Hypertherm, a manufacturer of plasma cutting systems, is not only an important contributor in making our high quality plasma machines, but is also a great example of a company that knows how to reduce the various wastes that we covered in Lean Manufacturing Part 1. They have various characteristics, from their organizational structure to their day-to-day processing, that allow them to fulfill their lean manufacturing goal, which they refer to as “operational excellence”.
The foundation of Hypertherm’s operating excellence strategy revolves around their pursuit towards a working and efficient production flow. This lean flow works to create a seamless transfer of product information from start to finish. An important step in achieving this is by making your production process always visible to your employees. By using what is known as “the visitor test”, you can see whether or not your process is truly achieving a lean flow. In this test, you critically evaluate your process by answering the question, “if someone unfamiliar with our methods was placed on the production line, would they be able to know whether or not you are operating on schedule?”. During the manufacturing of more complex products, this can be a tall order. Hypertherm works to accomplishes this by utilizing two visual aids; thermometer boards, and pulse points. They both use colour tags to identify manufacturing efficiency. Pulse points identify whether or not you are meeting the rate of demand when considering production as a whole. The thermometer boards inform each employee (or group of employees) about which tasks should be their production priority by identifying where production is breaking down, then by providing direction to the employees on how best to correct the problem. Adding this strategy to their production arsenal drastically helps to reduce some of the primary wastes that we defined last week. This will allow them to control their inventory and overproduction waste, while also making this critical information easily available, possibly limiting their waste at the same time.
Another strategy that Hypertherm uses to combat the 7 wastes is the implementation of a self-healing flow into their production process. Hypertherm’s ownership structure directly contributes to this as they are 100% associate owned. This means that their production associates are the most important part of their operation. In fact, Hypertherm describes them as their “only sustainable competitive advantage”. This sustainability comes from their Technical Training Institute, where they identify their future employees and give them the specific education required to fully understand how their machines, and their production, operate. This commitment and company understanding, adding with their visual work flow, means that the production associates are perfectly equipped to resolve any issues they may face in their day-to-day work. Most importantly, this consistency and preparedness means that Hypertherm’s upper management can focus all of their efforts on furthering the company’s future growth. From their perspective, upper management can view their production as a dependable and self-healing representation of operational excellence.
For more information on Hypertherm’s process and corporate culture, visit their Training and Education page. Also, check out MultiCam’s entire CNC plasma cutting lineup to see how we combine Hypertherm’s systems with our quality tables to give you the best cutting experience.