Being a pioneer starts with the production line

Being better tomorrow than we are today: such is the motto of the “Fit for tomorrow” project in the Schmidt division. Getting fit means being able to respond more quickly and flexibly to fluctuating numbers of units and differing customer requirements, as well as successfully increasing productivity without impairing the quality or delivery times – in short: becoming lean.

Everyone joins in and production is transformed

At the start, it was the “5S” campaign that was on the menu. All of the employees were asked to configure their workplaces so that their work could be done without unnecessary disturbance, with the avoidance of time-consuming searching just as much as long transport distances and waiting times. The employees were trained for the qualification of “Lean Manager” as part of a one year training course. One of these is Martin Freudig – a Lean Manager with heart and soul. He began his apprenticeship as a Mechanical Engineering Technician at Schmidt in St. Blasien when he was 18 years old. “In those days, Lean wasn’t part of our work, let alone had we heard of the term.” Back then, Martin could never have thought that now, 22 years later, he would be in charge of Lean Management in St. Blasien and transforming an entire production line. In his office above the production facility for the Swingo compact road sweeper in hall 2, Martin keeps an eye on something that is actually invisible. “Lean management means striving for perfection, and since we can only describe it on paper, it has to be anchored in the employees’ minds first before it really works. The best concept is of no help at all if the principle of Lean isn’t being lived out.”Martin-Freudig

His first challenge: for the conversion of the Swingo cabin production in 2014 to be a “lighthouse” – functioning as a signpost with a signalling effect. Over 70 employees at the St. Blasien location have now been trained and received certification. In this respect, “clearing things out” was the order of the day – work desks, toolboxes, piles of cardboard, shelves – everything was turned upside down and the workplaces were newly thought out and optimised using “carton simulation”. An important finding: less is sometimes more.

“A good example of why it is worthwhile to highlight processes on an exact basis in order to start with improvements at their root,” is the following recalls Martin. “With the clear arrangement of the tools at the workplace it turned out that a colleague from the assembly department had several files and drills in his possession. When it came to the question of what he actually needed them for, he answered that he always had to rework a component at the same places. This raised the question of why we have to do such reworking and how we can avoid it. The component was then changed and the reworking is no longer necessary.”

During the company holidays in the summer of 2014, the rug was literally pulled out from under the Swingo cabins line and a new, brighter floor covering 800 sq. m. with zones separated by different colours opened. The rest of the work followed in 2015, and covering 1400 sq. m., accounted for the biggest part of the Swingo assembly.

“Someone who always does what he is already able to do, always stays what he already is” (Henry Ford)

The pre-assembly is now separate, as are the logistics and assembly. A new Kanban system enables a storage employee to fill up the required materials simply and in-time using a tugger train – handily prepared for the colleagues in the assembly Division.

The employees there are now both responsible for ordering material from the warehouse and ensuring that the workplace is consistently supplied with the required components which are handed on to the next colleagues correctly. Furthermore, the cycles have been completely revised, from a previous 9 cycles to a current 15. Every employee accompanies the machine for four cycles instead of the previous single cycle. “This means tasks which are more varied, more responsibility and therefore a closer relationship with the equipment. Suddenly everyone is a small entrepreneur who is playing a key role in the overall process. The extra space has also made us more flexible. While absences due to vacation or sickness were hard to compensate for in the past, we are now able to compensate for fluctuations more easily.”

Up to 20 compact road sweepers can be manufactured per week, which is 8 more than before the changeover, or put otherwise, an increase of 66%. On what is known as an “Andon board”, the staff team can track the planned orders, the current numbers of units and machine conditions according to the moto of “better informed, more motivated”.

The change is especially clear when one compares the photos which were taken before and after the changeover. “Colleagues from other divisions who have been working at Schmidt for years hardly recognise the production facility in hall 2 now,” reports Martin Freudig with pride. “With the new configuration of the production processes and workplaces, we have been able to set new standards in road sweeper production.” To achieve this, a lot of work was necessary, however. And not only in the specific changeover phase, but also during the planning. It was only possible to keep within the time frame of 3 weeks and to start with the production of the Swingos on schedule on 21 August after our good preparation.” Yet for the team managed by Martin Freudig, the changes still aren’t enough. Flip-charts have been set up all around the hall, where employees are invited to note down ideas and suggestions on how the processes can be improved even more – and they are pleased to do so.

Martin is therefore confident that he won’t be running out of work any time soon. A Lean Manager from a major automotive manufacture in Stuttgart recently said to him “we’ve been working with Lean production for many years, and we’re still at the beginning.”

In other words: there’s nothing more constant than Change!