The New England Lean Consortium held its March 2019 Lean Leaders Meeting at AstroNova in West Warwick, RI, on Wednesday, March 20th. AstroNova is a global leader in developing and applying data visualization technologies in products serving industrial, packaging, aerospace, and defense markets.
The company delivers total solutions that acquire, process, analyze, store, print, and present data in a variety of useable forms. These solutions are adapted specifically to customer requirements to enhance the quality, productivity, and profitability of their businesses.
This was the fifth Lean Leaders Meeting held at AstroNova, as AstroNova, AstroMed at the time, was one of the first companies to join the New England Lean Consortium. Each and every time we come to AstroNova, we see significant improvements from the previous meeting. This time was no different.
There was a significant change in the layout of the production floor, as the stockroom for the Aerospace business was dismantled and the stock items were placed at point of use on the floor. A U-shaped flow of materials was established using creform custom made carts which contain all the material and parts required to make one assembly.
The first step in the process is to “kit” an assembly by moving the cart in a straight line from one end of the storage racks to the other end of the racks. A completed kit is moved to the Kanban area where there are enough spaces for one full day’s worth of production.
Operators pull a cart to the first assembly station and start the assembly. Each work station assembles one full unit. Upon completion, the unit is placed in environmental testing equipment which simulates the conditions experienced during a flight. Once the environmental testing is completed the unit moves to the end of the line for packing and shipping. The empty cartons are stored on a rack and become a visual system for determining where production stands for the day.
[Rack of boxes representing one day’s worth of production.]
[Gemba board for Aerospace Cell]
Another innovative feature that AstroNova developed was a VMI set of racks with individual Red, Yellow and Green dials. When a bin is empty the operator turns the dial to red. When the Vendor comes in and scans the empty item, he turns the dial to yellow, meaning it will be replenished on his next visit. When the vendor comes in with the new material and replenishes the bin, the vendor turns the dial to green. The Vendor comes in to the plant two times per week.
Another improvement since the last Lean Leaders Meeting is an all out effort to eliminate ESD, electro static discharge. Each work area is marked off with blue ESD tape, along with the traditional yellow tape. All assemblers must wear ESD smocks when in the work area. There is an innovative red/green LED light system that reminds assemblers to make sure they are grounded before they start to work. An annoying red light shines in their face until the ground connection is made. Once made, the red light goes off and a green light, positioned above the operator goes on, indicating the worker is grounded to the work station. Finally, the plant has been outfitted with numerous water misters to keep the work areas at a relative humidity of 30%, which dissipates any static generated by walking or other movement.
[Annoying red light. Operator is not grounded] [Green light is on. Worker is grounded to the work station]
Other significant improvements include a new system for creating foam cutouts for tools and parts. It is an OSAAP system. Parts or tools are placed on a flat surface. A camera above the surface takes a picture of the parts and the file is sent to the factory. A CNC machine cuts out the shapes. The completed foam cutout is sent to the customer in a matter of a few days.
Many other improvements were observed, including:
• TV screen providing real time tracking status in the repair area.
• TV screen providing real time data for problem solving and action items
• Job packet racks in the label making plant
• POUS, Point of Use Storage for cores in the label making plant
• LED light system for indicating whether or not a person is in their office
• A 6S Supply Cart
A lively Plus/Delta feedback session was held after the tour. Many Pluses were highlighted by the attendees as an indication of all the things that they saw and liked. Many Deltas, or improving ideas were also highlighted by the attendees.
AstroNova is a company where Lean is their culture. It is ingrained in their culture. It is a company that proves, “the more you do, the more you see you can do”. During the past five years we have seen significant improvements from year to year. We are all looking forward to next year’s meeting, to be, once again, impressed by the tremendous progress they have made over this year.