Pushing the Limits with Metrolean

February 1, 2009

I am offering a new word that would describe the marriage between lean-manufacturing practices and sensor-based mistake-proof manufacturing. The word that I am proposing is ‘metrolean.’ It derives from combining the words ‘mechatronics’ and ‘lean.’ A company or a process that encompasses the best practices of lean manufacturing while simultaneously integrating electronics within mechanical processes for mistake-proofing purposes (mechatronics) is a metrolean company.

In light of the current economic doldrums, I have decided to use this column throughout 2009 to showcase metrolean manufacturing companies and applications that push the limits of lean and mistake-proof manufacturing to achieve successful competitiveness. As we saw in January’s column, Pridgeon & Clay Co., Grand Rapids, MI, exemplifies such stratospheric levels of modern manufacturing philosophies and techniques.

Metrolean metalforming and assembly occurs in companies that have two fundamental core competencies: a professionally implemented lean methodology coupled with a mistake-proofing laboratory. As you tour these practitioners of metrolean, you are constantly amazed at how efficient, productive and profitable processes can be when permeated with strategic and specific lean methods patrolled with electronic sensors and controllers.

Poka yoke, or mistake proofing, is vastly enhanced when mistake-proofing fixtures are imbued with electronic proximity or photoelectric sensors. Human errors are detected and logged via a nearby computer. Not only do the fixtures prevent a badly made part from exiting the process, but the specific causes of the subpar part are documented within the personal computer for further analysis. If the poka yoke fixtures have analog (or measuring) electronic sensors, then the mistake-proofing process is elevated several notches as now actual part-quality dimensional-measurement data and not just go/no go determinations are generated.

I have seen first-hand companies that have maximized their lean-manufacturing cultures with advanced poka yoke fixtures. Production managers have at their disposal real-time data from the manufacturing floor reporting not only the number of good parts made per hour, but also the specific reasons for the generation of bad parts. Incorrectly assembled components as well as dimensional variations are detected, logged and reported. With such data, tweaking and fine adjustments of the lean processes can be scientifically made and justified.

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915), a Pennsylvania-born mechanical engineer and management consultant, is considered by many to be the father of the manufacturing-efficiency movement. He advocated four basic principles for increasing the productivity of workers and processes:

1) The use of scientific methods for management of business and manufacturing-process improvements.

2) The direct tie-in between workers’ performances and their paychecks.

3) The careful selection of new employees based on the testing of their aptitudes and skills and the importance of ongoing employee training.

4) The scientific and mathematically based study of shop-floor processes.

Taylor’s influential work led to the time-motion studies that Henry Ford implemented in his factories to help eliminate inefficient manufacturing. Later, Japanese companies combined the time-motion studies with automation provided by robotics and other assembly-enhancing technologies into what became lean manufacturing.

Today, metrolean is practiced by only a handful of manufacturing companies in the metalforming and assembly sector. All metalforming companies need to reassess their current manufacturing processes via two scientific streams:

1) The time-motion analysis of current methodologies and what can be done to improve the efficiencies of these processes; and

2) The blending of electronic sensors within the lean-enhanced processes to assure correct repetitive quality of products on critical features and dimensions.

In other words, I am advocating metrolean: Lean manufacturing and poka yoke fixtures with full implementation of electronic sensors and controls in every aspect of the manufacturing process with real-time efficiency data from dies, molds, assemblies, paint and plating lines, etc., being reported and logged to be further analyzed for process improvements. Metrolean is the ship to sail during these extremely difficult times. MF

Industry-Related Terms: Core, Lines
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Quality Control


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