In any organisation, there is a constant potential to evolve and improve. “Standing still is not an option”, says Kristof Daveloose, production supervisor at Vitalo Acoustics. “There is always room for improvement, even when you’re already performing at a high level”.
In collaboration with Accezz, Kristof has just finished implementing the ImproVit improvement process at Vitalo Acoustics, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of foamed plastics for thermal and sound insulation. The firm focuses on electronics, medical and industrial applications as well as home comfort and transport. At the company’s production hall in Meulebeke, a wide variety of raw materials are processed and thermoformed. Where necessary, these materials undergo further processing. It all involves a lot of manual labour. Vitalo Acoustics also produces thermo-compressed 3D shapes for use in lorry cabs and agricultural tractors.
High mix – low volume
As Vitalo specialises in smaller production runs, controlling the manufacturing process is a complex task. This is one of the reasons why Vitalo asked Accezz to analyse its operational processes. When Accezz performed its analysis, it soon became apparent that the manufacturing process was indeed complex and involves a large mix of many different raw materials. “In a high-mix/low-volume environment with many different products and small production runs, working efficiently is a must”, explains Kristof.
During the analysis, Accezz saw potential to improve efficiency. This convinced Vitalo to develop and implement solutions in collaboration with Accezz, which has extensive experience in the successful implementation of similar projects. Kristof, who started as a production supervisor at Vitalo shortly after the analysis, was closely involved in the entire implementation process. “When you see where we started and where we are now, a lot has been achieved”, says Kristof.
Accezz as catalyst
Looking back, Kristof notes, “Although we had already drawn up the necessary improvement plans, it was a challenge to implement the right steps. An external party can act as a catalyst and Accezz showed that it was possible to enhance more flow in the production hall.” It was apparent that there was a need to reduce lead times. Kristof explains: “First, we began with a major sweep in the warehouse as part of 5S, a programme aimed at improving order and tidiness. For instance, we were wasting a lot of time by searching for materials and holding unnecessary stock and by making errors in the ordering process”.
This was very frustrating for everyone. Kristof adds, “Together with Accezz, we introduced more structure within our warehouse and at the various workstations. Reorganisation of the warehouse has led to a more logical use of space and all tools are now much closer to the workstations. Part of the warehouse is static and another part dynamic, which is what you need in a production environment with changing stocks and products”.
Improved flow – higher productivity
Kristof enthuses, “An awful lot has happened in the last few months. Before, we often failed to stay on schedule. As soon as we had made the planning, it was already out of date and had to be changed. We have now further optimised the planning process and recruited logistics staff for supplying raw materials to the production staff”.
Employees now spend much more time at the machines. Kristof says, “This has boosted productivity. We have also improved availability of our intermediate stocks by working with minimum and maximum quantities, resulting in less production downtime. All these measures have led to
better flow, higher productivity and dependable delivery”. He continues, “We have also installed short-interval controls and now focus much more on higher productivity and reliability. At the start of the project, employees told us: ‘Kristof, this won’t last’, but to be fair, we didn’t encounter much resistance. This kind of process certainly puts pressure on an organisation, but a certain amount of pressure is necessary to set things in motion”.
Kristof says with a smile, “Many improvements were made with simple modifications. Staff now even let me know if something is not in the right place: ‘Kristof, that doesn’t belong there’”.
Changes bring structure
The changes have benefitted employees on the shop floor too. “A well-organised workplace fosters a calm and pleasant ambience and brings structure”, says Kristof. “Once the improvements were visible, the atmosphere was positive and teamwork also improved. Individual frustrations became shared concerns. Accezz’s management training certainly contributed to this. One of the team leaders recently told me: ‘Kristof, I never want to go back to the old way of doing things’”.
The newly developed management information system as well as daily and weekly meetings have also led to ongoing progress. Kristof concludes, “We now discuss the planning, bottlenecks and short-term actions twice a day, which in turn has led to new improvements. We work on structural improvement on a daily basis. Ultimately, that makes the job a lot more satisfying. Meaningful and challenging work leads to happier employees. And as I said before, there’s always room for improvement. That’s why we will continue along this path!”.