Non-Traditional Application of Quick Changeover


December 31, 2003
By Darren Dolcemascolo

Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) techniques originated in the automobile industry where large pieces of equipment requiring tool/die changes were used to make large sheet metal parts. Changing dies took so long that large batches were made out of necessity. Because it was such a small company at the time compared to the large American automakers, Toyota could not afford to make large batches. Hence, the concept of quick changeover was born. But what about processes that do not involve large machines or machines at all? Can quick changeover techniques be used for these processes? What are the benefits to using them for such processes? This article talks about 3 non-traditional places you can apply quick changeover techniques.

1. Batch Processing Environments (such as chemical processing)

Because lean techniques originated in the auto manufacturing industry, companies that have batch processing environments often have trouble visualizing the application of these techniques. Quick Changeover is one such technique. For example, chemical or pharmaceutical companies process very large batches of material at a time. If you are in this situation, ask yourself why you need to process such a large batch? (HINT: The answer can't be that this is the way you've always done it. If that is your answer, ask why that is the way you've always done it.) Part of the answer will include the time it takes to prep for the next batch (or a different product). Ask why it takes long. You will likely discover things like:

  • Supplies take a long time to retrieve.
  • Cleaning up from the last batch takes long.
  • The equipment you are using cannot work with smaller amounts of material.
  • There is great variation from batch to batch; therefore, large batches are more consistent.

  • When you uncover such things, ask why for each of them again. It will become obvious where you can apply quick changeover techniques to reduce batch sizes and be able to change from one product to the next very quickly. Some of the benefits will be less inventory and floor space and much more flexibility.

    2. Manual Assembly Processes

    In theory, it should be very easy to switch between products in manual assembly processes. Why, then, are so many people still using the mass production approach to manual assembly? Again, the key question to ask yourself is "Why?" Many times, if you ask a person actually doing the assembly, they will say, "It's easier this way." Getting to the root cause of why it is easier will reveal an opportunity for quick changeover. Here are some examples of things you will uncover:

  • Walking from one spot to another takes too long to do each time.
  • Tools take too long to retrieve.

  • Quick changeover techniques can certainly be applied here. Again, the benefits will include less inventory and floor space and much more flexibility. You will make what's required when it's required; in a manual assembly environment, there is no reason not to be doing this.

    3. Service Organizations

    Quick changeover is perhaps most interestingly applied to service organizations. One of my favorite examples is an airline. It is no mistake that Southwest, the most profitable airline today, can "changeover" an airplane between flights in less than 30 minutes. Airlines make money when their planes are in the air. They do not make money waiting at a gate. Doesn't it make sense then, that the changeover process should be as quick as possible? But what about more mundane processes such as receiving function within an organization? I've seen packages wait 24 hours or more between being physically received and received into the "system." Why is this a problem? For lean companies, this is a huge problem because lean companies don't want to hold inventory for days or even many hours. Again, quick changeover techniques can be applied to allow product to be received as it is delivered with no delay.

    Ultimately, the case for quick changeover is made by the value stream question: which activities are value-added and which activities are not? Invariably, time spent changing over between products, services, and customers is never value added. No matter the process, quick changeover techniques can help.

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