Deciding What Cell Design Will Fit Your Departments

Written by Jason Haines

Around six months ago I was introduced to C Tek Lean Solutions and their products that provide the ability to build carts, workstations, and many other products to fit your facility and its processes. If only I had known about them back when I worked at an essential oil plant! Instead of the cumbersome tables and shelves we used, I could have worked with them to develop more effective workstations and storage. C Tek products are designed to take up less space and make more efficient processes for the products people buy and use. Their products are designed to drive out waste and improve efficiency.

I was first introduced to cellular design my first manufacturing job in Ohio. The facility had two separate types of cellular manufacturing, a single machine cell, and multi-machine sight. The single machine cell had everything set up close to the machine and one operator and used minimal transportation and movement to make parts for automobile A/C units. The multi-machine sight, for a group of CNC machines, was set in a cluster so one to two people could run all 20 CNC machines. There was a lot of travel in the CNC department, but the machines did most of the work, so the pace wasn’t as hectic. After working in both cells, I started to get an interest in how to do jobs with the least amount of movement while producing more. I also learned how to design and track my movements to be more efficient with what I do.

This thinking brought me to my next job where I had to be much more efficient, as I was running a department within a train wheel manufacturing facility. Learning how to move and plan helped the inability to give workers breaks, troubleshoot machinery, help workers with jobs, put on, and take off molds, make decisions, keep areas supplied, and much more. Knowing how to work efficiently provided an advantage over others in performing the job. Furthermore, I learned how to lead people under pressure and make decisions that needed to be made in this position. I also gained a respect for the people working on the floor and discovered how to lead from respecting people.

I finally took my Lean journey to the next level at an essential oil plant where I was tasked with being the jack of all trades. Well before taking this job, I started to seriously dabble in what was called Lean by beginning to study the practice, learn the fundamentals, and apply this to different things. I really became interested in using Lean after I read the book Lean Thinking, by James P. Womack. This is where I first got an in-depth look at cellular design while I was reading the book on a flight to North Carolina. I always had the stress of never getting out the amount of product we could produce. Our numbers were always all over the place and I was stressed out all the time. It was something that caused me so many headaches until I read about cellular design; nothing we ever did before helped change or improve the process.

While reading this book, I was writing down ideas on how to move, and combine our departments. I was excited to get back to our facility and start working on the project of combining the production and packaging departments. When I returned to the facility, I held a meeting with my supervisors to tell them what the plan was for getting our plant turned around. Granted, parts of my plan needed to be meshed out because we still needed timings, what jobs could be combined, and how the move would happen. I started on this process by going to the packaging department to figure out how to speed up some of their processes by eliminating steps or wastes within the process. Also, I held timings to see where we could gain ground and discover what wasn’t needed throughout the facility.

Next, I brought all the operators together from both departments to brainstorm. From this brainstorm, I started to get ideas on tools and ways we could set up the departments to make jobs easier. The team came up with ideas like bubble wrap roll holders, shelves set up to organize boxes, and bins for POUS (Point of Use Storage). We even developed shadow boards so we could have fewer tools and people didn’t have to hide tools from each other. Now looking back today, this is where I wish I would have known about C Tek because we could have worked with them to design a more compact workstation that would have fit our people and processes. Their ergonomically designed workstations would have taken up less space than the tables and shelves we had to work with.

Many times, we work with what we have and adjust them to fit our process, but it doesn’t always work out the way we envision. Is this good for companies and their employees? I’d like to think the changes we made at that essential oil facility were impactful at the time. Looking back some were, and some were not. But the more I’ve learned about Lean, and the possibilities out there, the more I learn about companies like C Tek. C Tek and others like Industrial Solutions are out there to help you with your Lean needs. These companies can either get you started on your Lean journey, or they can help you over time by making changes to your company and its processes to become more efficient and profitable.

The final stage of our change was to bring together the production and packaging departments. We started this transformation by doing a few days’ worth of testing to work out bugs, discover the best set up, and see what could be produced. This was our testing ground one could say. And in the end, we created a cell flow system that could produce and package 10,000 bottles per day over five lines, each having three people per line.  Before these changes, we could rarely hit 10,000 bottles shipped a day, and after the change hit this number daily. I will admit I had a few missteps at the beginning, but that was due to a lot of the fact that I was still learning the power of Lean. If I were to go back and do the same project, I would be able to answer the questions thrown at me while also making the changes needed. The experience will do that; making mistakes that you learn from will help you handle challenges that will arise in your next project. Lean is fun and it helps everyone learn their limits and what they can do.

At the end of combing the departments, we had five cells all able to produce and package 2,000 or more bottles a day. Each of these cells was staffed with three employees. With the old system, we had two production lines with four employees on each line and a packaging department that had seven people who worked alone. The old system did not work consistently enough, and to this day I am grateful for discovering Lean and reading the book Lean Thinking. Without these two things, I would have never implemented changes and would still have been working in a stressful situation. Without the knowledge of Lean I would not have had the chance to start making changes like The Kanban in departments, organizing departments to make things easier to find, and the visual workplace that I made to help me with daily inventory counts.