Are you in the air business? I’m not referring to filling up tires, the airline industry, the medical gas industry or Michael Jordan shoes. My question is about the plain, simple air around us. To put it another way, do you press, push, drill, turn, paint, move or ship air?

For example, at one of our recent kaizen events, we found that we are pushing air at one of our presses. In this process, parts are loaded onto a feed table to the side of the press while the machine is cycling. Once the press finishes its cycle, the completed parts are automatically pushed out of the press by the new parts being pushed in from a pusher. The only problem is the distance or gap between the staged parts going into the press and the press opening is more than 24 inches. That’s a lot of air being pushed as the parts travel across the feed table before they actually enter the press.

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The countermeasure for air muda at this machine is really pretty simple. With a little help from our talented maintenance staff, we made a new mounting bar and repositioned a limit switch for the pusher to close the gap to less than 4 inches. The result is a 4 percent productivity improvement without purchasing a new machine or radically changing the method.

This machine was a bottleneck station and we were having a difficult time meeting our takt time, causing an overtime situation. This simple kaizen along with some other improvements got us back to meeting takt time.

We found similar opportunities on other pieces of equipment throughout our operations, resulting in 5 to 10 percent productivity improvements each time we did a little air kaizen.

Take a critical look at your processes to see if you are in the air business. How many of your machines are set up to cycle through air before touching the actual material? Apply simple kaizen to the process and work yourself out of the air business.

About the author:
Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently the lean sensei at Batesville Casket Company in Batesville, Ind. He also writes a blog called “Got Boondoggle?” featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Check it out at http://gotboondoggle.blogspot.com/.