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Lean success means increasing safety and efficiency. Yes, improve operations and save money simultaneously. Lean implementer Matt Wrye explains how.
Matt is a lean expert, with a passion for continuous learning on all subjects related to business and lean. He is writer and publisher of the lean blog BeyondLean.WordPress.com.
Matt has worked in multiple business positions, including HR, finance, engineering and operations to help them improve their processes. In this podcast, Matt gives examples from his own career about 5S and lean improving safety, improving processes, eliminating waste and saving money.
Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Take a look at our website at CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast for related links in the transcript of this podcast.
Antonio Ferraro: Hello everyone. This is Antonio Ferraro. On our episode today is our guest Matt Wrye. Matt is a Lean implementer. He has a passion for continuous learning on all subjects related to business and Lean. Matt has worked in various business functions, including HR, finance, engineering and operations to help them improve their processes. Matt also runs a well known Lean blog at BeyondLean.WordPress.com. Thanks for coming on the program with us today, Matt. How are you?
Matt Wrye: Doing well. Thanks for having me.
Antonio: Great. How did you get started with Lean, and how has it impacted your life?
Matt: Well, Lean was almost natural I’d say, ah, I have a background in industrial engineering from Purdue University, so I was studying industrial engineering and how to improve processes and work arrangement management. So I always was naturally drawn to that type of work.
My first job with RCA, as an industrial engineer, I studied Dr. Shingo and the SMED methodology and worked on quick changeovers. And then from there I went into the auto industry. We were doing a lot of the same kinds of things until we got a new president. He kind of said “you know what, we’re going this Lean route.” We had a Toyota plant 20 minutes down the road and wanted their business. So we dove headfirst into it and myself and a couple other guys at the facility just took on the learning ourselves. Read, had the facility as our playground.
I mean, we started messing, and doing things, and we made a lot of mistakes, and were fortunate enough to have plant managers who said “Alright, you made a mistake. Go fix it.” and really didn’t get on us too much. Because we were able to fix everything and do it right. But as we started down that path, I would say, that’s when we learned more about the systems piece and then the people piece and how it all works together and it’s more the thinking.
So I’d say my progression is more a traditional progression. “Hey, I’m introducing these tools.” And “Oh, they’re doing great things for me,” to “Wow, there’s a system behind all these tools,” to “Oh, here’s the thinking that goes behind all these tools, and the systems and the natural progression.”
Then, I went from the automotive to the HVAC industry. Started up a Lean program for a company there. Now I’m in consumer products.
Antonio: Fantastic, Matt. I’m a big fan of your blog, BeyondLean.WordPress.com. In one of your blog posts, you wrote about visual management, how this new Wal-Mart was being built near your house. In the parking lot, there were painted the lines that were closest to the store, and they were painted white. And then farther away, the lines were painted yellow. These were visual cues. Can you explain their meaning?
Matt: Yeah. The yellow spaces that were painted away from the building were a visual cue for employees to say “You can park out here” for two reasons. One, customer satisfaction, right? If you’re a customer pulling up to the store, you don’t want to be walking a mile. The other part of it, from a safety aspect—I live in Kansas: harsh winters, snow and all the ice—you don’t want your customers walking large distances. It could lead to slip and fall, or even more happening between cars and people in a parking lot. You want to get customers into the building as quick as possible.
Antonio: Better customer service.
Matt: Yes, absolutely. And then, just overall in general, visual management plays into Lean and safety. Safety is always first and that’s one of the main tenants of Lean, you know, the customers. When you talk to Toyota, they don’t even talk about safety, because it’s just assumed, you always, anything you do, is safe. Because if it’s not safe then you shouldn’t be doing it, period.
One of the best visual management tools, or most popular or known ones, is 5S. We actually implemented 5S in one facility solely based on safety. That was our need. There was so much stuff, and so many things out in piles and across the plant. I literally was standing at one of our production lines. 20 to 25 feet away was our second production line. I couldn’t see it, and it took me 20 to 25 minutes to get over there.
Matt: Because there was so much stuff. It was just amazing. But 5S, we cleared it up. Our safety accidents went down. There weren’t as many forklift accidents, the trip-and-falls that we had from people. That was the main reason we went to it, and it’s the visual cue of “Okay, where should I be? Where should things be, versus people? Where can I walk?”
Those kinds of things that help give cues to when it’s all right for people to be walking and where they should be walking.
Antonio: Ok, great.
Antonio: 5S and Lean are often about improving a process, eliminating waste, saving money. Do you have any other examples of combining safety and Lean to help save the company money, or improve the process?
Matt: Yeah, it’s, ah, anything that you do should always have safety first. I had problems that I was helping solve in the automotive factory I worked in, around a chemical line. We had a chrome plating line, so it’s all chemicals. It’s a huge chemical bath. We’re dipping parts and then voilà, out the end comes this nice chrome grill or piece that goes on your vehicle. We found one problem where the parts were not plating all across the part. So, there was a blank spot, basically, on it.
Through root cause problem solving, and just breaking the problem down, we found that the root cause, believe it or not, was a leak in our system above where the parts are stored, and it was dripping chemicals down onto the parts before they even went into the process. And so comes out looking blank. Left undone, a small drip turned into a big drip, and you’ve got a chemical spill.
Matt: Our plant manager was just like “I don’t care what costs, just fix it. If it has to do with our health and our safety, fix it.”
Antonio: Of course.
Matt: That same line, we found another issue where little spots were left on the pieces as they come out, so we’d have to buff them out. We found that our exhaust for the line was actually right next to an air intake for the line. So, we were pulling the harsh stuff out through the chemicals in the scrubbers, according to all safety standards and everything. But right next to it was an air vent intake, and so some of which float over there and be circulating around through the air vent. And then blowing back into the area. So, not only was it affecting parts, it could have been stuff that was being inhaled.
Matt: Chrome particles, nickel. So, we got that fixed right away and so, not only did we make the process better, but we made it a safer environment for people work in.
Antonio: And that’s a great example of why you should always be proactive about your safety. Find the problem before it becomes even a bigger problem.
Matt: Yes, absolutely. And a really bad example is another facility I was in. I walked in and after a couple weeks of being in the facility, I finally looked at them and I said “Okay, what’s the…what’s the policy on hearing, you know, on ear plugs?” And they said “Well, if you’re in the work area you need wear them.” I said “Okay, define the work for me.” And I was used to “As soon as you cross from the offices into the manufacturing threshold, ear plugs in. And stayed in the whole time.”
Matt: Well, here they’re like “No, you can walk in the aisles and not have them.” And I’m like “Okay, well what’s defined as the aisle?” “Well, if you step into where a work machine, and you’re there for a certain amount.” And I go “What’s the certain amount of time?” Well, a long time.” And I’m like “Well, what’s a long time?”
And I started asking these questions, and my point was “Hey your policy on hearing protection is very unclear. It’s not cut and dry. There’s a lot of gray. What is it?” They’re like, “No, that’s just what it is. That’s just what it is.”
Well, two years later, that same facility had four OSHA recordables for hearing loss.
Matt: I stepped back into that plant and they said “You gotta put ear plugs in.” And I’m like “I always did.” They had changed their policy to a very black-and-white policy, but when I had brought it up and tried to get them to change a policy two years earlier, it was like “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’ve only been here a few weeks. You don’t know anything.”
Matt: And “Okay, I’ll protect my hearing, you guys can do what you want.” Unfortunately, it took four people to have a hearing loss for them to change it.
Antonio: That’s not good at all. And I had a similar situation. Once, I walked into a factory and there was a sign that said “steel toed shoes required beyond this point.” But I noticed office people were walking out in the factory, dropping off a box, like, say, in shipping. They weren’t even wearing steel toes. So I asked, “Why do office people not have to wear steel toes?” And they said “As long as they stay between the yellow lines, they don’t have to wear steel toes.”
Antonio: But the sign didn’t say that. They were giving mixed-signals.
Antonio: Amazing. Well, Matt, if you’re like me, Lean is a part of your life at home and at work. Do you have any personal Lean experiences that help your professional life?
Matt: Ah, you know, what I carry from home to work has a lot to do with leadership skills, and people, and, you know, learning how to handle and treat my kids and people around me at home has really helped me learn how to work with people in the workplace too. Everybody wants to have that respect, and understanding and know how to handle people with different personalities and different things.
Antonio: When you have kids, it definitely teaches you a lot.
Matt: I agree.
Antonio: Well, Matt, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us today. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with us in regards to Lean?
Matt: With Lean, don’t get caught up in the tools. Get caught up in what the thinking is behind those tools, and concepts behind those tools, because that will really help you drive what is best for your organization, or wherever you’re at, trying to implement Lean. Whether it be home, or work, or nonprofits. To understand the thinking and the concepts behind everything will get you to go a lot further than just trying to copy and paste tools you see other people using.
Antonio: Thank you, Matt. I appreciate it. Podcast listeners will want to see Matt Wrye’s Lean blog at BeyondLean.WordPress.com.
Matt: Awesome. Thanks, Tony.
Antonio: Goodbye Matt. And to you too, podcast listeners. This is Antonio Ferraro.
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Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast