All Aboard – Manufacturing heroes

All aboard
Victoria’s Manufacturer of the Year applies slick Japanese know-how to keep the wheels turning more efficiently than ever at bus manufacturer Volgren.

Lean specialist Dr Peter Campbell loves being at McDonalds and Ikea but can’t stand waiting for a coffee at the MCG.

For the 33-year-old engineer, who has spent the best part of his career using the Japanese manufacturing and design philosophy to develop efficiency and eliminate waste, it’s a mode of thinking that can be applied to almost anything.

“McDonalds has been using Lean for years and their processes are very efficient, but go to the football and watch them make the coffee and you’ll notice the difference,” he says.
“They’ll have an obvious bottleneck in the milk frothing process and yet when the guy’s finished heating the milk he’ll start pouring it into the cups, thereby starving the constraint. To make things worse, there’ll be other staff standing around waiting, adding more coffees to the milk queue, or taking orders as fast as they can. Fifteen minutes later, you’re $5 poorer, drinking bad coffee and you’ve missed most of the quarter.”

The Lean connection

Dr Campbell’s connection with Lean began when he accepted a position with the S.T.A.M.P. post-graduate research program – a collaboration between ANU, Deakin University and Ford.

“I was based in Ford’s Geelong Stamping Plant and my project was to work out what size batches they should be running on the heavy press lines,” he says. “You can imagine a line consisting of four or five stamping presses in a row. They take a metal blank and pass it through a series of draw presses and trimming operations to make a skin panel for a Ford Falcon.”

“The problem is,” he continues, “you might make 20 different parts on one line, but when it’s time to change from one part to another, it entails a set up process that can take up to two-and-a-half hours. The result was they tended to run bigger batches than they needed which meant higher inventories and less flexibility.”
Charged with the task of working out how many parts to run at once Dr Campbell found himself turning to science for clues. “That led me on a bit of a journey. There’s been a hell of a lot of academic research put into trying to solve the problem, but if you look through all that literature, you’ll find that the actual problem has been shown to be too hard to solve. They simplify it to get an answer, but the results are based on assumptions that will never hold in the real world.

Dr Campbell was forced to look elsewhere for the answers and in his search he found Lean.

Study tours to Japan and Mexico after taking a job with Bosch in 2002 exposed him to a system used to control flow and mass production in Japan called Heijunka (meaning to smooth) and the associated batch sizing methodology.

Dr Campbell used discrete event simulations to model the real system and compare the performance of the scientific solutions and the industry best practice solution. “It was powerful to observe,” he says. “Ninety years of research and no-one had produced an academic result that you could actually apply in the real world. It was interesting to see the disconnection between those who were finding effective solutions through necessity and the scientists who assumed away the complications until they could get an answer. The Japanese mindset wasn’t about optimisation of a subset of a system. It was about trying to enhance flow for the entire process.”

A new way of thinking

For Dr Campbell, it was the introduction to a brand new way of thinking and one that is of particular relevance in Australian manufacturing.

At a recent Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) conference held in Melbourne, lateral thinking specialist Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson explained that the most important thing you can do when it comes to thinking is to try and escape from your own point of view. Dr Hewitt-Gleeson explains that you can spend energy defending your Current View of the Situation (CVS), or you can spend energy seeking a Better View of the Situation (BVS) where think about other possibilities and are open to doing things differently.

“I try to apply it all the time to challenge any opinion I have on a situation,” Dr Campbell says. “That way, hopefully I’m not spending all my time telling people why something can’t be done, but instead consider the possibilities and work out what would be necessary to make that happen.”

This is often put to the test at his current job improving flow at Dandenong-based bus manufacturing plant Volgren. “A bus at Volgren was taking 50 days to build when I started two years ago,” he explains. The goal is to get it down to 20.”
The first thing Dr Campbell set about doing was to improve workplace organisation at the plant by employing the cornerstone of Lean, known as 5s: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardise and Sustain.
“The workplace looks tidier and people start taking ownership of their environment and more pride in their work. We also started workplace training in Lean, teaching everybody about standardised work and flow. It’s a total commitment to our people, putting them number one, getting them to think the right way and to continuously improve,” he says. “In addition, the group created a vision of what a 20-day bus looks like.”
“We need to do three things: Consistently add value by always having people working on the bus, take activities off-line to ease congestion and seek to eliminate waste,” he says.

Young Manufacturer of the Year
These days, Volgren can make a bus in 35 to 36 days and the changes around the plant have more than impressed the AME board, resulting in Dr Campbell’s nomination for Young Manufacturer of the Year, 2007.
Dr Campbell soon found himself accepting the award at the Victorian Government’s Hall of Fame gala dinner. “Obviously, it is great to receive this level of recognition, but my role is really all about communicating the principles of flow and mentoring - I don’t actually do much. I am part of a very effective team and it has been their leadership, energy and ability to implement ideas quickly and then extend that knowledge to new areas that has resulted in the rapid rate of change.”

[Sourced from: Azzopardi, Nicole, Manufacturing Heroes, Australian Manufacturing Technology, May 2008.]