, the employers were afraid of being targeted for inspection, just like the employer in Mr. Foulke’s speech (and again, except in rare circumstances, such as the employer notifying OSHA of imminent danger or a fatality, OSHA does not use attendance at training to trigger an inspection).
Secondly, he felt that employers didn’t value the training because it was free. The speaker mentioned that he had better success at getting employers to attend training that had a small, nominal cost.
With such small firms, and the associated demands on the employer’s time, an employer may find it difficult to find the time to research questions on OSHA requirements. These are very real challenges that OSHA faces.
What is the solution? I don’t think there is any one answer. Certainly, OSHA’s Website and associated small business assistance material is a good start. With the trends in the economy toward smaller employers, more employees are taking responsibility for their own health and safety, and any outreach that allows employees to do their own research, like the OSHA website, is useful.
Clearly, though, those efforts are necessary, but not sufficient, so OSHA will continue to explore different means to educating employers on their safety and health responsibilities.
— By Sherman Williamson, OSHA Department of Enforcement