Get Lean: Doing more with less

By Barb Wilkinson · September 19, 2018

It all starts with the customer.

“Providing value for our customers is a huge thing,” says Veronica Krylova, operations supervisor at Davey Textile Solutions (DTS), a manufacturer of safety trim for workwear. “Maximizing customer value while minimizing waste is what Lean theory is all about.”

Krylova is a certified black belt in Lean Six Sigma and works hard each day to bring that systematic approach to improving manufacturing processes at DTS.

Lean theory was first developed by Toyota executives and then popularized in the business world with the 1996 book Lean Thinking.

“Lean makes everything simpler. You make continuing changes to get better results,” says Krylova.

She started her career back in Ukraine with a Bachelor of Nuclear Power Engineering degree. When she came to Canada eight years ago, she attended NAIT to obtain a Bachelor of Management with a specialization in operations and production.

“I liked engineering but enjoy interacting with people more. This way I can use my technical knowledge but work with people on a daily basis.” 

She completed her black belt in Lean Six Sigma while working for oil and gas companies. She joined DTS in July 2016 and six months later she was appointed to the position of operations supervisor.

Businesses interested in Lean Six Sigma methodology start by adopting Lean principles, and they may eventually utilize a Six Sigma approach, which requires scientific methods for “waste” reduction.  “You cannot have Six Sigma without Lean.” Krylova and DTS find the combination of the two to be the most effective at continuously improving business performance. Lean and Six Sigma have similar goals of reducing waste and improving efficiency but have different ways of arriving at those decisions, which is why the dual approach works so well.

The changes Krylova has introduced range from quite basic to more complex projects. 

One of the processes she implemented was adding colour-coded tags to all the boxes to differentiate between DTS’s different products, such as white for cotton or green for polyester.

“The trim is all yellow, and it was hard to tell which product was which without walking over to feel and touch it. With the colour-coded tags, you can see easily and don’t have to spend the time to walk over,” Krylova says.

“It’s so simple but it makes a huge difference.”

Another process was to develop a production schedule for DTS’s various products using a technique called a value-stream map.

“You look at each department, see how much they can produce, and make sure it’s all aligned. If one produces more and the other can’t keep up, it creates a bottleneck. This way we can see where the gaps are and where the opportunities are.”

In one area, there was time where staff didn’t always have the needed fabric to do their job, and once that was identified, they were then able to find a different task to do in that downtime.

“Lean Six Sigma is making sure you have the proper allocation of people and machinery,” Krylova says. “We are constantly changing here with different fabrics. We’re always looking to see if we can be more efficient.”

Eight months after the new schedule was introduced, DTS had improved production by 240 percent and reduced its labour costs. This was done without new equipment or new money, just by re-organizing the production schedule.

Lean changes should all be based on data, she says.

“You have to measure before and after, and then continue to review the results. It removes personality and opinions from decisions. In conventional Lean thinking, we have to make decisions based on data.”

Small steps can have a big influence on production. While analyzing the production process, it was noted it takes an operator 10 seconds to complete one specific task several times a day on a loom.

“Ten seconds doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in the day-to-day process it adds up.”

A Lean project focusing on modifying a particular task reduced time spent on that task from 315 seconds down to 167 seconds. “Put in perspective, we were able to increase production by 87,000 metres a year by reducing those few seconds.”

Any step which takes two seconds or more is worth looking at improving, Krylova says.

“If we can save people’s time and day-to-day frustration, we can offer better value for the customer.”

A lot of DTS’s staff were new to Lean and Krylova spends some of her time educating them about the process. One of the biggest tenets of Lean, and a concept fully embraced at DTS, is empowering staff and having changes be driven by them. Management provides strategic direction, education and leadership to the process.

“Employees on the shop floor get to shape how they want to work. They’re smart, they know what they’re doing,” says Krylova.

“At a lot of companies, management tells employees how to do a job and what is best for them. Here, we listen to them.”

Not everyone was immediately on board to try Lean Six Sigma. People often find doing things the way they’ve always done them as convenient and familiar. Change is hard, notes Krylova. But once educated about it and seeing some of the results, most workers became eager to try it out.

“They come up with better and better ideas all the time. It makes their day-to-day life better; that’s why they become interested,” says Krylova. “It eliminates micromanaging a lot.”

One of her current projects is mentoring staff who want higher belt levels of Lean Six Sigma training.

The program starts with white belts, a general awareness of Lean Six Sigma, and then moves to yellow, where people gather data and perform time studies for those completing projects at the green level. The higher levels of Lean Six Sigma include black belt and master black belt.  Individuals with these higher levels become mentors, like Krylova, for those achieving white, yellow and green belts.

Everyone at DTS has a white belt designation. In addition, there are six yellow, six green and one black belt on staff.

“Each person working on a project prepares a report and the results are posted on the wall so the whole company knows what is going on.”

Knowing she is helping people improve their day-to-day work life by saving them time and lowering their frustration over mundane tasks is what Krylova finds so rewarding about her job.

Doing all of these improvements not only improves production, but it also better serves the customer and makes money for the company. “That’s what I like the best.”

The eighth annual Davey Protective Clothing Systems for Safety seminar will be held Nov. 5 – 6 in Edmonton. Full information at www.daveyseminar.com.

Barb Wilkinson is a freelance writer and editor based in Edmonton.

 

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