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Going Lean – The Shape of ITs Future

Pulp and paper mills face a number of production challenges, from ongoing personnel changes, to maintenance workload and reliability issues. In spite of these challenges, the production process must be as efficient as possible at all times, so...


June 1, 2013
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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Pulp and paper mills face a number of production challenges, from ongoing personnel changes, to maintenance workload and reliability issues. In spite of these challenges, the production process must be as efficient as possible at all times, so what can IT do to help? Meet “lean IT.” With an informed vision, technological innovations can be applied to the modern manufacturing workplace to help employees work more knowledgeably and hence more efficiently. The outcome will invariably be increased mill reliability.
Lean manufacturing strategies trim the fat in the production process. The goal is to improve performance by maximizing efficiencies and eliminating waste in how workers and materials are managed in the production process. Lean manufacturing is reflected in the types of capital projects selected, the key performance indicators (KPIs), the goals to standardize processes, and the push towards improving employee engagement to ensure a mindset of continuous improvement. Lean is not necessarily achieved by radical outsourcing or solely on headcount reduction, but by eliminating process redundancies and shifting managing efforts towards activities that continually improve business outcomes.
So how is this within the realm of the IT department? The role of the lean IT department is to put the entire mill production process on a body-building program, to reduce the fat and to increase the muscle of is operations. The IT department studies the processes, researches the latest technological abilities, and then selects and implements the best ones to streamline production processes. For example, with an understanding of the work that  reliability teams are doing, IT can pinpoint technologies that can assist in their tasks, perhaps automating workflow or increasing remote access to alarms and triggers.
New technologies and procedures – such as cloud computing, mobile access, outsourcing, getting the latest smart phone – must not be chosen just because they are the latest and greatest, but because they have a strategic fit within the established lean IT structure and have a measurable production value. Cost of the technology may be secondary to its value to production.
According to Steve Bell, author of Lean Manufacturing – Enhancing and Sustaining Your Lean Transformation, “traditional IT departments may have trouble adjusting to a lean IT operations approach. It is a shift from “keeping on the lights” to one of operational excellence that maximizes speed, ensures standardization, and guarantees quality at a lower cost. The focus is to free up existing capacity (formerly consumed by waste, failure demand, poor processes, etc.) to support strategic corporate goals and directions.”
The formula for lean IT in a manufacturing environment may look something like this:
Mill relationships
+ manufacturing understanding
 + efficiently managed IT resources
 = efficient IT processes,
 addressed businessproduction need,
 improved mill reliability
The success of the entire equation rests on the ability of IT to nurture relationships and isolate and understand the needs of those working in the production process. This is where the lean IT department excels.
IT’s contribution within a manufacturing environment with high employee turnover or mass retirement requires a more hands-on approach. IT must compensate for the loss of knowledge with trending data (business intelligence) and increasingly automated processes (but not completely automated in all cases). The goal is to use data and processes as a base for business practices and decisions to obtain a dependable predictive and preventative environment that produces high quality every time.
You can think of the lean IT department as a winning pit crew for NASCAR racing. Each member of the crew is knowledgeable, skilled and experienced. Each specialist works with other specialists to achieve a common goal: maximum racing performance.
For lean IT in a manufacturing environment, each IT member can specialize in a variety of areas within mill production so that the best technology can be selected and implemented for maximum production performance. The goal is to use appropriate technologies to assist in obtaining a dependable predictive and preventative environment that produces high quality every time.
Becoming a lean IT department involves a whole new way of thinking about IT. It’s not just about rebooting misfiring computers and jamming printers any more. Lean IT has grown up and is ready to make a real difference in a production environment.

Five steps towards a lean IT department
1.  Continually research emerging technologies (cloud computing, mobile access, etc.) based on their measurable value to the production process.  
2.  Target a shift of 2% to 3% of operating cost each year towards lean IT which will be reflected in IT budgets, IT projects, and IT-related training.
3.  Critically examine internal IT processes to identify waste to free up resources
for use in the mill.  
4.  Plan and incorporate targeted technologies that address the production need without adding technology complexity to production.  
5.  Say “no” to some requests that fall outside of the lean IT framework.

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