A Case Study in Applying Lean

Author: Diana Martinez, Ph.D.

Posted: September 2020

In this blog, I would like to share a success story in applying lean with one of our customers, InterConnect Wiring.  

First, a little background on the company from their website: InterConnect Wiring was founded in 1993 and continues to be a world leader in supplying military aerospace electrical products. Over its history, InterConnect Wiring has supplied a wide variety of electrical products including electrical wiring harnesses, power distribution panels, and ground support equipment. Some of InterConnect Wiring’s most noteworthy accomplishments include complete and partial rewiring of military aircraft. Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, InterConnect Wiring specializes in fast turnaround and developmental programs.

Although they are an award-winning company, Interconnect Wiring is always looking for ways to get better. One of their core values reflects this:

We are forward thinking – We do not believe in doing business as usual. We are always looking for a better solution. We are not intimidated by new technology, instead we embrace it. We’re always looking for new ways to improve.

In this case, the improvement initiative focused on the aircraft kit assembly – one of their main production lines. The process consists of getting all necessary components and assembling them by a single operator. Although the company had a 99% on-time delivery rate, they often needed to be ahead of schedule because the time for getting kits assembled was longer than expected. Some of the issues identified in the process were unbalanced workload, waiting for components, high levels of work in process, multiple 100% inspections, transportation between buildings and rework.  

InterConnect Wiring’s management team identified, analyzed and designed a new production model for the aircraft kit assembly line with the objective of achieving one-piece flow and reducing the processing time and thus reducing the cost. Management contacted TMAC for advice on how to apply Lean best practices and to start with the new line.  Additionally, management wanted their employees to be involved in the initiative and to hold them accountable for controlling and continuously improving their processes.

TMAC’s approach to Lean focuses on equipping customers with the knowledge, skills and abilities to become self-sufficient in improving performance. In addition, we focus on implementing Lean as an organization-wide initiative to achieving sustainable results. 

The first step at InterConnect Wiring was to educate the workforce on the basic principles of Lean manufacturing. Next, we formed a team to analyze the process with a waste walk and a detailed Current State Value Stream Map. The team was able to identify the bottleneck and several areas of opportunity. A Future State VSM was created and the responsibilities and tasks for the one-piece flow line were defined. The new assembly tables were already in place, giving them the opportunity to pilot the new design.

As expected during a pilot of the new process, several adjustments were required and to ensure parts for the line were supplied in a timely manner, the communication between “suppliers” (internal activities) had to be improved. The process soon stabilized and the results were stunning:

  • Process lead-time reduced from an average of 92 days to 5 days or less
  • Work in progress declined from 90 days to 7 days ($150K to $30K)
  • Bid lead times reduced from 16 weeks to less than 6 weeks
  • A huge improvement in employee morale and engagement

What were the key elements for success?

  1. Work directly with employees who perform the job and make them accountable for solving problems in their area.
  2. Educate the team with basic concepts of lean and tools to use.
  3. Clearly define the goal and expectations of the project.
  4. Spend enough time to map the process in detail and question every step. Even though team members knew the process well, capturing a process on paper opens up all sorts of new insights and improvement ideas.
  5. Have strong support from top management. InterConnect Wiring’s top management team was completely involved in the journey.
  6. Have fun! Every day the InterConnect Wiring team holds an energetic and dynamic companywide meeting. During the meeting, they not only discuss the performance of the plant and the expectations of the day but also recognize employees and play games. They use a disco-ball lamp and play music!

I had fun and enjoyed seeing the change in employee morale. InterConnect Wiring is definitely an example to follow!

More about Diana Martinez, Ph.D.:

Diana is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with 12+ years of experience working with dozens of companies in a variety of industries, from healthcare to government to aerospace. She has taught more than 30 LSS classes and conducted dozens of coaching sessions for Green Belts and Black Belts. She has also worked closely with many firms in applying lean best practices resulting in reduced costs, higher productivity, and a more skilled workforce. Diana has a PhD in Industrial Engineering.

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