Maintain continuous flow

A PFEP will pull together into one place all the parts information that resides across the organization to enhance the creation of value throughout the plant.

December 29, 2011
by Richard Kunst

Managers are making progress in creating areas of continuous flow but many are having trouble sustaining steady output. The problem is likely the lack of a lean material-handling system for parts to support the cells. Your plant may be leaner in terms of operating cells, but a mass producer when it comes to supplying them. The result? Processes starve, there’s a loss of flow and you end up wasting a lot of effort and money to keep too much inventory and spend too much time hunting for missing items.

Key elements of a door-to-door lean material handling system for parts include: a plan for every part; a properly located and managed parts market; a rigorous material-delivery route using standard work; and pull signals to tightly link areas of continuous flow to the supply of materials.

When introducing such a system, you have to understand how each part is received, packaged, stored and delivered to its point of use. Much of this information exists within your organization, but it’s stored in many different places under the control of many managers and it’s mostly invisible. So the first step in creating a lean material-handling system for parts is to collect all of the information in one place. That’s where Plan for Every Part (PFEP) comes in. It lists elements such as part number, description and daily use. Note that as conditions change, the specific items in your PFEP may need to change. To ensure the PFEP is flexible, your information management system must be able to accommodate continuous change.

What a PFEP does for you

The PFEP filled with parts information and properly managed enables you to:
• Create a lean material-handling system and subsequently develop a parts market, delivery routes and pull signals.
• Create a lean material-handling system and subsequently develop a parts market, delivery routes and pull signals.
• Store pertinent current data on all parts in one central, accessible location.
• Sort parts data by various categories, such as container size, supplier location and use.
• Provide quick response to operations questions regarding parts and suppliers.
• Extend the lean material-handling system to your plant-to-plant material movements.

Make the information visible to everyone in the facility, and sort by categories (part description, order frequency, container type, and hourly usage), so you’ll need to use either a computer spreadsheet (such as Excel) or computer database (such as Access).

The next step is to load the data in the smallest element possible. For example, don’t put a container’s height, length and width in one column. Create a separate category for each dimension. This is critical information for designing storage locations. Similarly, avoid putting suppliers’ addresses in one column. Break them up into city and province/state so you can sort by these categories in case you want to set up an external material movement system (milk runs) among plants.

Add value streams
Begin filling the PFEP with parts data from one cell and add it cell by cell throughout the value stream. Ultimately, it will include comprehensive information on every part in the entire facility.

Smaller facilities with just one or two simple value streams can develop and fill the PFEP from the outset with parts information for the entire plant.

Larger facilities should begin with a manageable scope. If you add many value streams all at once you risk not getting the project finished. Or worse, you’ll be tempted to take shortcuts that compromise the quality of the data. It’s much easier to start small and expand on your initial successes.

Establish the PFEP with an eye to the future. Other cells and value streams will need to use the same fields and format, and they’ll want to avoid any significant rework as the implementation branches out.

You’ll also want to use the PFEP when developing new products, but ruling that no new product can be moved to the production preparation stage without complete data. An accurate PFEP, developed and tested well before the beginning of production, will be a powerful tool for the development team in guaranteeing trouble-free launches at target cost.

Maintenance, once you get all this information – and it probably will take more than one person to gather it all – isn’t that time consuming. But you have to appoint a PFEP manager, the only person in the plant who can change and update the document. Information suffers when there are too many people changing one document. Managing the PFEP normally takes 10 to 30 minutes daily depending on the size of your plant. While smaller facilities can appoint one manager to handle all the value streams in the plant, large facilities may need more than one manager, each assigned to different product-family value streams. However, fewer managers usually mean a more accurate PFEP. You should also institute a guideline that requires every part to be documented in the PFEP and approved by the manager before it appears on the shop floor. This is aided by a PFEP Change/Add Request Form.

By establishing a manager and developing precise guidelines for changes in the PFEP, you ensure it’s always up-to-date and accompanied by a paper trail of changes. If done properly, this also makes it impossible to change a part on the floor without communicating that change to all affected departments. For example, during routine operations your production control department may use the PFEP as a quick reference to identify which company supplies a part, its location and how long it takes to get the part.

Developing and updating the PFEP is not a value-creating process because it does not do so directly from the standpoint of the customer, but it’s important incidental work that will significantly increase the percentage of value-creating activities occurring throughout your plant.

Many firms believe they have the functional equivalent of a PFEP “somewhere in the system” and wonder if creating and continually updating one as a distinct data set really creates value.

The answer is that when information is in many places and hard for everyone to see, value-creating activities throughout the plant can’t be supported with accurate and timely information. Waste of all kinds becomes unavoidable.

Richard Kunst is president and CEO of Kunst Solutions Corp., which publishes the “Lean Thoughts” e-newsletter. E-mail