“But we’ve always done it that way!” Doesn’t it just make you want to roll your eyes? In a changing world, it can become a problem if one doesn’t question existing methods from time to time. That’s why Fischer is retooling its manufacturing processes and outfitting itself for the decades to come.
The Heijunka board helps to keep track of all current orders and to plan the resources. Red cards indicate which tasks are in the queue, the green ones are for tasks already in process.
The numbers look good, the course is set for growth – and Fischer is expanding its production capacity. This is why the past year was all about transformation.
As a classic manufacturer, Fischer made instruments according to the “push” principle. Devices were built, put into stock and sold off successively. The result: changeable delivery times and large stocks. Since 2017, however, the “pull” principle rules: Devices and components are made to order. Goods flow is now controlled by a Kanban system. If parts start running out somewhere, empty containers move to the upstream department to initiate a re-stocking.
To facilitate the work, we’ve also optimized the workspaces. In a “cardboard-box” workshop , employees have tables and shelves redesigned according to 5S rules to ensure optimal working conditions.
Whether for X-ray fluorescence, nanoindentation or electromagnetic devices, there was room for improvement in all the production lines. One of the first projects that Fischer tackled was manufacturing of the probe system carriers.
The system carrier is the place where the electronic heart of the probe and the mechanical tip come together. To achieve the best results, the tip is crafted – in a series of over 20 consecutive work-steps – out of PERMENORM and carbide.
Previously, the various operations were performed in separate workshops: Annealing in the hardening shop, cleaning in the washing room, and then the parts were sent out for polishing. This resulted in long distances and many handovers of responsibility. Some departments didn’t really understand all the dependencies of the next step.
And the different stations also processed other orders. In the end, every step contributed to the delays: here a few days, there a week. Overall, more than 100 days of inactivity. It often took as many as 250 days to finish a batch of system carriers – over 8 months!
Andreas Rauthe, Head of the cell manufacturing at Fischer
“Changing old thought patterns and completely rebuilding the production – that was a team effort.”
It just had to go faster! So, Fischer undertook some changes and established a cell manufacturing practice: all previously disjoint operations were united in one room and under the management of Andreas Rauthe.
The risk was that some processes could interfere with others. For example, the annealing furnace and the washing machine generate heat and steam, which makes a delicate job like soldering in the immediate vicinity nearly impossible. But with powerful ventilation, a good working climate was created nonetheless.
And the external supplier also plays a major role in the timeline. That’s why a firm delivery schedule was agreed upon. So, instead of on an as-needed basis like before, Fischer now sends small batches at regular intervals – and gets them back within a week. That’s six times faster! For everyone, it means more planning security.
The investment in the remodeling is already paying off: There are no more idle times, and management has a complete overview. Today, 6 months after the project began, it only takes 20 days to manufacture a probe tip – an improvement of some 90%.
To date, Fischer has implemented 15 such optimization projects in various departments: in production, order processing and logistics. Many more are planned for the coming year. Our ambitious goal is to optimize the entire value chain according to the methods of lean management.
An important step will be to extend the Kanban system to the rest of production and to implement a just-in-sequence strategy for incoming materials. That, in turn, will enable the quick turnaround of individual customer requirements.
When everyone pulls together, a scheduled plan works well. That’s why Fischer also attaches great importance to training employees. The optimal processes are developed collaboratively in workshops where the principles of lean management are exercised.
However, lean production doesn’t start with assembly, but rather at the beginning of product development. For this reason, during the development phase of a given instrument, Fischer pays close attention to how easy it is to build and maintain.