Joining Forces Wales
Axium Process Ltd fabricates high quality stainless steel products and complete chemical and water processing systems for a global customer base. Their clients, including major pharmaceutical companies, demand quality standards that are as stringent as their delivery expectations.
During 2006, following the highly successful introduction of a standard range of valves and filters made to their own design, Axium was poised for growth. Early indications were that their manufacturing operations would be stretched by the need to continue delivering made-to-order items together with ever-increasing volumes of the new products.
Taking a strategic view, Axium took the decision to invest early in new production facilities, and also recognised the need for a new approach to their manufacturing operations. TWI, through its Manufacturing Support Group, was asked to support the changes as part of the Joining Forces Wales technology transfer programme.
Through a process of discussion and audit, it was quickly apparent that lean manufacturing principles were the key to balancing the conflicting requirements of one-off manufacturing and series production. Shared resources would have to be flexibly re-deployed at short notice, so in-process cycle time for the standard products needed to be cut to an absolute minimum, and the change-over process optimised.
Organisational change, even in a committed and dynamic business like Axium, is never easy and TWI briefed the workforce carefully to prepare them for the challenges ahead. Summarising the situation, TWI facilitator David Calder said:
'We were going to ask people to look inwardly at what they do every day and reduce waste. The amount of day-to-day activity in the workplace that is wasteful can be a difficult thing to admit, but everyone does it, and we can all improve'. Enthusiasm for the ideas and tools discussed with the Axium team was very encouraging, and the newly formed lean task force quickly got to work.
Through a series of facilitated workshops, TWI prepared the team and worked with them on the first real-world activities on the production floor. Ensuring that Axium's management team was fully involved in the initiatives throughout was a prerequisite. 'The key to lean transformation is the understanding that 'lean' is a top-down process, and the production staff cannot achieve good results without total support from the rest of the organisation', added David Calder.
During early investigations, the polishing process was highlighted as critical within Axium's business, and became the focus of the first major changes.
Visual factory is a cornerstone for lean production, and a '5S' regime (see Fig.1) yielded immediate benefit within the difficult environment of the critical-to-quality operations carried out in this area.
5S structures the workspace and ensures that only what's needed for the job is retained locally. Any non-conformity is immediately obvious and the way is paved to standardise working methods.
Do it one way, the right way
With the environment de-cluttered, the team had little time to reflect before it began developing 'standardised operations'. Their first task here was to generate key-point charts, for routine operations like changing a grinding wheel, or topping up ultrasonic cleaning apparatus.
Longer term, the team is now working on developing a consensus 'best practice' approach to the critical jobs undertaken in that area. All those involved were encouraged to provide input. The desired result: standard operating procedures (SOP) will become the only way any given task is to be done. This is the first step on the road to continuous improvement.
Finding the value stream
Value stream analysis (VSA) is at the heart of lean culture. Identifying the value streams within a business helps to highlight what is valuable and what is wasted effort. Elimination of waste is the primary goal in lean transformation.
For Axium, the critical change within the business was the anticipated growth in demand for the standard product range, so this value stream was highlighted for investigation.
Together with all staff working on the chosen line item, TWI demonstrated the approach to mapping the activities and an initial analysis was produced. The workings of this are shown in Fig.2.
Within 4 hours of starting the task, the VSA quantified the following manufacturing process key factors:
- Value of work in process (WIP)
- Value of labour touch-time
- Value of material per unit
- Lead-time per filter unit
It was agreed that the current process could be improved and the start of this endeavour should be to describe the future 'ideal state'. The VSA process lends itself to process design, and Axium are poised to take advantage of the new techniques thanks to TWI's Joining Forces Wales interactions.
Axium Process Ltd is at www.axiumprocess.com
For more information, please contact us.
Part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund