Manufacturing Prime Directives-The RoboCop Relevence

Prime Directives For Manufacturing

In the RoboCop franchise, the main character (a superhuman cyborg law enforcer) is built with firmware installed with his "Prime Directives" that cannot - in theory - be removed, altered or deleted. He is simply unable to operate outside those hard-wired limitations. There are some activities in manufacturing that would benefit every company if they were also hard wired into workers and executives leading to increased productivity and profitability.

The Original Directives

​If you followed the RoboCop series (debuted in 1987), you're already aware of the three "Prime Directives" that were common to all incarnations of this perennially popular series. They were:

1. Protect The Public Trust

2. Protect The Innocent

3. ​Uphold The Law

So, these are great concepts for a crime fighting cyborg or cop, but what does this have to do with manufacturing?​ If I wanted to start a list of "Prime Directives," here are the first three on which I would concentrate.

Manufacturing Prime Directive 1: Never Compromise Worker Safety 

Seriously, this should be tattooed on the inside of the eyelids of everyone involved in manufacturing. You might think this is already important to every person in a manufacturing environment. It is not so.

My then partner and I toured a very advance manufacturing facility in Arizona. Very up to date. They make the yogurt containers you'll see ​on every supermarket shelf. As you entered the manufacturing floor, there were big signs informing every person that safety glasses were required. Yet, the safety manager who was giving us the tour waltzed us through the entire facility without wearing a pair of safety glasses.

This was also a  failure on the part of every employee we met. Not one asked the safety manager why she was not wearing the required safety glasses. The 40-50 employees we encountered just ignored it (or were ignorant).

Safety glasses were for everybody and workforce safety is every worker's responsibility and duty.

The National Safety Council reports that a worker is injured on the job every 7 seconds. Injuries always cost companies both in time and money. If it happens often enough, the best workers will leave unsafe workplaces and regulatory agencies will increase scrutiny.

I'm not going to sugar coat this critical element of manufacturing. One of my team's consulting client had a previous workplace incident. This was in a plant with big, big machines that ran materials through in a very fast way. A worker wore the ​wrong clothing on that fateful day...he got too close to the machine, his clothing got caught in the mechanism, and he was pulled in and flattened to death.

It's almost a certainty that a portion of their workforce on the job that day may never have actually recovered from that gruesome tragedy.

Workplace tragedies can​ also be slow moving. I toured a plant that had a powder coating line and noticed that none of the workers on that line wore respiratory masks to prevent paint particles from being inhaled. When I asked the owner about this breach in worker safety, he replied, "Yeah, I've tried to get those guys to wear them, but they just won't do it." Are you kidding me?  

Here's another case that will make you cringe. There we were...visiting a fairly good sized machine shop in rural Florida to see if our consulting group could help increase the productivity and profit of the shop. It was owned and run by a former Air Force colonel. The factory floor was littered with debris. It was, overall, not a very tidy operation. However, the worst part - for us - was that about 50% of the machines were missing the required safety shields to protect workers from moving parts. On that basis, we refused to offer any help until this deficiency was corrected.

Two weeks after our visit, a machinist from​ that shop was airlifted to a trauma center in the nearest major city because his longish hair was caught in a "moving part" and ripped off most of his scalp. (Hello, OSHA!)

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Manufacturing Prime Directive 2: Always Add Maximum Value

A clear and simple definition of value added is is the enhancement a company gives its product or service before offering the product to customers.

​The role of manufacturing itself is to add value. You start with raw material and parts and build something that is more valuable than the sum of its parts. It's one of the few ways to create real wealth and add value to our world.

One of the failures in the USA is our past practice of not valuing manufacturing as a critical element in our safety and prosperity as a nation.​

So, are you doing it - adding value? Are your employees doing it? There​ is an asterisk here*. It translates to this: It's only "value added" if it's valued by the customer. Adding value the right way will bring you more customers and profits. Just adding value that you might think is important that might not be to your customer is really adding waste!

One broom manufacturing was very proud of the spit-shine burnished finish he added to all his brooms. But it was a useless and costly indulgence actually creating unnecessary waste.

How do I know that? Because the first thing their customer did was fit a rubberized sleeve over the top of the brooms covering over the shiny handle. 

Most successful product improvements are added, basically, by the consumer experience. For example, some of the improvements in Toyota vehicles are driven by factors solely based on driver needs outside of Japan (or an factory, for that matter). ​The chief engineer in charge of the complete redesign of the 2004 Toyota Sienna was Yuji Yokoya. He felt he did not fully understand the North American market.

Using the Toyota Lean principle of, "Go And See For Yourself," he asked for - and was approved - for a driving project. He subsequently drove a current model Sienna throughout all 50 US States, ​along with the entirety of Canada and Mexico. From that trip, Toyota introduced many improvements to the 2004 model that would not have been envisioned by a engineer solely designing in Japan...such as:

2004 Toyota Sienna

  • Roads in Canada have a much more pronounced "crown" (bowed up in the middle) than in America. Thus being able to control "drift" in the vehicle was critical.
  • San Francisco road turns proved very difficult for the minivan, so the new model had a 3 foot shorter turning radius.
  • The American has a tradition of longer trips than any Japanese driver could imagine, so a great many more cup holders​ were designed into the new model.
  • The custom of eating fast food in the car is virtually unknown in Japan, but important to North American drivers. The new model featured and easy-to-flip-up tray so the driver and passengers could place​ their burgers and fries on it easily and conveniently.

I can tell you for sure (and you well know) that one thing your customer values is on-time deliveries. Another, of course, is defect-free parts or products. Most often, these are just entry level requirements just to get the contract or work. Strangely, even these basic important values are not always measured by management. Many times, these basic measurements of value aren't even shared with the line workers who make things happen!

This takes us into the subtext of measurement and communication. ​Every metric that can be measured should be measured and, subsequently communicated to the work force.

Manufacturing Prime Directive 3: Eliminate Process Waste​

Here's a down-and-dirty, fairly easy way to estimate how much waste is in your process. Go to each station in your manufacturing process and ask the actual "operator" how long it takes to complete his or her specific manufacturing task.

Now, I understand that, for example, in fabrication work, there may be variances in setup time for different jobs. Try - at each station - to get an approximate average time (best as you can). 

Write down each operator's estimate of time. (Sometimes, accuracy is improved if you simply casually watch the task being completed and record the time.) Maybe a check on accuracy of time can be made by a foreman who is on the floor every day.

It's critical that you perform this step first. It's also important to be as accurate as humanly possible.

The second step is to check the lead time your firm has built into the order process. By the way, it isn't unusual to have a combined on-station actual process time in hours or a few days with an order lead time in weeks. That is, very simply, process waste.

Some waste cannot be eliminated. Seriously, though, a lot can be. It takes some real analysis and continued action to eliminate waste in any process.

One of the standard tools (part of Lean Manufacturing) to detect and eliminate waste is a Spaghetti Diagram. 

Lean has roots in the industrial sector—it got its start with Henry Ford, who integrated his entire production process and became famous for the assembly line. The hitch? This process only allowed for one variation of the Model T.

Then, in the 1930s, Kiichiro Toyoda (who would later become the president of Toyota Motor Corporation) saw opportunities to tweak Ford’s production process in ways that would allow for variations. This would become the Toyota Production System, still in use today. One way Lean practitioners “see” waste is by using a spaghetti diagram. Flow patterns get traced on a floorplan, which ends up looking liking a bunch of colorful noodles.

It shows how far operators, information and products have to travel during your processes, often traveling huge distances and doubling back on itself many times.​

Spaghetti Diagram for Healthcare Delivery

Shop Floor Spaghetti Diagram

What you’re looking at above in this heathcare example are paths taken by doctors, nurses, technicians and patients in an oncology clinic. By mapping the activity, we can actually see where congestion points exist—near the nurse’s station and exam rooms—which then helps to map out a better solution so patients are getting the best experience possible - or, in manufacturing, your customer is getting the highest value for the lowest investment while you maintain the highest possible profit levels.​

When this kind of diagram is done during a live event, the end result is often only something someone who was a part of the event ​can understand!

It can really get complicated when processes grow organically instead of being dissected and repeatedly designed to reflect the current manufacturing process. ​

Is Safety A Priority?