Taiichi Ohno, the creator of the Toyota Production System, was a leader in industrial engineering and is well known for his contributions to the development of Lean theory and continuous Improvement processes. One of his most famous quotes is “The plant shop floor is a reflection of leadership.”
This quote highlights the importance of leadership in manufacturing and how it can impact the success of a company. Ohno believed that the way a plant shop floor operates is a direct reflection of the leadership within the organization.
Timken’s manufacturing facility in Honea Path, South Carolina, has wholeheartedly and passionately embraced this concept, making it one of the foundational principles of the Timken Manufacturing Operating System (TMOS). Approximately seven years ago, the plant initiated a comprehensive transformation of its manufacturing management approach, with a primary focus on fostering leadership development and enhancing problem-solving capabilities. During a recent OpExChange plant tour, they demonstrated how their organizational culture has undergone a profound shift to embrace these principles. Todd Kingsbury, the plant manager for this Anderson County plant, welcomed the group and provided a historical backdrop for this culture change. Patrick Martin, the Operations Manager for the site, and his leadership team then provided a deeper dive into the TMOS.
Timken Operational Imperatives
The Honea Path facility specializes in the production of bearings, including tapered roller bearings of up to eight inches in diameter, matched bearing assemblies, and bearings designed for the rail industry. With a vast portfolio comprising more than ten thousand unique end products, the plant identifies itself as a manufacturer with a focus on low volume but high product diversity. Todd emphasized that Timken’s reputation for excellence in quality is well-established and highly regarded in the industry. The Honea Path plant has also carved out a niche in manufacturing challenging products characterized by intricate geometry and a demand for skilled craftsmanship.
Todd highlighted that there are three operational imperatives in the Timken corporation. In order of priority, they are:
- Safety – Lean Leaders will lead with respect, ensuring mental, emotional, physical, and environmental safety at all times.
- Quality – Lean Leaders will ensure that a defect in any form (information or material) is not accepted, made, or passed from supplying operations to customer operations.
- Delivery – 100% Schedule Accomplishment every minute, every hour, every shift, every day.
From a plant management and key process indicator (KPI) standpoint, these three overarching goals serve as the cornerstone to gauge the success of each Timken plant. Consequently, it is essential that the TMOS be aligned to support these. Todd handed the reigns over to Patrick Martin to provide a deeper dive into the TMOS.
Timken Manufacturing Operating System – Indoctrinating the Leadership
Patrick explained that in order to create a cultural shift, it had to start with the leadership team. They developed a four-week training curriculum that would immerse the leadership team in the Timken Manufacturing Operating System (TMOS). The goal of the training is to ensure that the leadership team graduates with a deep understanding of the underlying principles of TMOS and can effectively cascade that knowledge to the rest of the organization.
The first week of the training focuses on introducing the TMOS. Participants learn about the transformation process, learning styles, and their role as lean leaders at Timken. They also learn about situational leadership, team leadership, and the eight types of waste.
In the second week, participants learn about communication and problem-solving tools. They are introduced to the 5C method and the 8-step problem-solving process, as well as Training Within Industry (TWI), which includes Job Instruction (JI) and Job Relations (JR).
The third week of the training focuses on the manufacturing operating system itself. Participants learn about human resources practices, how the Andon system works, the supporting help chain, effective problem-solving management, and the importance of the operations center. They also participate in practical exercises and simulations.
The final week of the training is the “Go Live” phase. Participants take their new knowledge to the shop floor and began utilizing the TMOS. They are accompanied by coaches during this period.
Patrick stressed that the training methods in the program are highly effective in ensuring that leaders develop a profound understanding of the system. As part of the training, participants engage in “teach-back” presentations to the group, not only showcasing their retention of the content but also honing their presentation skills.
A particularly intriguing technique employed in the training is the “red ball” game. In this exercise, a leader holds a red ball and inquires, “Who wants the ball?” They then toss the ball to the chosen person and ask them a question from the training material. The recipient is required to respond with the exact information from the training. If they fail to provide a correct answer, they exit the room with their partner to practice and return to recite the correct response.
Another notable aspect of this program is that each participant is paired with a partner for the program’s duration, offering mutual support throughout the training. In the final examination, both partners are assessed, and they both receive the lower grade between the two of them. Patrick enthusiastically noted that this approach has resulted in an impressive near 100% success rate.
Patrick emphasized that the uniform structure of TMOS remains consistent throughout all Timken facilities. “I can confidently take any Area Manager to any Timken plant, and they’ll be able to start working immediately!”
The Reflection on the Shop Floor
As the OpExChange visitors ventured onto the shop floor for the tour, the reflection of leadership’s influence became immediately apparent. The visual appearance of the facility including demarcation, labeling, and overall facility cleanliness was striking. Patrick shared a message he often imparts to his leadership team: “If the shop floor looks bad, look in the mirror.”
The plant tour comprised three designated stops, each hosted by one of the Timken leaders. These stops were interactive, with OpExChange members posing numerous questions. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect was the poised and confident demeanor exhibited by each leader. It was evident that these areas were their domains, and they possessed a deep understanding of the system and its operation.
Andon System – the Start of Problem Solving
Ray Cunningham is the Area Manager responsible for Specialty Products. At the first tour stop, he explained how their TMOS is geared towards identifying and solving problems – quickly. Each work area is equipped with an andon for the team to alert leadership of problems. Andon is the Japanese term that means “light” or “lamp” and is used in lean manufacturing as a tool to inform and alert workers of problems within the production process.
Any associate that encounters a problem that affects any of the three imperatives of safety, quality, or delivery will trigger the andon system. The vertical andon display consists of four light levels indicating the alarm’s escalation level. When triggered, a blue light activates along with an audible alarm that resonates throughout the factory. This alarm plays a 15-second excerpt from Beethoven’s composition, Für Elise. The team leader is given eight minutes to respond, silence the alarm, and resolve the problem. There is a sequence of escalating problem levels and andon colors that will prompt involvement from different levels of leadership, ultimately reaching the plant manager.
A standard work protocol is linked to the andon triggering that initiates the problem-solving methodology trained during the leadership training.
Zone Control Boards
Dylan Wages, Senior Continuous Improvement Analyst, greeted the group during the second tour stop. He guided the group through the intricacies of one of the zone control boards, which is a standard fixture in each department of the factory. These boards serve as the central communication hub for their respective departments and prominently display the KPIs associated with each. At the outset of each shift, the entire team convenes for a brief ten-minute discussion. Additionally, there is a weekly meeting held at each board with the plant staff. Note that there is a documented standard cadence for each of these gatherings. Similar to other daily management boards seen in other OpExChange plants, this one includes sections dedicated to safety, quality, and delivery. A distinctive addition at Timken is a segment devoted to Morale. Here, they record and graph the distribution of “Our Thanks” cards, which are valued at $100 and given to employees who exhibit exceptional problem-solving results. The team also monitors progress toward achieving their weekly productivity target. Should they attain 90% or higher, they earn the reward of the following Friday off—a tangible incentive that motivates the team to collaborate in achieving their objectives!
The Operations Center – The “Obeya”
The tour of the factory floor concluded at the operations center, also referred to as the “obeya.” Obeya, a Japanese term, translates to “big room” and bears resemblance to a “war room.” It functions as a form of visual management, utilizing highly visual charts and graphs to represent the status and activities of an operation.
In Honea Path, the obeya strategically occupies a central position within the factory. On its front exterior wall, an “X-Matrix” derived from their Hoshin planning reveals the multi-year strategic plan, along with the ongoing projects and priorities aimed at achieving these goals. Upon entering the room, Justin Posey, the TRB Area Manager, extended a warm welcome and delivered an insightful briefing on how the obeya serves as a monitoring and response hub for factory activities.
The obeya boasts ten large screen monitors mounted on its four interior walls, with each monitor dedicated to supporting Timken’s three imperatives: safety, quality, and delivery. Six of these monitors provide real-time, hour-by-hour updates for each work cell across various departments. Positioned in the room’s center is a computer station, where a dedicated dispatcher receives and logs andon reports from the factory floor. All andon alerts for the plant are prominently displayed on a monitor overseeing the entire room.
The primary goal of the obeya is to ensure that daily production targets are met promptly, and to respond swiftly should any deviations arise. Cross-functional leaders convene there regularly throughout the day, adhering to a predefined schedule and agenda, to assess the plant’s performance and swiftly implement corrective measures when necessary.
Peer Collaboration for Continuous Improvement
As is customary during OpExChange plant visits, this session concluded with an open dialogue and collaborative exchange between the visiting members and the host leadership team. In the “Plus/Delta” session, visitors shared their insights regarding what they observed, highlighting valuable takeaways to implement at their own plants, as well as identifying opportunities for ongoing improvements in their journey.
A pivotal insight that strongly resonated throughout the visit was the need for organizations to cultivate and maintain a lean culture. Although the Honea Path plant was very knowledgeable in several lean tools, they recognized that a transformational change was needed to establish the lean mindset in its culture. The transformation they implemented seven years ago is sustaining and growing by building on the foundation of the two pillars of leadership development and problem-solving.
The Timken team acknowledges that their pursuit of continuous improvement is a perpetual endeavor on the path to achieving true operational excellence. As clearly demonstrated during this plant visit, they have now established a manufacturing operating system that fosters a culture capable of sustaining these relentless improvement efforts.
The Timken Company is a global manufacturer of bearings and power transmission products. They are recognized as the authority in friction management, power transmission, and metallurgy, and partner with a broad range of global customers. The company was founded in 1899 by Henry Timken and William Timken, and since then, they have contributed to customer success through a clear vision, industrial focus, advanced processes, and global growth. Timken’s patented tapered roller bearing formed the foundation of the company, and since then, they have expanded their product portfolio through innovation and acquisitions. Today, Timken engineers and manufactures bearings and industrial motion products, and their expertise helps global industries operate more efficiently. https://www.timken.com/
The OpExChange, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is a peer-to-peer network of manufacturers and distributors in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practice sharing. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If your company is interested in participating in this collaborative effort to improve both the competitiveness of your operation and South Carolina, contact Mike Demos (Mike@OpExChange.com). More information and upcoming plant visits are available on the OpExChange website www.OpExChange.com.