The presentation is over and these guys have nailed it!  Reviewing the arts and charts, clearly the metrics are outstanding and predominantly “green.”  The couple of yellow metrics have solid countermeasures documented and are on track to due dates.  With their performance acknowledged, the team is smiling.  This meeting is overIt’s time to pack up and head back to the home office, right? 

Well, wait a minute….. Clearly, everything you HEARD and SAW in the conference room was excellent. But what’s really going onin the factory? Isn’t it time to go “talk to the parts”? 

Do WHAT? Talk to the PARTS, did you say?   

I did.   

Have you ever wondered how a supplier can be so very good on paper, but still short ship deliveries?  Have quality issues? Ship via expedited mode? Run overtime even though you’re nowhere near your MCR? 

A good portion of the time, you will not be able to determine the source of some of these issuesor even how good a supplier (or plant) truly is, until you head out to the manufacturing floor/warehouse and spend quality time…talking to the parts.   

This walk should not be a tour along a pre-planned route, talking to employees who have been prepped for your visit. The walk you take should be slow-paced. As you become more skilled listening to the parts, your intuition will lead you to the areas you need to visit…. Or the parts will call you.  Initially, follow the flow of material from the receiving docks, through the manufacturing processes, to the shipping docks.  Pay close attention to storage locations. Observe. Listen. 

During a lean calibration at a plant in India, the office presentation was impressive.  Metrics were, for the most part, excellent and met ahead of target.  For the few that weren’t to standard, the team had well-thought out and documented countermeasures. The team was knowledgeableconfident, and proud of their presentation.  I congratulated them on their excellent work. Turning to the manager with a smile, I said, “Let’s go talk to the parts!”  With a rather mystified look, the Materials Manager escorted me to the manufacturing floor.   

Directly outside the large plate glass windows of the office was a workstation with several material flow racks.  I noted to the manager that this station, being in direct view of the office should be a model workstation. He agreed. We walked to the material racks, and he watched as I checked several of the parts without asking any questions of the manager or the employees working there. I watched several work cycles of the employees, wished them a good day, and turned to the manager. For the next several minutes, I detailed what the parts told me:   

  • Part one: receiving dates were stamped on the boxes from supplier; all parts in the rack had been received on the same date.  However, the supplier production dates on the cartons showed that the supplier was not shipping in FIFO order. In fact, the parts actually being used in production were three months newer than those farther back in the rack. (A quick trip to the inbound storage area verified this was a systemic issue with the supplier.) 
  • Part two:  there had been a quality sort after the parts arrived in the plant. Parts had not been put back in the packaging correctly. Furthermore, more recently received parts were being used before these older, sorted parts.  
  • Part three:  premium transport labels were on the boxes. Although the parts had arrived with no impact to production, the supplier may have an issue that needed to be addressed. 
  • Part four:  part was in the wrong point of use location. 
  • Operators were opening boxes and dumping components on top of other components without emptying bins first, potentially violating FIFO and losing traceability. 
  • A part found in the trash can told me scrap procedures were not being rigorously followed. 

We moved down to the next workstation, where the parts continued to talk to meand I continued to translate the opportunities they were conveying to the manager. We moved through portions of receiving, storage areas, and shipping continuing the process. 

After several minutes, the manager turned to me.  “Frankly, Miss Becky, when you said you wanted to talk to the parts, I thought you were some kind of witch. Now I see the parts really do talk to you!”  I smiled. “Yes, and they can and will talk to you also if you will come out from the office and spend time with them!” 

What can you learn from walking the floor and talking to the parts?  Adherence to safety measures, FIFO, rework practices, scrap processes, material flow, bottlenecks, buffer practices, packaging issues, stacking issues, and so very, very, very much more.  It’s truly astonishing what a 30-minute walk on the floor will tell you – without talking to a single person.  After a while, you may have other employees ask you what you’re doing or how you’re discovering these issues. That’s when you take them out to the floor and teach them how to talk to the parts. 

Want to know what’s going on in an organization? Take time to talk to the parts. They will tell you the truth about an organization and the ways it operates. Listen to them and observe.  Once you do, you’ll never look at a plant (or an office performance presentation) the same! 

Quick assessments, impactful solutions, and immediate results – it takes decades of experience to develop these skills. Every member of HVMC’s knowledgeable team has more than 25 years of manufacturing experience to deliver the highest value to clients. If you need an industry veteran to look, listen, and talk to parts in process at your plant, email info@highvaluemanufacturingconsulting.com.  

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