I really like my job--but not in a corny sense. I don’t wake up and immediately whistle away in gleeful anticipation of the workday. Some days I feel I can’t write another word, while other days I type several pages before I realize that what I just wrote is either unintelligible or just plain awful.
What keeps me typing away is a sense of ownership. It’s my job to call contacts, develop story ideas, research technical information, interview experts, and write the story. I don’t work alone, of course. Throughout the process I work with editors, copy editors, and graphic artists--and one thing we share is a sense of ownership. The FABRICATOR and its sister publications represent our brand, our identity.
It’s not practical for all of us to shepherd products from beginning to end, of course. We would be at a loss trying to run a printing press, for instance. But we do monitor product quality through multiple stages of production, and it’s that sense of ownership that makes me happy about going to work.
Last week I got my first taste of a new kind of manufacturing cell, and immediately I saw how ownership played a role. Milwaukee-based Phoenix Products makes lighting fixtures for a variety of commercial customers. It’s a high-mix, low-volume environment. SKUs number in the thousands.
The company has worked with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM), and last week I witnessed a QRM cell in action. It isn’t a hard cell designed around a specific product, as preached by lean manufacturing, which works best in low-product-mix environments. It is a cell dedicated to a market segment that calls for a wide variety of components that happen to require punching, bending, or welding, or some combination of the three.
Following principles of QRM, managers set up the cell so that cross-trained workers have a sense of ownership over the products they’re producing. They are given what they need to produce and when, and the workers themselves get together as a team to decide how products should flow. While I was there, I watched a press brake operator push a cart holding a small batch of parts over to another area, pick up a gas tungsten arc welding torch, and start welding the components he just formed. And he’s not the only one who multitasks. Because the shop manufactures such a high mix of products, most operators in the fabrication area undergo significant cross training, so that they can follow the products they’re fabricating through the QRM cell.
There’s much more to all this, and we’ll be covering some of it in a future print edition of The FABRICATOR. But on the surface, the manufacturing cell I saw last week seemed to help give workers a sense of ownership over not just punching, bending, or welding, but over what the customer really cares about: the final fabricated product.