Establishing a die preventive maintenance program, Part II

Workers are the true experts of process improvement

STAMPING Journal January/February 2014
January 13, 2014
By: Tom Ulrich

An effective PM for dies can't happen without a skilled, engaged workforce. When it comes to uncovering ideas on how to improve a process, workers are the experts.

Manufacturing Workers

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a two-part excerpt from Die Tooling: Preventive Maintenance for the Sheet Metal Stamping Industry. Part I, which focused on data collection, appeared in the November/December 2013 issue of STAMPING Journal.

The most important element in a die preventive maintenance (PM) process is the skilled workforce. In the current manufacturing climate, which seeks to emulate the Japanese approach, workers are the experts in how to improve a process. Use your skilled workers to your advantage when identifying codes, procedures, and equipment and developing check lists.

Where Do I Start?

Your first step is to form workforce steering committees (WSCs). The committees’ assigned task always should be to improve the work environment based on principles of safety and quality, with efficiency thrown in for good measure.

The WSC for the die department should be chaired by the PM coordinator and include a line troubleshooter, a repair diemaker, and a new-construction diemaker. A supervisor also can be included, but should not have an unbalanced influence on the outcome. These four or five people are sufficient to meet the needs of the developing program.

Other departments, such as maintenance, tooling, assembly, and quality, also will form WSCs, which will brainstorm a list of possible failures that can occur during the operation of their particular processes. Representatives from each WSC then should meet to determine the final list of failure codes. Seemingly similar problems have to be identified and defined to eliminate misunderstandings about which areas of operation are responsible for ensuring a return to service on the production line.

Each department should have a list of failure codes for its particular area of responsibility, but there is no need to have a code for each itemized problem. Instead, failure codes should be general in nature, since they will work best in tandem with a complete set of more specific root cause codes. Make the codes general and simple enough for anyone to use.

Will I Need More Employees at First?

Depending on the condition of the tooling when the PM program is implemented, you might need more craftspeople. If the PM process is not fully supported by a sufficient workforce, it may not reach its full potential in a timely manner. And if the results lag behind expectations, the possible politics associated with such a significant change in the work environment could be enough to destroy any chance to implement PM.

Lack of management support, in whatever form, will be used by naysayers to destroy worker support for the PM program. So be sure to discuss the issue of increased labor power at the outset of the PM program, to help make implementation a smooth and orderly expansion of the entire program.

How Do I Get the Supervisors Onboard?

Supervisors, team leaders, foremen, general foremen, and area managers form the supervision team—and they have seen it all. They have seen most of it fail, and they don’t expect much of it to succeed.

The process will have a better chance of success if supervisors are trained beforehand and given a chance to accept PM based on the expectation that it will make their jobs easier. “What’s in it for me?” works in this situation, since results can be documented sufficiently to prove the program’s value to supervisors’ areas of responsibility.

Workers look to and expect the leadership of their supervisor. Successful supervisors, in turn, look for support from the team and do whatever they feel is necessary to gain the confidence and support of the crew. They cultivate this relationship because they know that their “stretch goals” and production quotas are more easily attained when their crew members support them. To ensure the success of the comprehensive PM program, management must exploit this relationship.

Supervisors are best enlightened about the value of PM, and the depth of management’s commitment to its implementation, through a comprehensive educational or training program. You need to convince them that the new PM rules are authentic and, with their help, form the basis of a new plant culture that will allow the company to earn more profit, accept new work, employ more workers, and improve quality while increasing the supervisors’ impact on the manufacturing process and bringing them personal employment security and advancement opportunities.

You need to make sure supervisors are aware of how and why the entire workforce, and particularly their own crew, should support the PM initiative. They need to understand the process of check list development, the various codes, and the need for inputting data in a timely manner. If the data input clerk is missing from work, that supervisor must be aware enough to appoint someone else to record and describe every maintenance activity that takes place. If the PM sheets keep coming in way too clean, the supervisors need to care enough to follow up and make sure the sheets are being done correctly.

One way to retrain supervisors is to speak to their wallets. Supervisors are controlled, to some extent, by the goals set for them with their immediate supervisor or manager. In most facilities, goals must be met—or a significant attempt must have been made to achieve those goals—before any talk of a salary increase can begin. Failure to achieve goals results in fewer and lower pay increases, as well as lost opportunities for advancement.

A predetermined increase in tooling reliability or a decrease in production downtime should be part of the goal-setting activity. There should be little doubt about management’s commitment to PM. There should be no doubt about management’s expectations of each supervisor’s involvement in making sure that a comprehensive PM program succeeds at their plant, on their watch.

What Kind of Training Do Workers Need?

Current employees are probably well aware of many plant practices. While many will have minor misconceptions about a practice or two, most will be on the same page of the operations manual.

When transitioning to a comprehensive PM program, you have an opportunity to train and retrain the entire workforce. As you are making new employees aware of plant practices and individual expectations, you’ll be informing older employees about what changes are coming to accommodate a comprehensive PM program.

What do they need to know? How can you present a training program most effectively? One way to start is with a knowledgeable training consultant who can spend the time necessary to interview management, supervisors, and members of the workforce to arrive at a workable approach. You also could choose workshop-type training. Give employees a chance to express what type they feel would be best. Be sure to explain the program, its possibilities and impossibilities, and the outlook for the future of the affected manufacturing facility. You can combine the two, with a consultant who uses a workshop approach to identify training needs.

Whatever you decide, make sure everyone involved knows what is expected of them, who is responsible for the management of the process, and why they are involved in yet another management project. Training is the way, and its place is right during initial implementation of the program.

What’s the Supervisor’s Role in PM Success?

Even though the workers will be trained in the new PM process, and even though they may be convinced of its value, the supervisor will need to reinforce the PM principles taught in the classroom.

The team concept is a proven winner in the manufacturing environment. Successful area managers and foremen know that team formation involves more than getting a few people together to do some work. Individual interests and abilities should determine what role each team member plays in the overall maintenance plan. Repairing a slugged punch/post, for example, requires someone who has skill and patience. Optimizing the use of electronic monitoring equipment needs someone with above-average technical skills. The supervisor must be aware of each person’s skill level and disposition toward work.

Craftspeople with weak skills can be trained. Attitudes can be counseled. Insecurities can be reassured. The area manager should identify these weaknesses and work to improve the team while imparting management’s need to stabilize the production process, improve quality, and raise production throughput.

How Do I Reallocate Labor Power?

As the PM program is proven effective and the tooling is brought under control, you will need to consider reassigning some of your workers. If you have achieved PM on an initial target production line, give the troubleshooter a second line to watch. This strategy works best if the second line is right next to the first. Eventually, as reliability comes to the entire pressroom, you will be able to reassign at least half of the attending diemakers to added production areas or new profit centers.

With PM, the dies become optimized and run smoother with fewer quality issues. This reliability reduces the need for backup stock to cover for production lost to downtime failures, which frees up floor space that can be converted to a profitable use, such as subassembly or more production equipment. Workers displaced by a smoother-running production process can be reassigned to these newly established profit centers or to fill attritional openings.

These workers likely will need to enter an apprenticeship program to gain the required skills to become reliable, competent craftspeople. But, since they have watched the PM program develop and improve the production process, they will not need to be trained to accept the principles of PM. This approach will provide more committed workers and help improve labor-management relations.

Reallocating workers can be a sensitive area. People get settled and comfortable in a job. Many don’t like change, and they might fear that change means someone will lose their job. In this situation, the supervisor needs a good rapport with the crew. The outcome will rely on the supervisor’s integrity and ability to communicate properly with crew members, and that will depend on how much information the supervisor has provided to workers and how much he has involved them in the development of the PM process.

In fact, worker reallocation should be part of the general conversation during the developmental stages of PM. When people expect the coming changes and know that their jobs will not be in jeopardy, they will look forward to the opportunity to do something different or to a change of scenery. As in each phase of PM program implementation, the supervisors are key players to ensure a successful effort.

Tom Ulrich

Senior Consultant
28200 Ursuline St.
St. Clair Shores, MI 48081
Phone: 586-943-4376

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STAMPING Journal is the only industrial publication dedicated solely to serving the needs of the metal stamping market. In 1987 the American Metal Stamping Association broadened its horizons and renamed itself and its publication, known then as Metal Stamping.

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