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A continuing lean journey: an electronic manufacturer’s adopting of Kanban
Andrew Lee-Mortimer
Lee Business Communications Ltd, Manchester, UK
Abstract Purpose – This paper aims to examine the introduction of Kanban production control, at a UK-based electronic product-manufacturing operation. Design/methodology/approach – The paper covers key implementation issues, includingcultural factors, the reasons behind the adoption of an electronic Kanban system, and explains in detail the working and benefits gained from the changes introduced. Findings – Learning lessons from its previous lean implementation experiences, the company’s adoption of Kanban was phased, and the final stage of gradually building up the parts under the control of the electronic Kanban was combined withbroad involvement, widespread training and the addressing of cultural issues. This “pull” system has delivered the expected dramatic reductions in lead times and inventory but, having used Kanban to gain increased internal stability, the company is now planning to extend the system externally. Interestingly, to make this work, it will require the replacement of Kanban control in some internal areasof the plant with push control in the form of direct replenishment. Originality/value – The paper clearly shows how effective the progressive introduction of aspects of lean can be in terms of delivering long-term business benefits. It also confirms the importance of recognizing that even well organized businesses are liable to suffer pain when implementing lean. It is critically important not toblame the new system, but to find the real causes, and this requires understanding and training. Finally, in addition to explaining how the plant’s new system operates, and observing some of the finer details of the electronic Kanban system, the paper looks at the interesting planned steps in the system’s “evolution”. Keywords Electronics industry, Kanban, Production management, Lean production, UnitedKingdom Paper type Case study

Prior to embarking on its lean journey in 2005, Siemens Standard Drive’s Congleton factory had already seen the benefits of a highly effective continuous improvement program. This had delivered a major culture change along with significant OEE and quality improvements to the UK plant, which is part of Siemens Automation & Drives and employs 420 peoplein the design and manufacture of a range of electronic drives. Its achievements had been recognized by the winning of a host of awards. Therefore, the initial “surprise” for Congleton’s management when it started its new improvement offensive was not that lean offered a way to deliver performance improvements, but just how much potential for lean improvement was still present within the site. Asignificant insight into the major challenges still facing the plant, and the level of “waste” and unnecessary cost still present, was brought home to the senior management team when it undertook a value stream mapping exercise.

The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0144-5154.htm

Assembly Automation 28/2 (2008) 103– 112 q Emerald GroupPublishing Limited [ISSN 0144-5154] [DOI 10.1108/01445150810863662]

Undeterred, and with the support of the Manufacturing Advisor Service North West, the operation started to tackle some of the key process issues highlighted. The products produced at Congleton are all based around printed circuit boards (PCB), and so its main production processes include automated surface mount lines, throughholeassembly, PCB testing, an automated protective spray coating process and final manual assembly. This last stage is where boards are assembled into the end product’s metal frame and plastic casing, tested and then packaged ready for dispatch to the German Export Centre. The first area tackled by the “Lean Manufacturing” initiative was PCB testing, as this had been shown to be a real bottleneck....
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