Manufacturing and Supply Chain turnaround

date Jul 22, 2015
authors Charles Clark
reading time 4 mins

Everything in tip-top condition

It isn’t really possible to pick up the Toyota Production System on a one-day visit. However the basic impact of Total Productive Maintenance TPM was clear to be seen. There was no mess, everything was in it’s place, the assembly workers were all working to standard procedures, performance against production targets and much other information was clear to be seen on information boards at each work station.

Taking out of crisis mode

This plant needed serious engineering and maintenance work to give it breathing space to take it out of crisis mode.


To introduce new thinking I wanted to convince the opinion makers that my ideas were worth a try. My goal was to get the team thinking for themselves rather than me telling them how to think. First, I would have to lead them to new ideas in a way where they would take ownership of them.


The 5 Ss require you to keep the factory clean, well organised, tidy. A place for everything and everything in its place.


The biggest problem with Kanban systems was making them too complicated and having too many people handling them.


The operator was feeling proud of the improvement and the attention from a director. It is interesting to note that Operational Efficiencies in the 60’s on these fairly simple packing lines were possible without heavy application of problem solving tools or rebuilding the machines to as new standard. It is surprising what happens when you apply a bit of care and attention.


We used the free time for: Training in 5 Ss Training problem solving tools, Training in Kanban systems Kaizen Activities 5 S activities; cleaning, writing procedures, organising the workplace Team Working

Maintenance vs work

Maintenance was called in for breakdowns and was not allowed to plan their work. Generally, they were called out at night or during the weekend. The operators would run their machines irrespective of condition. Work was always carried out under pressure and insufficient time allowed.

Reading books

the best source of factory level improvement literature. We would decide which books to buy and start reading and circulating them to the team.

Reactive nature vs Proactive

They had been kicked so many times that they were defensive and suspicious of new people. The plant had a fire fighting culture, which made matters worse because underlying problems were rarely addressed. Reliability, costs, quality and safety were clearly serious issues.

Making the boss happy is not a healthy culture

The culture of the plant was “make the volume in order to make the president of the company happy”. This fire fighting and volume culture left the plant weak on analytical skills and planning skills.

Opening up working space

They knocked down some walls and the difference was literally between night and day. The operators were really happy with their change in working environment and that an interest was being taken in their working conditions.

Light and fresh air

The inside of the refinery was walled in and it was so dark and hot. I suggested to the team that if they knocked down some of the walls there would be light and fresh air.

Shutdown for maintenance

Whenever plans were made for a shutdown, the shutdown was usually cancelled due to production pressure. When the shutdown finally happened, the maintenance team bowed to pressure to reduce the time below the amount necessary to do a good job.

Solving maintenance and production issues

If this level started to drop below 90% I would ask what the problem was. If the operations people said they were not allowed to stop due to planning or sales pressure, then I would discuss with sales. Sometimes they really needed the production and other times they did not. The factory people did not have the power to debate the point. Both maintenance and production were very appreciative of this support.

Procedures written

At the plant level, the QA system was supported by the procedures being written by the people who used them.

Poor quality === unsafe

I used to say that a plant with poor quality was unsafe. A plant, which was unsafe, will have poor quality. A plant, which was inefficient with high waste, would be unsafe and have poor quality. This picture of a vicious circle of quality,

Keep or fire?

About this time I read Jack Welch and the GE way. He had excellent criteria for whether “to keep someone” or “let them go” which I have paraphrased: If they are team players and they deliver results, keep them, invest in them, give them stock options. If they are not team players but deliver results then let them go.


No matter how well you calculate, a Supply Chain with high variability, you will either have high stock outs or high inventory or both.

Believe in themselves

One quote I am fond of is;”Good leaders get the followers to believe in them and great leaders get the followers to believe in themselves”.