One popular approach to battle waste is to streamline changeovers. Changing machines from one setup to another is often a time-consuming exercise. Hence, in lean manufacturing, reducing changeover times is a well-known method for improving efficiency. This post will show a number of examples where these quick changeovers (also known as SMED) can be practiced in an unusual environment.
This post is part of a series of posts on SMED, for the others see below:
Single-Minute Exchange of … Cocktail?!
I was on a business trip with three protégés doing different lean projects. For some reason, the hotel we stayed at gave each of us a coupon for a free cocktail. My lean-expert mind immediately saw the opportunity for another after-hour training session: Single-Minute Exchange of Cocktail. (Please note: this is not a “change-over” in a strict sense, but it contains many elements of improving a process that are similar to a change over)
In the bar, we sat at the counter so we had a good view of the operations. Next, we agreed on one cocktail that everybody liked. This cocktail had two ingredients, so it was not difficult to make. We used one of the coupons to order a cocktail, and while the cocktail waitress was preparing the drink, we took careful notes of the steps and the times needed for these steps. Naturally, we didn’t tell the waitress yet, instead taking our notes inconspicuously.
The process was a mess. The waitress walked to the shelf to get a glass and brought it to the preparation area. Next, she walked to the same shelf and got a paper coaster. On the third trip, she got the first ingredient and filled the glass, then got the next ingredient and a fruit decoration. Overall, it took her well over two minutes between the order and the serve.
After a short time, we ordered the cocktail once more using the next coupon. We observed and measured the procedure a second time. The waitress followed the same steps, again taking well over two minutes. A third order some time later confirmed that she was using the same procedure every time.
While all but me enjoyed their cocktails, we discussed how to optimize the procedure. There was a lot of potential, mostly by picking up more than one thing at the same time and hence reducing walking time. With some discussions, we settled on an improved standard and waved the waitress over.
Combined with a nice tip, we explained to her what we were doing and our new standard and then asked her if she could bring us one more cocktail. This time, however, we asked her if she could follow our standard. The waitress was a bit surprised but agreed. Observing the process again, we found that it took less than a minute for us to get our last cocktail (mine).
Overall, we reduced the cocktail time from over two minutes to less than one minute. While all of us enjoyed our drinks, we noticed that the waitress started to change her patterns for other orders. Obviously, our request got her thinking and she improved her processes herself. I guess the free drink coupons were well worth it for the hotel.
You can find yet another good example for quick changeovers in fire stations. When there is an emergency, speed is crucial. The firemen and their equipment need to get to the problem quickly to save life and property. Hence, they have usually spent quite some time on optimizing their procedures. By visiting a fire station, you can see some unusual but exciting examples for moving internal processes to external.
Many manufacturing plants even have their own plant fire brigade. In most plants I know, the plant fire brigade is – luckily – not too busy and more than happy to explain their procedures to visitors. There are lots of details on how they store their equipment, make preparations, and have standards. When the alarm sounds, their goal is to get out the door and to the problem as fast as possible.
While not every fire station has one, you have probably heard of fire poles. These poles allow for sliding downward from the break rooms to the fire engines, which is quicker than taking the stairs. The picture below shows firemen using fire poles during an alarm.
If you look carefully, however, you can also see, for example, that the pants and boots are already set up. The boots are inside the pants, so the fireman just steps into his boots and pulls up the pants; overall a much faster process than first putting on pants, then boots, and then making sure the pants are over the boots. Overall, every fire station is full of well-implemented examples that can illustrate a quick changeover.
Quick Changeover Coffee Please!
Yet another good example for practicing SMED is coffee. Most companies and offices have coffee machines. Unless the machine is served by a central beverage provider, it is usually the responsibility of the office to service and maintain the machine. This cleaning/refilling/maintaining could be a wonderful exercise for a quick changeover workshop, not the least because most employees consider the availability of coffee quite important.
Similar to a normal SMED workshop, you can analyze the process to refill water, coffee powder or beans, and milk. Look for internal and external processes, separate them, improve them, and teach your people SMED using a product they truly care about.
Formula 1 Pit Stop
Another example for visualizing SMED is racing pit stops for changing tires. Naturally, in a race every second counts. Hence, the teams put in an enormous effort to improve their pit stop changeover time, and changing tires and refueling goes lightning fast.
Now most of you probably don’t have access to a race car pit stop; however, videos of many such pit stops are available on the web and they can be used to illustrate quick changeovers. Additionally, videos of race cars are always a crowd pleaser.
One of the best videos I have found is this comparison of a 1950 pit stop at the Indianapolis 500 with a Formula 1 pit stop in 2013 in Melbourne. It is beautiful to see how in 1950 one guy repeatedly used a hammer to loosen the screws of the tires, and changes the tires one by one, whereas in 2013 the change happens almost too fast to see. In my classes, i often slow down the last part to 1/4th or 1/8th speed, so the students can actually appreciate the details of the pit stop. For the protocol, the Indianapolis 500 stop took ~65 seconds, whereas the Formula 1 stop took only ~3 seconds, which is not even the fastest stop on the web. In any case the improvement since 1950 in pit stops is similar to the improvement since 1950 in die change overs at Toyota.
It is also entertaining to watch pit stop videos where things did not go as planned. In an industrial setting, changeovers should always be at a safe and reliable speed. With race cars, however, they push things to the edge and occasionally loose a gamble or a tire – as Nigel Mansell did in 1991:
If you like this post, you may want to read my other posts on SMED: