by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

It’s always fun visiting manufacturing companies throughout the region, especially those who NWIRC has helped with an improvement or training project. Over the past two years, we’ve worked with 35 companies in Lean Together who, through tours and classroom sessions, have been inspired to develop a culture at their companies for making incremental improvements every day. I visited a few more of those companies last month and a common thread is that employees are very much a part of the equation.

Patti at Electric Materials 

Patti Schwarz, IT and Continuous Improvement Manager at The Electric Materials Company (EM) in North East, PA, started 2 second improvements in her own department. When she started oversight of the IT department, she noted that the working space was quite a mess and equipment couldn’t easily be found. Now they post a board for signing out equipment that helps keep track of where things are in the plant and they created a foam board for IT equipment so you can easily spot what is available and what is missing. This improvement helped save time by not having to search for equipment when needed and also saved money by not having to replace lost items. When touring EM, Patti showed us several other areas of the plant where employees have made 2 second improvements. Many of these improvements were focused on better workspace organization, such as where Jack organized all the tools, bits, and parts in the their ‘tool crib’ or where Sam purged, sorted, and labeled their dies in one contained area. But not all of their improvements are about organization, some are process-related, as she cited an improvement that made a significant impact in their plating department production time and labor. Employees from EM are continuing their efforts, including participation in Lean Together 2.0. One of the keys to their success has been continuing their weekly meetings and the employees witnessing progress in many different areas.

Lloyd, fabricator at Solar Atmospheres reviews a recent improvement

Solar Atmospheres in Hermitage PA hosted our Lean Together Advanced group last month. Companies in ‘Advanced’ are in their third year of focusing on developing a company culture of continuous improvement. During the session, facilitator Craig Corsi, reviewed concepts for engaging employees during a Gemba walk, and on this day focused on using value stream mapping to find opportunities for improvements. After the ‘walk’, the group brainstormed ideas about the specific process they saw at Solar. The exercise corroborated process changes that Solar has started, brought to light some new ideas, and demonstrated the value of engaging employees in a cross-functional team – including those involved and not involved in the process. Since Solar has been focusing on 2 second lean for a few years, I took a Gemba walk of my own with Continuous Improvement Coordinator, Mike Kreatsoulas. He said their employees come up with new ideas for improvements all the time and feel really good about contributing to the success of the business. They still hold their brief shift-change meetings three times every day. Solar has made numerous small improvements over the past several years that focus on safety, ergonomics, and work processes. I had the opportunity to talk with Lloyd, a fabricator at Solar, who has played a big role in helping some of the company’s 2 second improvements come to life. He toured me around the shop pointing out several items he’s produced to assist with cleanliness, organization, and helping make work easier- ideas that came from co-workers. Many of the ‘2 second’ improvements that employees at the Hermitage plant come up with, including items that Lloyd fabricates, are shared with their other Solar facilities around the USA.

EM and Solar Atmospheres are just a couple more examples of how continuous improvement can be sustained- clearly, with help from your employees.