General Composites put in place a cohesive quality improvement program in 2010, when it became ISO 9001:2008 certified. Rather than select one quality process, the company uses a mix of methodologies. These include Kaizen, lean manufacturing, total quality management and Six Sigma. “When it comes to quality, one size does not fit all,” says James, who has 30 years of experience in quality programs and leads the initiative at GCi. “If you can keep the program in sync with what’s actually happening on the shop floor, it’s a richer experience for everybody.”
During the past year, GCi has held approximately four training sessions a month to teach overarching concepts of continuous improvement to its production staff. The training typically features a short PowerPoint presentation (15 minutes or less), followed by a group exercise or homework assignment. After one training session, employees completed a spaghetti diagram – a flow chart tracking the path of a part through manufacturing.
Spaghetti diagrams are designed to expose inefficient workflow layouts. Because GCi makes lots of products – and some employees wear lots of hats – the company suspected it would discover inefficiencies. Employees used a matrix calculator to count how many actual steps they took moving through the plant to complete each product. The person with the most steps received a signed photo of the CEO holding a bowl of spaghetti.
But the funny gift wasn’t the real benefit. Analyzing workflow allowed GCi to reconfigure two of its production lines – or cells as they are called in lean manufacturing – to run more smoothly. One of the work cells manufactures X-ray plates. The production team was scattered throughout the plant, so members selected a little-used room where everyone could work, drew a layout of how the cell should be structured and submitted it to the production manager. He agreed to the plan.
Another quality initiative put into action at GCi was an electronic batch traveler system (e-BT) to track materials and work-in-progress. Operators use tablet computers and handheld scanners to enter data including product codes, batch numbers, pass rates, defects, etc. “It saves a huge amount of time collecting and processing data for analysis,” says James. “In addition, it provides us standard costs for manufacturing processes. We can use the data to better price jobs.” GCi tested e-BT in December, implemented it on one line in February and rolled it out to another in March.
Several of GCi’s quality projects strive to correct issues. But the company wanted to aim higher and institute preventive measures or, as James refers to them, “the little things that are nice to have that you don’t usually get to, but make a long-term impact.” So GCi now conducts Quarterly Preventive Action Reviews both in the plant and in corporate offices. Some ideas generated by employees and used by the company include the following:
- Trello Boards – GCi uses this online collaboration tool to coordinate internal projects and communicate with customers.
- Mentor Training – The company began assigning mentors for on-the-job training and skills qualifications. “Training is better documented and more relevant,” says James.
- Mold Evaluation – GCi initiated a program to evaluate mold life cycles and defects to better understand the life expectancy of molds and when to invest in making new molds.
Whether it’s Kaizen on a product line or tracking operations with data the Six Sigma way, all of GCi’s quality initiatives have one commonality – continuous improvement. “That’s the name of the game,” says James. “The minute you think you’re set, you’re in trouble. There’s always something to improve. And you want it that way.”
The Kaizen management philosophy was created in Japan following World War II. The word translates to “change for the better.” Toyota is one of the well-known leaders in the Kaizen movement.
What Is Kaizen?
Kaizen strives for continual improvement by asking every employee – from the receptionist to the CEO – to find small ways to make improvements within the processes and systems of a company. By consistently making little changes, companies can increase productivity, reduce waste, enhance safety, improve customer service, etc.