Training on the production floor is the basis for optimization

Written by Poul Breil-Hansen, Editor, Erhvervsmagasinet SCM
Published at: SCM.dk
Date: March 2014
Link to article

Kopenhagen Fur is successful in its training of operators as a platform for innovation, improvement culture, better working environment as well as higher productivity and quality.

You cannot do Lean, continuous improvement and process optimization without TWI, but you can do TWI without Lean. Training Within Industry, or TWI, is an old but somewhat overlooked method that is currently gaining ground in Danish and European companies. TWI is focused work with process standards and the tool is efficient and motivating training of employees on the floor, creating a basic learning culture and a practical and shared understanding of exactly how the company's processes are built and are to be implemented. It is basic training that forms the platform for all standardization, innovation, process optimization and continuous improvement.

"We have a strong growth and have been working with Lean, kaizen and 5S for a while. The strong growth means that we need to deliver more with the same resources in production, thus we must continuously improve our ability to utilize our capacity even better," says Lars Tegner Bjerre, Continuous Improvement Manager at Kopenhagen Fur. The production at Kopenhagen Fur has experienced a significant increase in recent years, which has meant that the company from 2012/2013 to the current 2013/2014 season has seen an increase from 21 to 24+ million pelts to be sorted, and that growth seems to be continuing well into the future. The skin production in Kopenhagen Fur is a very seasonal production with large fluctuations, placing great demands on flexibility in both engineering, planning and, not least, the organization, where quick and effective learning is crucial.

"We found that employees were very adept at delivering many and good suggestions for improvement, but many of the proposals had more to do with the environment around the processes rather than the processes themselves. The environment is also important, but we saw a need to create more focus on the processes themselves. This was one of the reasons why we adopted TWI as a method during autumn 2013," explains Lars Tegner Bjerre.

Unilateral and fast training

Kopenhagen Fur uses TWI as a method to train employees in basic processes in a uniform and fast way. According to Lars Tegner Bjerre and Production Manager Anders Møss, the goals were to:

  • Train all relevant operators in basic processes
  • Create higher stability in processes
  • Establish standards that are also followed in practice
  • Convert a large amount of quiet knowledge of processes to documented shared knowledge
  • Improve capacity utilization by reducing waste and increasing quality
  • Increase the organization's flexibility by significantly accelerating the training of new employees or employees who job rotate to a new process
  • Create an overview of the competence landscape, who knows what and where are the holes?
  • Continuously improve the processes
  • Reduce the amount of unvaried repeated work

It's a lot at once, but Kopenhagen Fur can see that it works and creates good results even after a short time.

No dives in productivity

"Previously, we saw heavy dives in productivity when new employees were put on a process or a machine. Today, we don't see any dives. When we job rotate, we have 10 minutes of standardized and systematic training and then the new employee is already in full swing. Productivity has a positive trend, we get more process-oriented improvement suggestions from our employees, we have a much better overview of skill sets and competence gaps and, not least, we have significantly fewer quality errors. Previously, quality defects were a daily challenge, now it's a monthly challenge," says Lars Tegner Bjerre.

The TWI project is currently running as a pilot project on the Kopenhagen Fur inking system, which is - or at least has been - a bottleneck in the production flow. The TWI measures have included:

  • Defining and documenting a standard for all process steps in the production flow
  • Training of all managers and selected employees in a 10-hour job instruction course
  • Establishment of visible competence boards that provide an overview of who has achieved which process competencies - there are four degrees within the assessment
  • Establishing a training sequence in TWI skills
  • Establishing a process verification system where a leader systematically follows up process standards and employee competencies

A showdown with habits

"It has been an exciting process to introduce TWI, but it hasn't been completely unopposed. It means a showdown with the existing culture and TWI inevitably changes some habits of many employees, who in our case have had an average employment period of approximately 16 years. The tools to turn this resistance into support have been a lot of communication, dialogue, participation and acknowledging follow-up," says Lars Tegner Bjerre, adding: "In TWI we review each process seven times to be sure to come through properly and get all the steps and details of the process described. When it comes to our most experienced employees, who may have worked with that process for 10 or 15 years, it is too much. Here, we have chosen to respect and acknowledge the experienced employee's competence and knowledge. Instead, we perform a process confirmation of the process with the employee and if they follow the current production basis and can motivate why they do what they do in each step of the process, they are approved and therefore need not be trained in the process."

Another obstacle has been the visibility that the competence boards have created. "The boards have caused some insecurity for some employees because they are worried about whether they will now be good and capable enough or whether they can keep up with the 'competition'. Therefore, we have put some effort into getting the boards and their significance down to earth," says Lars Tegner Bjerre.

"To the individual employee, TWI has meant that they feel a responsibility for what they are working with. Through the unified training and our fixed routines, the employee has had to take responsibility.

Old habits have been broken. New employees immediately feel like they belong in the group, they quickly find a high pace. The approach means that the employee has to listen and learn as they have to repeat and demonstrate it afterwards. This gives them a relation to what they are working with. It's a great project, especially for new employees, a great way to learn new things," says Jessica Dannerfjord Nielsen, Production Manager for Color Sorting.

Kopenhagen Fur expects to expand the TWI effort to the remaining part of the machine group and even more multi-level training. "TWI seems to be working well for us. It creates a solid foundation and a common understanding for working with improvements, so we stick to the method."