With a flexible workforce, volume can be adjusted without changing the design of a Flow line. This allows Flow Manufacturers to build products in the direction of actual demand, as opposed to fixed volume production lines that continue to build products regardless of customer demand.
The flexible workforce is great from a productivity and business standpoint, as well as from an employee’s position. Mr. Kampouris, a previous American Standard CEO, saved hundreds of millions of dollars in working capital while growing the company with DFT. At the same time, he was impressed with the unforeseen benefit of a happier production workforce.
A Flexible Workforce
In this example, the Flow line is designed with a process Takt time of 20 minutes. Each operation is designed and balanced to that target. A unit can be in-process at your operation with one unit allowed in the IPK. When production is at capacity, each operation will be staffed with a person or machine. When the person at Operation 30 has completed their unit and placed it into their IPK, they will pull another unit from the previous operation and continue to build for an additional 20 minutes. Operation 20 completes their unit and places it into their IPK. They then pull another unit to Operation 20 and continue to work for an additional 20 minutes. The person at Operation 10 does the same.
Now, let’s look at flexing when production is running at or below capacity. The line is not redesigned, and nothing is really changed except for the staffing requirements. When running below capacity, there will be operations not staffed with employees. This is an ideal time for training and cross-training employees.
A simple rule in flexing: If there is nothing in process at your operation and nothing to pull from the previous operation, then move to the previous operation to work. If someone is working at the upstream operation, then assist at that operation. If no one is at the upstream operation, work at that operation just as you were trained using the DFT Op sheets.
In the above example, the person at OP 30 has nothing to pull, so they move to OP 20. When they complete a unit at the upstream OP 20, they return to their original downstream OP 30 and build as normal. The hole in the line started at OP 20, moved to OP 30, and then returned to OP 20. This becomes a self-directed workforce managed by the DFT Flow process.
Now, let’s look at the flexing rule where demand has been satisfied at an operation. When a unit is completed at its operation and the IPK is full (if there is an IPK at this operation), the demand has been satisfied at this operation. When this occurs, the employee must move downstream toward product completion. If someone is working at the downstream operation, they assist. If not, they work there just as they were trained.
With flexible employees, it is important to utilize your DFT Op sheets. Employees can glance at the Op sheets while flexing. Make sure to touch the TQC points for total quality. Then, complete the work content and touch to validate the verification points. The Op sheets should be visible in front of employees and displayed side by side.
In DFT, the volume can be adjusted without impacting the work or line design. This allows Flow lines to run in the direction of actual demand without carrying massive finished goods inventory and without scheduling. The Kanban pull process enables manufacturers to design mixed-model Flow lines that can not only adjust volume, but also switch daily product mix without kitting or scheduling.