Cross Training in a One Piece Flow Cell

Posted on 1 Dec 2009 by The Manufacturer

Jon Miller of Gemba Research asks how you introduce new employees without dropping productivity

Q: In a one piece flow cell that is fully loaded with customer demand, how can new people be trained, without creating significant flow problems? Operators are moving with the work from station to station, so when deploying a new employee to the line, the total output is suffering until the employee has progressed on the learning curve. How are lean companies dealing with this issue?

A: It is probably not realistic to expect productivity not to drop for a short period while cross training or bringing on a new worker. Training is always an investment in people. Companies that don’t see this pay in other ways, such as lower overall productivity, quality problems downstream or even safety issues.

in a fully loaded line there are probably minor line stops and other problems that need to be addressed each day. How are these being handled today? There should be a local team leader or someone to support both problem solving and training. In order to avoid flow problems the team leader or supervisor will need to be with the new person to make sure that the line keeps moving. Training people is one of the main responsibilities of the team leader.

The fact that operators are moving with the work is a problem for cross-training. This “rabbit chase” type of cellular work flow is not really suited for cross-training. Unless the work is very simple and the cycle times are very short, it will take longer for the new worker to learn all operations in a cell where workers move with the work. And even if the cycle times are short, everyone else doing the rabbit chase in the line will be paced by the new person who is slower. Since they are not at a single (or limited number of) stations, it is harder for the trainer to stay with the trainee or help them keep pace with the tak time (pace) of the cell.

Lean companies invest in people. The team structure should allow the team member to have time to train and develop the team members. Some lean companies have entire production lines in their training centers where workers spend hours or days practicing the basic skills needed to be competent before going into the line. The goal is to make the training more effective so that losses is minimized, not to cut back on training now and pay later. Lean companies think long-term.

By Jon Miller of Gemba Research and Gemba Panta Rei blog.

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