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Getting more done: The power of fit and complete

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Operations Excellence by Sepp Gmeiner
Sepp Gmeiner is a partner with Lignum Consulting. For feedback, questions and/or suggestions please email s.gmeiner@lignum-consulting.com
One simple fact that has more impact on your output and bottom line is so simple, it is not even explicitly listed in the Lean book. If you do not get this fact under control, no investments in high-tech machines and technology will achieve their promised benefits. It is so obvious, sounds very simple, but is quite a challenge for many of us. I would even say almost all companies struggle with this. I call it fit and complete . In essence it means if parts are missing, you cannot complete the job.
A customer asked me to analyse why the company has such a low on-time shipping performance. We walked the shop floor and asked the shipping supervisor about his on-time shipping performance.
‘I ship 100 per cent on-time of what I have, 100 per cent of the time!’ was the somewhat angry response. Well, I touched a nerve!
He had the shipping documents, the trucks, and the forklifts. He had the workers, and they all knew how to do their job. However, he did not have all the product. And to make it even more frustrating, he had all the product except one unit, which needed to go into the nose of the trailer.
Going further upstream to the assembly area. The department was full of material. With all the WIP buffers full of material, one would expect excellent assembly results and flow. But that was not the case. We could see along the assembly line there were incomplete cabinets on the floor. Assemblers were dragging boxes off the line and stacking two-high in the aisles. They had everything, except the doors, which did not arrive from the finishing room and, because the order is so big, they wanted to get a head start in assembling them.
Again, if you dig deeper, there was something missing, or something did not fit to complete the order. If one of the, let’s say 20, pieces required is missing you cannot complete the product. I will not argue the point that in some rare cases starting the assembly process without having all pieces is the lesser evil, but as a rule, it is better to start when everything is confirmed as available. The time wasted in stacking down and lifting back onto the line, repairing the damage done by the extra handling, dealing with the congested assembly area, all add cost and slow down output.

When analyzing an operation, you look for the following elements:
Information – documents, drawings, instructions
Equipment – equipment, tools
Input material – kitchen cabinets
Established processes – knowing what needs to be done
Resources - workers to load the truck

Is everything available, according to spec and quality (fit), at the right time and in correct quantity (complete)?
It has a rippling effect throughout the organization.  Improving fit and complete  has a productivity improvement potential of 20 per cent and more, depending on the current situation. It is by far the most significant reason for low performance. Other improvement projects such as faster and more productive equipment might not result in the expected outcome if the company has difficulties achieving sustainable fit and complete.

There are many symptoms 
or out of control fit and complete  

Reduced output
One of the largest impacts is reduced output. You don’t seem to reach anywhere close to the calculated capacity. Another symptom is uneven output. There are big differences from one day to the next. Typically, the schedule is not met.

Material buffers are full
The factory floor is overloaded with WIP and there is no flow in the assembly area. The upstream operations lose time as they have difficulty finding space for the material, whereas downstream is losing time looking for the right material.

Interrupted assembly
Another sign of incomplete and not fit is partially completed product taken off the assembly line.  

Frustrated workers
As workers need to look for information or components, starting processes and then switching over will not allow them to achieve their day’s work.  This type of situation leads to frustration and tension.  Employees might quit for lack of job satisfaction or worse, they stay, but have ‘checked out’ emotionally. Successful daily work is a big motivator!

False bottlenecks
Recognizing shortages and rectifying them requires fast reaction time. A system of expedited correction needs to be implemented. Certain processes cannot handle these interruptions well and will be identified as bottlenecks. The machines have sufficient capacity however, now we feel the need to buy an extra machine to fix this bottleneck. If done correctly the first time, there would be no need for extra equipment.

Late orders
Incomplete and misfit parts/components lead to late orders and disappointed customers. This impacts the company reputation and will lead to reduced sales. Companies might not yet have a negative impact on sales because their competitors have the same problem. Imagine if your competitors get it right and provide 100 per cent on-time and complete orders and you have not improved. How long will it take to negatively impact your business?

Extended lead time
To counter incomplete and misfit parts, companies will build in extra lead (safety) time. If incomplete and misfits happen too often certain workplaces build in time to allow time to correct the situation. If all parts arrive fit and complete  all the time you no longer need waiting time before the next operation. If all parts arrive fit and complete  98% per cent of the time, you might maintain the process with some effective expediting.  If fit and complete  is only achieved 70 – 90 per cent of the time, your process-flow collapses, and you often need to build in a few days to achieve fit and complete .  Now, with more days of WIP on the shop floor, you need more space and more time to find the right space. Long lead time on the shop floor leads to other side effects leading to other types of waste.

How to improve 
your operations?

Find the root cause
First, you need to understand and quantify what is holding up your process.  Is it because of fit and complete ? Where is the hold-up? Once you understand the reason(s), you can develop corrective actions as a second step. Find the root cause.

Discipline
The biggest impact, by far, is when everyone in the process chain does their job correctly and consistently. This is easier said than done, but there is no real alternative to doing it right – the first time and all the time. If you can recognize certain errors or omissions that occur repeatedly, analyze it and find an improvement to minimize reoccurrences. Often the processes are not fully defined. Documented processes simplify re-training.

Expediting
Having a dedicated person who drives the fit and complete  process is an immediate step. Expediting is a double-edged sword. If everybody does their job correctly, you will not need expediting. If the expediting is getting the job done, then the organization will become dependent upon the expediting function and stop improving because they rely on this safety net. Management must not accept expediting is a permanent fix. It must challenge the organization not to rely on the expediting function. To start this improvement process, the expediter’s insight is invaluable for your corrective action plans. Eventually a proper schedule must replace the expediter.

Kitting
It looks, at first glance, as a redundant step. Checking, picking and kitting all required parts and sorting them together is an important step for assembly. This can be achieved in simple individual piles of parts (cabinet by cabinet) or in specialized carts or racks. The key is that an incomplete set does not proceed to the next step. The more visual this process is the better it functions.
The more you are producing to order, the more important fit and complete  becomes. We cannot assume that the parts will be there when we need them, we need to confirm it. This can be done by counting and manually checking and flagging the order/unit as available for assembly.
I am realistic enough to know that we cannot prevent 100 per cent of mishaps in a production environment. These interruptions due to these mishaps cost much more than the single piece that you must repair or replace. The interruption to the flow is the real cost. If, however, you focus on cutting your error rate through continuous Improvement, you will drive your productivity up.  

Information
The challenge is that the more integrated and automated manufacturing a plant is, the more sensitive the system is to missing or false data. Any error found or changes to an order, after production start, will cause major delays. This drive for complete needs to start right at the beginning. During the order entry process customers often have difficulties deciding on, for example, the finish or the handle type and the handle location. In the days before automation there was time to feed that information much later, now it is required to place an order.
Look at your operation and check how much time and effort is required on a daily basis to chase missing information and missing parts. And imagine how much easier work will be (and more productive) when the job arrives at your workplace (both office and shop floor) - fit and complete .

Capital investment
New machines will improve the processes however they are, in many cases, not the most effective solution. Of course, if the old equipment is producing out of tolerance and requiring constant rework, the justification for new equipment is easily made. Also, for example, the switch from cutting and drilling to nesting usually improves tolerances (improves fit) and reduces looking for parts (smaller batch-size improves complete).

New software
In many cases, effective software will improve conveying the required information to the right person/place. Software is a long-term solution, but does not solve the underlying problem.
Suitable manufacturing execution systems (MES) simplify and support the expediting and kitting process. To simplify the explanation, this type of software will keep track of what is complete and what is not and gives the signal to allow the next step.
High product variety, especially in the kitchen cabinets industry, makes this a common problem in our industry. The promise of huge productivity improvement potential makes this one of the most rewarding projects. Also, the fact that a bad performance on fit and complete  diminishes the benefits of any other improvement project, makes it even clearer that we must start here.
The objective and the process sound obvious and even simple, but the implementation is not easy and takes focused work. It is worth the effort!

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