A major fenestration manufacturer had designed and built an automated cell in house.  The cell was not meeting manufacturing’s expectations.  The in-house engineers had locked up and insisted that manufacturing was not running or maintaining the cell correctly.  Automation Association was brought in to lead a 3-day Kaizen Event with the firm’s engineers and manufacturing personnel.  The first order of business was to strip down the egos of all team members to the root causes of not meeting performance expectations.  Automation Association staffed the event with controls engineers, machine designers and industrial engineers.  The root cause of the problem was mean time to recovery from a fault that was too high.  A FMEA was completed and a recovery process flow sheet was created.  The control engineers implemented the required code changes to guide the operators in recovery.  After three days the machine was turned back to production and has been meeting expectations ever since.



A major minerals firm had a need to recover value from it’s tailings.  Automation Association was retained to assemble industry experts in the field to work with the limited in-house engineering resources.  A hydro and pyro metallurgical flow sheet was developed.  Due to the size of the equipment, power required and need for secrecy, a pilot plant was created in a remote location.  Automation Association staffed the site to design, build and commission a pilot plant.  First articles were produced in 9 months.


Proof of Principle

Everyone on has a few “skeletons” in their history.  A quote I like to reference is “If we didn’t have a few problems we didn’t take the appropriate level of risk”.  Thought I would share a skeleton of mine:

We were contacted to develop a proof of principle system for a web line.  Seemed relatively straight forward.  We were to unwind from four jumbos of material.  Two were 1 inch wide and 2 were ¼ inch wide.  We were to sonically stitch weld the two 1-inch wide webs with the two ¼ inch webs inside of them.  Cut the assembly to length and stack in a flat box.  Rates were fast, so a proof of principle seemed in order.  A concept was developed and a proof of principle for one lane of product was built and tested.  With a small amount of effort, we were successfully placing welded strands of material in a box.  We all felt confident and smart.  The proof of principle established a full system would require 10 lanes of product to make rate.  Funding was established, and a special machine was commissioned.

To make a long story short, our proof of principle was 1 lane of product and the final system was 10 lanes.  The static electricity was so great in the 10-lane system that the cut strands literally jumped out of the boxes!  The lesson I learned the hard way:  Always do your proof of principle to scale!



Tackling projects that are not meeting management expectations requires what I call “Bucket Time”.  Quite literally, I like to sit on a bucket and listen, observe and visit.  Charles Deming once said to me “The worker will conform to the system”.  Our job is not to blame the workers, but rather to understand the system.  This “systems thinking perspective” comes with experience.

We had a factory that the automated process machinery was going in and out of control.  At 3:00 am the system was working flawlessly and at 3:00 pm it was a disaster.  On Monday things were grand, and on Tuesday the plant manager was berating anyone he could find in the facility that was remotely connected to the project.

We had high speed cameras and engineers sitting on buckets everywhere.  We tweaked and tuned for weeks.  The system continued to drift in and out of control with no known root cause.  We decide to look at the raw materials as a source of variability.  Of course, all the suppliers provided C of A and they had absolutely NO desire to let us into their facilities to listen, observe and visit.  Their stuff was good and the problems were ours.

Finally, non-disclosures were agreed to and we were allowed access to the major raw material suppliers.  We dispatched an evaluation team that was intimate with our manufacturing problems.  The first plant they visited was just as represented.  They were making first class product with first class people and systems.  The second facility our team visited was toured and guided.  The day’s visit was scripted, and the right answers were given, but the team didn’t believe everything they heard.  They wanted some significant unfettered bucket time in the plant.  The team decided to stay for the shift change and observe the second shift.  The plant manager went home, and the chaperones wandered off.  In visiting with an operator on a filament winder the team learned of the problem.  A coating alley did not have closed loop process control.  They were slugging the coating tank with 5-gallon buckets of isopropyl alcohol and bags of corn starch to get the right “feel” of the filament.  The worker knew friction was important and was using the system his management had provided.  We added a premix system with proper chemistry controls and both factories began to work as designed.  Bucket time should always be our first tool in understanding complex systems.