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Transforming Maintenance Role Helps Amtex Take Lean Manufacturing To A Higher Level

An Article From the Archives:

In this month’s archive article originally published in our April 1999 TPM Newsletter, auto supplier Amtex shares insights on how they integrated TPM with existing CI activities to improve Lean manufacturing and business goals. They accomplished this by getting maintenance and operators working together to turn problems into opportunities for improvement. These steadfast concepts from 1999 are more relevant now than ever as organizations seek collaborative ways to turn downtime into uptime.
 
Experienced practitioners frequently tell us that Planned Maintenance* is one of the most challenging TPM pillars to implement. Amtex, a supplier of non-woven and tufted material for automotive interiors, is no exception. “For years all of our best efforts were directed toward improving our production system, but we gave virtually no thought to improving the way we did maintenance,” says TPM manager John Jacinto.
 
INTEGRATING TPM WITH EXISTING CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT METHODS AND TOOLS
The Amtex plant, located in Manteca, California, is widely regarded as the jewel in the crown of the Lear Corporation. Amtex has become so adept at implementing the Toyota Production System (TPS) that for two years in a row it won New United Motor Manufacturing’s “Triple Crown” for excellence in quality, cost and delivery. Yet listen to manufacturing manager George Santiago: “We don’t’ want to give anyone the idea that we’re perfect. We’re always thinking about what we need to do to get to the next level.” About three years ago, it became clear that integrating TPM with other improvement activities was a key to achieving business goals.
 
Because there are so many basic concepts common to TPS and TPM (for example, an emphasis on training and development and on the total elimination of waste), it wasn’t necessary for Amtex to start from scratch when it decided to implement TPM. Most TPM development activities have been folded easily into existing improvement activities.
 
For example, since 1989, employees have participated in kaizen events on the gemba (factory floor), so they have an intuitive understanding of TPM’s Focused Improvement pillar. Similarly, activities related to improving conditions affecting process quality are consistent with those that take place in TPM’s Quality Maintenance pillar. Amtex also has an initiative called Pre-Production Pioneering [widely known today as Production Preparation Process or 3P) which focuses on design for manufacturability and maintenance prevention. This is roughly equivalent to TPM’s Early Equipment Management and Maintenance Prevention (MP) pillar, although Jacinto confesses that there’s “lots of opportunity for improvement here.” In addition, a 7S initiative provides a structure and process for creating and sustaining a safe, clean, well-organized, and visually managed workplace – an effect also common to TPM.
 
MAINTENANCE ASSOCIATES RELUCTANT TO CHANGE
The only TPM concepts foreign to Amtex were Autonomous Maintenance and Planned Maintenance. Operators quickly embraced Autonomous Maintenance when it was introduced because it made sense. They understood the connection between efforts to keep their work areas clean, restore it to its original state, and prevent it from deteriorating prematurely.
 
Many of the maintenance technicians, on the other hand, were wary of changing the way they had always worked. Jacinto explains: “They were great firefighters and very proud of the fact that they could get things running very quickly after they broke. But while everything around them was changing, they weren’t. There was a lot of downtime, and there was a lot of waste in the maintenance department.”
 
Because Amtex is focused on the total elimination of waste, it was only a matter of time before maintenance practices were scrutinized more closely. TPM, of course, attacks waste by promoting continuous learning about equipment and production processes. Continuous learning involves not only raising skills, but also changing how people think about their jobs, their relationship to other employees, and the information that flows through their hands and heads every day. Since maintenance employees play a crucial role in every aspect of TPM implementation, Santiago and plant manager Lane Simpson knew how important it was to change the hearts and minds of the technicians if Amtex was to reap the maximum benefits.
 
FROM TECHNICIANS TO CREW CHIEFS
Enter John Jacinto. A production supervisor with a sound understanding of the Toyota Production System, Jacinto was asked to bring the maintenance technicians “up to speed” – to get them to solve problems proactively instead of reactively. After assuming leadership of the maintenance team, Jacinto immediately set out to change team members’ mind-sets.
 
“I kept the vision of developing a Planned Maintenance system clearly in focus,” he says. “But I didn’t talk about the big picture too much for fear it would overwhelm them. I figured it was best to eat this elephant one bite at a time.” To promote the ownership of equipment by the maintenance technicians, Jacinto made each a “crew chief” accountable for specific machines.
 
Crew chiefs are responsible for the preventive maintenance tasks that are beyond operators’ capabilities and for addressing the abnormalities (“x-conditions) that operators identify while performing autonomous maintenance. Crew chiefs are also responsible for checking any work done to their machines when they are not present. This is to ensure that proper corrective measures are taken after breakdowns and that component replacements are done properly.
 
At weekly uptime meetings with Santiago, Jacinto, and the production supervisors, the crew chiefs report on the condition of their machines. If a machine has had a breakdown, its crew chief communicates what happened, the root cause of the problem, and the countermeasures (indicating whether it was a permanent countermeasure or a quick fix on which follow-up is required.)
 
UNCOVERING TREASURES AND LEVELING PRODUCTION
At Amtex, people frequently refer to problems as “treasures” – opportunities for improvement. Early on, Jacinto realized that the technicians were hiding treasures. “In the past, the techs were used to covering for colleagues who hadn’t done repairs or preventive maintenance tasks correctly,” explains Jacinto, “and that simply had to stop.”
 
Repeatedly he told team members: “Look, I’m giving you the responsibility to make decisions, and I fully expect that you’re going to make some mistakes. But the point is, we have to help one another learn from those mistakes so that we don’t repeat them.”
 
They proved to be fast learners. Since last summer, they have done such a good job with 5why analysis, for example, that they have virtually eliminated sporadic failures. Over about 10 months, monthly downtime has steadily decreased from a high of 122 hours to a low of 42 hours. Simultaneously, Amtex has raised actual productive uptime (APU) – the mathematical equivalent of overall equipment effectiveness – from the low 80s up to 90.
 
In addition, Jacinto says that improvements in machine reliability have made it possible to achieve levels of attainment in TPS that previously eluded them. “Sustained high levels of APU have recently made it possible for us to decrease our finished goods inventory by 25 percent,” he says. “We used to keep a maximum of two days of inventory on hand, now we’re down to a maximum of one-and-a-half days. Also, improved reliability has made it possible for us to smooth out our production runs to the point where we’re running a hands-off system. Right now, I couldn’t tell you what we’re running. I could go look at the Kanban, but the system is running itself. It’s beautiful.”
 
What’s next? The more you improve, of course, the harder subsequent improvement becomes. In fact, Santiago believes that they are close to a plateau with 5why analysis. That’s why he and Jacinto have been studying P-M analysis, a more sophisticated means of rooting out the causes of chronic losses.
 
To change mind-sets, consistency is perhaps one of the greatest attributes a coach can possess. Jacinto didn’t earn the trust of the maintenance team members immediately, but he proved to be a man of his word: it was okay to make mistakes; the point really was to learn from them. More than this, though, the impact of Jacinto’s keeping his promise rippled throughout the plant, ultimately helping to ease longstanding tension between maintenance and production associates.
 
According to Santiago, at a recent production meeting, operators reported that they communicate with their maintenance colleagues without fear of being yelled at or belittled. In the past, maintenance technicians took heat from supervisors for equipment problems, and the maintenance technicians took their frustrations out on the operators.
 
“Out of everything we’ve accomplished over the past 10 months,” says Jacinto, “it’s this attitude shift on the part of the maintenance team members that I’m most proud of. You’d better believe that our operators know where those treasures are! But do you think they are going to tell anyone if they’re afraid of getting yelled at? But because they’re not afraid anymore, there’s a good open line of communication between the operators and crew chiefs. That’s made all the difference.”
 
AN EXPANDING RESPONSIBILITY FOR CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
Besides working cooperatively with operators to turn problems into opportunities for improvement, maintenance team members are playing an increasingly active role in improvement efforts. They are regularly involved in teaching technical skills to operators and are sought out for their input into efforts to reduce changeover times, create poka-yoke (mistake-proofing) devices, and analyze process quality issues. Maintenance input into efforts to reduce startup losses, for example, has helped Amtex reduce its parts-per-million defect rate from 1,850 to 1,490. (To put this in perspective, consider this: a startup loss of just one unit during an eight-hour shift translates into a defect rate of about 2,300 parts-per million.)
 
Jacinto says, “I don’t want to give you the idea that we’re perfect, though. We’ve done some good work, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

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