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The cell system carries several important advantages. Moving from large-batch production to the very small batches built in cells dramatically increases the plant s flexibility to change from one product mix to another. The bigger the batch run, the more materials are involved, and the longer it takes to change. It s comparable to the difference between turning a cruise ship around and turning a racing car around. The ability to change over to a new product quickly drives up our asset utilization, drives down lead time, and improves space utilization in our plants, Markert says. The visual cues inherent in small-cell production have a tremendous impact on efficiency. On a long assembly line designed to build product in large batches, it is impossible actually to see the totality of the production process in one glance. This lack of visibility of materials and connected processes made it difficult for Autoliv managers to know how much material was on the floor at any one time and how much needed to be ordered to fulfill customer demand. The plant s legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) system was running daily, batch-oriented reports, so realtime production data were not available continuously to help managers spot anomalies. As a result, often there were times of excess inventory both of materials and of finished goods, and there were frequent unexpected shortages that forced Autoliv to scramble and ship parts by special freight to avoid shutting down a customer s assembly line. In contrast, small-cell configurations allow workers and production managers to see the entire manufacturing process at a glance. They can see problems arise and act immediately to address them. The new system makes it much easier for Autoliv to set and monitor precise standards for time and materials in each cell. Having standards and visual cues is important, so you can tell normal from abnormal, says Tim Ambrey, production control manager for the module facility in Ogden. The big principle here is having a system in place whereby I can see, just by walking around and looking, if there is an abnormality that needs to be addressed. If I have a criterion for shipment five times a day, with 100 parts in each, and I walk by the loading dock and can see more than 100 parts in a lot, I know there s an abnormality. Autoliv also has invested in new software that builds on its ERP backbone and provides a continuous flow of production data, monitoring materials as they move through the plant, in order to help manage inventory in near real time instead of by daily reporting. The production data are integrated with advanced forecasting and planning modules, which Autoliv is now implementing globally. The sequencing of production cells and the design of the components that are assembled in those cells are also vital to the flow of Autoliv s new
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system. Our goal is to minimize what s special and increase what s standardized, Markert says. When you standardize something, you take down cost and reduce cycle time. For each piece we use, we work to build in standard interfaces to enable quick changeovers. Essential to this approach is collaboration between the people who build the Our goal is to products and the engineers who design the products (both internal and from the supminimize what s ply base). Cross-functional teams are set up special and increase to make sure that new products are designed with standards that increase modularity and what s fit well into the APS. In that process, Autoliv standardized, says includes early input from people who actually will build the airbags. Before we bring Norm Markert, a new product to the floor, we have cell design workshops where the product design president of Autoliv engineers, the process engineers, the machine North America. people, and the production people get together as a team and design the production line, says David B. Johnson, forecasting and planning manager for Autoliv s Airbag Module Facility. Who better than the operators to tell you what works well and what doesn t They know what motion is hard to do or what process produces a lot of scrap. We re getting user input, and some of the better improvements we ve seen on the floor have come from those line operators who are doing the work day in, day out. After the new production system was fully operational at the Ogden plant, the results were dramatic. Defect rate for parts shipped to the customer dropped 67 percent over two years. Inventory turns increased by 79 percent. Productivity improved 45 percent by reducing labor minutes per part. Total cost per unit dropped 30 percent over four years. Tonnage shipped to landfills was reduced by 41 percent. The early success in Ogden prompted Autoliv to implement the new production system at its Utah inflator plants, with similar results. The combined accomplishments of the inflator and airbag assembly plants earned Autoliv the 2002 Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing.
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