Smooth Operators

TMMK’s Smooth Motion Kaizen team searches for small changes on the assembly line that can have a big impact on the bottom line

September 17, 2018

Muda Masters -- Here are some of the TMMK team members who comprise Assembly's Smooth Motion Kaizen team. Its mission: to continually search for and eliminate muda, or waste, in production processes -- thus helping to make the line move along more smoothly. 

Most of us organize our workdays around one-hour or half-hour increments. But for Randy Conley and the team members he collaborates with at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK), such expanses of time must seem like an eternity.
 
“We focus on improvements of a second or two, maybe even half a second,” says the TMMK projects assistant manager. “Each change, on its own, doesn’t sound like much. But they all add up in the long run.”
 
Conley, you see, heads up the Assembly’s Smooth Motion Kaizen (SMK) team. Its mission: to continually search for and eliminate muda, or waste, in production processes — thus saving time, energy and ultimately money. This pursuit of efficiency has been going on at TMMK for more than 20 years, in keeping with the tenets of the Toyota Production System (TPS). But given the hyper competitiveness of today’s automotive industry, such work has taken on new importance.
 
Case in point: Over the past six months, TMMK’s Assembly Line 2 implemented more than 100 kaizens that led to an estimated savings of $2 million this fiscal year.
 
“There’s definitely been more emphasis on cost reduction now,” says Conley. “Our competitors keep getting better. We need to keep getting better, too, to stay ahead of the game.”
 
The SMK team is comprised of Assembly 1 and Assembly 2’s team leaders (12 each), the group leaders for the two lines (Clarence Smith and Loretta Galloway), Conley’s manager (Greg Haddix) and, of course, Conley. Together they focus on “smoothing out” assembly processes, aided by diagnostic tools that quantify the impact of each small step on the way to a finished vehicle.
 

Go with the Flow
 
For instance, SMK’s analysis recently led to the installation of no-touch flow racks that have eliminated a hiccup in the delivery of parts to specific points along the assembly line. Before, when team members emptied boxes of parts they’d installed on vehicles, they’d have to remove those empty boxes and put full boxes of parts in their place. Now, with the new system, the team members simply pull a lever — and the empty boxes flow down a track and are replaced by full boxes. Gravity does all of the work.
 
“This is actually very old technology, a return to basics where simpler is better,” says Conley. “It’s a mechanical device that doesn’t require any external power. But it saves 3-5 seconds of wasted motion every time a team member needs a new box of parts.”
 
In Conley’s world, that’s huge.
 
To help ensure other such gains are realized, Conley’s team also offers formal TPS training to the 240 assembly team leaders. The more they learn, the more likely they’ll spot and address inefficiencies on their own.
 
After all, process improvement isn’t a fixed destination. It’s a never-ending journey.
 
“We have grown so quickly in recent years,” says Conley. “We need to continue to develop our team leaders, giving them the knowledge to recognize muda when they see it and the tools to implement countermeasures that will eliminate it. Ultimately, it’s the team members on the front lines who are going to make the difference.”
 
By Dan Miller

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