Continuous Learning | The Core Value of Keeping Current with Market Dynamics
By: Meaghan Ziemba, Marketing Communications, MakingChips
For companies to grow in the age of buyer control and digital disruption, they need to develop a customer-first culture shift within their organization.
Learning from Technology, Mistakes, and One Another
Advancements in various technologies such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, machine learning, machine monitoring software, and augmented and virtual realities are providing manufacturers with increased visibility into their operations, substantial cost savings, and faster production times.
These advancements and changes in technology help us learn where we need additional improvements in design and production of certain processes and operations. They also force us to learn how to use new technology in order to keep pace with upcoming industry trends and maintain a competitive advantage.
As stated in Jeffrey K. Liker’s The Toyota Way: “Adaption, innovation, and flexibility [...] have become the necessary ingredients for survival as well as the hallmarks of a successful business.”
Manufacturers need to learn from their mistakes and take the necessary steps to correct their actions and distribute that knowledge to other employees within the organization.
“We’re always learning,” states Brad Patterson, Chief Improvement Officer at AME. “Unfortunately, sometimes we learn through our mistakes and customer complaints. We have a formal corrective actions system to address situations like those.”
AME also learns from inviting various experts of different backgrounds and disciplines to the AME facility to review the processes of routine jobs or look at the specifications of certain projects. Each expert uses their area of expertise to help determine the best solutions or processes for the project they audit.
“By gathering with individuals of different disciplines and backgrounds we are getting a variety of ideas and opinions,” says Patterson. “Those ideas and opinions help us find the best possible solution for our customers.”
Managers also ask employees what their pain points are to help improve operational processes on the shop floor. “We recently redesigned some of our workholding fixtures that were cumbersome and too heavy (22 lbs.),” explains Patterson. “We went to our engineers and explained the situation, and they were able to design fixtures that now weigh only 8 lbs.”
The advice we get from various sources facilitates our ongoing success as a growing manufacturing company in the Rockford area.
Practical Problem Solving and the 5 Whys
According to Jeffrey K. Liker, author of The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles From the World’s Greatest Manufacturer, getting to the root of the problem or issue involves everyone on the team being able to observe the situation with an open mind and compare it with the standard. Standardization and learning go hand-in-hand and are the basis of continuous improvement. If you do not standardize the improved process, the learning up to that point falls into a black hole.
Identifying the root cause is a matter of discipline, attitude, and culture involving everyone in the organization to use the Five Whys technique. This technique was developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation as a critical component of its problem-solving training.
When a problem occurs, getting into the habit of asking why 5 times helps uncover the true nature of the problem. One example provided by Toyota involves a robot on the factory floor malfunctioning:
Why did the robot stop? The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
Why is the circuit overloaded? There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings? The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil? The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings? Because there is no filter on the pump.
Once the root cause of a problem is discovered, steps can be made to improve the process that includes confirmation of a filter being on the pump.
Integrating Organizational Learning into Your Work Environment
The leadership team needs to align all employee objectives toward common goals to successfully integrate an organizational learning culture into the work environment.
Constant measurement of progress should be recorded and regularly presented to employees once the goals and objectives are aligned. Setting specific measurements of success motivates employees to do their best to progress the entire company forward to success.