WSU benefits from kaizen experience
9:35:53 AM CDT - Thursday, October 09, 2003
By Joe Kleinsasser
Wichita State's purchasing and library procedures were analyzed during a five-day event that helps improve processes.
|Engineering faculty member Larry Whitman |
stands by a flow chart of the current WSU
purchasing process, which was analyzed
during a kaizen seminar last week. The
seminar, which takes its name from a
Japanese term meaning to take apart and
make better, looked at WSU's purchasing
and library procedures to determine what
can be done to improve the processes.
The industrial and manufacturing engineering department and University Libraries participated in a Boeing Global Kaizen Seminar Sept. 29-Oct. 3.
A kaizen event combines training and hands-on process improvement. Kaizen is a Japanese term that means to take apart and make better.
Attending a kaizen event can cost thousands of dollars, but staff time was the only cost to WSU for co-hosting last week's event with Boeing. The potential benefits are tremendous.
University Libraries and the IMfgE department were the two teams from WSU. Gwen Alexander, associate dean, University Libraries, was the leader of the library team. Larry Whitman, assistant professor, department of industrial and manufacturing engineering and National Institute for Aviation Research fellow, and Gamal Weheba, assistant professor, industrial and manufacturing engineering, were co-leaders of the purchasing team. Procurement officer Steve White also was a member of the team.
Steve Hudson of Boeing explained kaizen seminars this way: "You try to identify a problem and bring all the resources together in one spot. It can be more than a week. It can be less than a week. But we're going to concentrate during this time and we're going to try to solve whatever problems we can and make those improvements."
The WSU teams each had about six faculty and staff, three students, and four others from Boeing or other companies. The participation of non-WSU team members is beneficial, Whitman says, because they can objectively ask "Why do you do it this way?"
There's also a sensei, or teacher, whose job it is to provide direction.
Whitman says, "I was at one kaizen event that the sensei got upset because they had picked all the easy areas to change. But two-thirds of the areas had one problem and they weren't dealing with that problem. And he (the sensei) said, 'You need to stop this and start here now or we're wasting our time.'"
Student participation also is central to the initiative. Twenty industrial engineering students participated in the kaizen training seminar at Boeing and 12 of them were selected to participate as team members both at Boeing and on campus. This is the result of ongoing collaboration between the Boeing production system and WSU. While the students gained hands-on experience through exposure to real-life processes, they gave valuable input as end-users of both purchasing and library processes.
The purchasing team studied the purchasing cycle to see what can be done to make it better and eliminate the waste of time.
In selecting purchasing as an area of study, Whitman says, "We didn't want to be hypocrites in our department. We teach this stuff. We've done this stuff. Let's do it on something that affects us."
Whitman says all regulations are up for challenge, even though some purchasing regulations may be outside the university's control.
"There are a lot of things where we say the state has a regulation. Following this regulation may take us two months to get it done. Then you find out later that somebody thought it was fact, but in reality the regulation doesn't really say that," says Whitman.
One challenge is tracking what happens to the paperwork and identifying the problem. If the secretary gets the paperwork, she may reject it and say, "I need the federal ID number before I can pay for it." The paperwork is returned to the professor, who may not have known the ID number was needed. Every time one person hands paperwork to another, that's generally a big source of delay.
According to Whitman, part of the answer may include a checklist on the purchase order.
"It may be something that simple that has a radical impact on the amount of time it takes to get through the process," he says.
The processes at the library are similar to Boeing receiving parts from suppliers, according to Hudson.
"We have to take them and do something to them and put them on a shelf and catalog them, and then take them to the airplane," says Hudson.
Frank Fogle of Boeing says, "The big advantage I see for the library project, they have such a volume, you can actually do some measurement before and after, and have enough volume that you don't have to wait weeks to get results. You can find out right away."
The degree of success of each kaizen seminar varies, but the results are generally the same — improvement. "It may not have been leaps and bounds that we wanted, but there's always something that we did change," says Hudson.