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A Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Service Process Kaizen Event

Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi began aggressively implementing lean in its operations areas in the summer of 2000. Since engineering is critical to shipbuilding, it soon expanded its transformation to lean to include engineering processes.

The issue of label plates, the responsibility of engineering, had been a perennial problem in getting compartments of the ship approved by the Navy and the cost of achieving compliance. There are label plates all over the ship describing what things are and issuing warnings of various sorts. Label plates are a very visible aspect of a ship and must have the correct wording and be posted in the correct location. The perception in the yard was that it was “just a label plate,” as most are easy to fabricate and install. However, a ship has 40,000 or more label plates, so management clearly saw that it was a significant process and important to its customer.

Based on the value stream map, the physical manufacturing processes for making the various types of label plates were relatively simple but the information flows required to make the label plates crossed several functions and took a relatively long time to reach the label plate department. Given that problems appeared to cross over functions and there was a potential to improve customer satisfaction while reducing costs, Ingalls management agreed to support a lean event to improve the label plate process led by lean consultant John Drogosz. The results of the kaizen workshop were:

  • Lead time reduction of 54%
  • Rework reduction of 80%
  • Productivity improvement of 29%
  • Standardized work/process for label plates

The team achieved these results by dividing into subgroups during the week to implement the necessary changes. These changes made during the workshop included:

  • Incorporating label plate comments earlier onto system diagrams to eliminate rework downstream.
  • Use of a single database to maintain consistent data throughout the construction and trials of the ship.
  • Standardizing work for all tasks to minimize variation.
  • Problem-solving sessions completed to find the root cause of rework.
  • Mistake proofing and changes in standard work used to eliminate most of the rework.
  • Engineering trials of some new materials to improve durability of plates.

At the end of the week, the team established metrics and posted a lean status board in its area to track the improvements. The process was audited four months after the kaizen workshop and the team was consistently meeting or beating the expected results. The team continued meeting regularly and morale greatly improved in the area. The stress level of people working on the process greatly diminished, since they rarely needed to make replacement plates and run to the ship to put them on as they so frequently had done in the past.

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