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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Europe Lean Tour 2015 - Day 1 Report

- Submitted by Dave Cresswell, Master Blackbelt candidate

Monday, June 15, 2015 - Stuttgart, Germany

It was an interesting day of contrasting events, being immersed in the old world charm of Europe, with its deep history and grand architecture. Walking down cobble stoned streets leading us down highly ornate buildings and monuments that are hundreds of years old, contextualized and referenced so often in history books. All this while modern day Europe goes on around us with the bustling life of people rushing to work through walkways and train stations contrasted with those casually strolling along the modern shopping streets while still tethered to their mobile devices.

We spent the day touring through two automotive manufacturing plants. Starting at Porsche plant in Zuffenhausen on the north side of Stuttgart. Followed by a tour of the Mercedes plant in Sindelfingen. Both companies have contrasting yet long histories; from the very early days of automobiles in the early 1900's to modern, high performance complex vehicles.

Being able to tour both Porsche and Mercedes on the same day was a unique and enlightening experience. While there are the obvious differences between the two manufacturers’ vehicles themselves, the tours of the two plants also highlighted many common and familiar Lean methods, though presenting differences in their implementation.  Seeing the visual signals of green, yellow and red lights to show the status of each workstation or cell; visual management boards to indicate to those on the shop floor what their targets are, and how they are tracking; Kanban systems everywhere for parts and inventory replenishment, all elements of Lean that are extremely familiar sights. We could have as easily been back in the Nissan Opama plant on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Yet, there was clearly a difference in the way the two organizations embraced the Lean approach. The Mercedes plant, albeit a busier and higher output plant than Porsche (by a factor of 7 or 8 times as many vehicles per year), was much more like what we experienced in Japan; serious, focused, efficient - very much driving to efficiency KPI's.  IT was palpable and clearly evidenced by the actions and behaviors on the line.  No-nonsense keep things flowing to meet the planned output.

The approach at Porsche was demonstratively different.  That the cars are spectacular in form, fit and function there is absolutely no doubt. The relentless focus on quality product and process was exceptional. But there was clearly a higher "social" engagement within and between the teams as compared to Mercedes. This at least appeared to create a more engaged and happy work groups and teams. All of the same Lean elements were there from the Andons, the visual management, the huddle boards.  But the team members appeared to be able to do more socializing while building incredible cars. 

So it was quite an experience seeing the juxtaposition of Modern Manufacturing methods against an the charm of an Old World environment; two slightly different approaches to Lean adoption; two different outcomes/benchmarks, yet consistently producing high quality, wonderfully engineered, aesthetically beautiful cars.

We finished Day 1 of this benchmarking tour with a wonderful opportunity for reflection and connect. 

All in all - an incredibly successful and enlightening day!!  Looking forward to tomorrow!!!

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