Reaching Peak Efficiency


Reaching Peak Efficiency

Lean Six Sigma is a mountainous challenge,
but there are some basic ways to prepare for the climb.

Speed and accuracy are the primary goals of Lean Six Sigma, and they are not simple things to achieve. For one thing, noted Greg Griggs of Builders FirstSource, efficiency improvements are usually invisible to customers, so outside pressure won’t help nudge a company in the right direction. In addition, how do you get buy-in for a process improvement initiative? Who needs to be involved, and do you need to hire someone to lead these efforts? Suppose you successfully improve design review, shop floor organization or email communication – how do you keep people from falling back into bad habits?

“It’s an uphill battle,” BJ Louws of Louws Truss admitted. Peak efficiency is a lofty goal, but you can start small.

Griggs suggested that projecting savings can spark managers’ interest. Both he and Louws emphasized that Lean Six Sigma process changes must be top-down initiatives. If management doesn’t buy in, they say, change won’t happen. Once management is on board, Griggs said, engage staff by inviting the entire team to contribute process improvement ideas.

Louws suggested beginning with 5S, “the most approachable concept in Lean.” Sort. Set in Order. Shine. Standardize. Sustain. These are the most critical things to think about when it comes to process improvement, Louws said.

5S Flowchart Graphic

Not sold on the first steps of 5S? Try this quick exercise - it might change your mind. For more on this topic, read “Getting to the Buzz Behind the Buzzwords” from December 2015.

For example, if you unclutter a shop floor by throwing away what shouldn’t be there and organizing the remaining tools and parts, it’s easy to find what you need and see what’s missing. Staff aren’t spending time searching for a truss plate that isn’t there and no one is running across the office for paper that’s not stored by the printer. If you’re running both a day and a night shift, figure out whether they do their work in the same way. If one shift has a more efficient process than the other, standardize your operations.

The first step of Six Sigma is just as simply stated: start collecting data. Streamlined processes and data collection go hand in hand. For example, Louws’ data showed him that following the 5S strategy of Lean was improving production overall—but it wasn’t having much effect on the speed of truss assembly. Instead, setup and material handling were where he could differentiate his operation from his competitors’. “We have seen up to thirty percent efficiency gains over time by just the way we present material to the builders,” he explained.

Of course, once you make changes, the key is to make them stick. “It’s a full time job for everybody,” Louws said, whether you incorporate efficiency management into  existing staff roles or create a new dedicated position for this task. Many who make successful changes miss out on the full benefit of maintaining a good process over time, said Louws.

“The sustain part is probably the most difficult part of Lean Six Sigma,” Louws admitted, but it’s still a goal worth striving for. A beautiful view can justify a hard climb, and Louws testified that “continuous improvement is a real cool thing to see.” Just entering a plant that gets better by the day can be a great motivator to sustaining a new process.

So, start your climb knowing the summit will be a challenge, but don’t put off the foothills in fear of the peak. The first steps of Lean Six Sigma are things you can do right away—and there can be a real benefit to your bottom line even before you’re running at peak efficiency.

About the Author: Dale Erlandson joined SBCA staff last fall as the assistant editor of SBC Magazine. She has written for a variety of publications over the last decade and thrives on the challenge of learning something new and passing that knowledge along through the written word.