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Learning through supply chain networks

The following video clip is an example of continuous improvement in practice. The key points are:

  • Aircraft components improvement programme: 'change agent' as focal point
  • focus on key areas of performance: on-time delivery process
  • techniques relate to reducing waste: value stream mapping; building harnesses
  • importance of initial analysis and having an open mind
  • example of practical improvement may be reduction in stock buffers
  • evaluation: need to be clear about benefits: e.g. reducing harness build process from 4.5 to 2 hours

The case study small electronics company supplies wiring to a large manufacturer of landing gear to the aviation industry. The first tier supplier asked the electronics company to participate in an improvement process. This process required commitment from both management and workforce. A 'change-agent' was assigned to the programme, and was given responsibility of being the focal point for its introduction. The key issue for the programme was to improve the time delivery performance of the company. This was addressed by analyzing the delivery process (known as 'value stream mapping') in order to identify factors which caused the company to miss its delivery dates. The process of making a harness was videoed and the whole production team was then asked to watch the film and analyze it second by second in order to identify areas of waste which added no value to the end product.

This analysis was time consuming, effort intensive and required an open mind from those involved in the process. The introduction of the new, more efficient process was also challenging. Initially, the company had to overstock component parts significantly to allow it a margin for error when responding flexibly to its customers’ changing demands. As time goes on, they are trying to reduce these stock 'buffers' so that they are never tying up too much capital in unused stock at any one time. Despite these difficulties, however, the company considers the changes that it has undergone well worth it. It now meets its on time delivery targets because the evaluation process has helped its staff reduce the build time of a single harness from 4 ½ hours to 2 hours.