Almost everyone who manages a facility has struggled with forklift power downtime and inefficiencies—yet pinpointing the exact cause of issues can be challenging, especially in a high-velocity, multi-shift warehouse. The sheer number of forklifts, batteries, and employees can easily mask the source of the problem.
That’s why we wanted to share the story of how one facility managed to find and solve their biggest issue using Lean Six Sigma (L6S).
If you’re not familiar with L6S, it helps a business reduce waste while emphasizing value-add processes. You can gain important operational insights by examining data, policies, and procedures, then testing out hypotheses.
Ready to see how L6S worked to improve a business? Follow along to learn more!
The facility, located in the North Woods of Wisconsin, supported paper mills and other industrial applications. As a result, the batteries were run hard and took quite a beating. Since there was significant downtime from batteries that were in the shop for extensive periods of time, management wanted to find ways to shorten the repair cycle.
One of Concentric's in-house Six Sigma Black Belts, Timothy Hartung, spearheaded the effort. He enlisted an in-house service manager and service coordinator to be part of the team to identify issues with equipment repairs.
The three kicked off the initiative by going through Lean Six Sigma's DMAIC process. (We outlined how DMAIC aligns with Concentric’s process in our recent blog, How Forklift Power Can Help You Knock Out Your Lean Six Sigma Goals.) Over five months, the team worked to implement, test, and analyze multiple hypotheses about how to get faulty batteries back into service faster, reducing expensive downtime.
Upon further investigation, Tim’s team discovered something shocking: some faulty batteries were out of commission for up to four months.
His team’s initial hypothesis was that a lack of appropriate supplies was keeping batteries in disrepair too long a time. As a result, the company brought in additional materials to keep on hand for battery fixes. This change only led to small productivity gains, so Tim knew the issue lay elsewhere.
He changed the focus to improving operational communication. This was accomplished by:
- Clearly delineating which batteries needed repairs
- Prioritizing repairs by the date the batteries became inoperational
- Identifying who was responsible for fixing those batteries
These changes revealed that, due to a lack of tracking as to which stage of the repair cycle each asset was in, many dead assets were simply being left on pallets in the back of the warehouse. The expensive inefficiencies the plant was experiencing were entirely preventable.
These seemingly small changes ended up making a big impact when this workflow improvement effort proved to be the operational efficiency winner.
Tim's team saw an incredible 14% reduction in repair cycle time simply by collecting data on the faulty batteries and making sure it was clear who was assigned to fix them.
The team finalized the changes by creating a custom-designed Powerapp to track each stage of the battery repair cycle and the staff member assigned to each step. This gave the company an easy way to carry the changes forward and keep the improvements in place.
This project demonstrated how minor adjustments in operational procedures can drive enormous productivity gains. Something as simple as shortening the cycle of getting a battery repaired can lead to six-figure gains.
The changes facilitated more timely and precise interdepartmental communication. It also created an opportunity to gather important performance metrics for the floor team doing the repairs. The division benefited from shorter repair cycle times, a more agile operations team, and improved communication. This makes it easier to track the use and lifecycle of the batteries.
As an added bonus, each department and each employee was assigned more clearly delineated performance goals.
Tim's team demonstrated how an organization can leverage reliable technology to improve workflows and communication. Lean Six Sigma principles and Concentric's process worked hand-in-hand to drive productivity boosts.