Extreme Makeover: FRC Lean Edition!

Hi everybody!

This thread will be a weekly log of Team 4918’s pre-season transformation into a Lean Manufacturing-oriented team. Our goal is to completely alter our operating process from our standard operating procedures that we used in our rookie year (i.e. none) to a (hopefully) dramatically more organized and effective process- and objective-based group.

Yesterday, we had about 3/4 of our team attend a Lean Manufacturing workshop that we held in our workspace. The workshop in question has been taught to undergraduate classes at MIT for a few years now. We are fortunate enough to have a local community member with experience facilitating this particular course. It was an entertaining and insightful short course on Lean using Lego airplane manufacturing as the teaching medium.

An overview of the workshop can be found here: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-660j-introduction-to-lean-six-sigma-methods-january-iap-2012/lecture-videos/MIT16_660JIAP12_sim_pres.pdf

The objective with this thread is to document our progress as a sort of how-to or how-not-to guide for adopting Lean as a smaller team. Here are our baseline metrics and benchmarks for reference at the end of the year:

Number of current team members: 11
Full time/part time mentors: 2-3
Current team status: 2nd year veterans
Team location: Rural Washington State

2014 Season robot “ship” date (the day we ceased robot development and handed it over full-time to the drive team): Final Saturday of week 6

Past peak performance: Seeded 47th out of 64 teams at the PNW District Championship

Our two overarching goals will be to “ship” a product about a week earlier in the build season and to increase our competitive performance on the field. Our areas of focus will be improving our build process during build season to facilitate our “ship date” goal and to apply lean engineering principles towards the actual robot design using last year’s robot as a guide, for example identifying areas to reduce overall part count and making our manipulator(s) more customer-friendly (the drive team being the “customer”).

So, taking into account the fact that we have more experience and a few more resources at our disposal this year, we’ll hopefully be able to track down specific aspects of our lean program that led to better performance as a team. None of us on the team have had any formal experience with Lean prior to beginning this process, so hopefully we’ll end up with a useful record of adopting Lean principles from scratch for other FRC teams.

As a mentor of a team that keeps iterating on lean processes and an engineer who employs them in his daily work, I would strongly suggest your team (or at least some of the mentors) read The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker. It’s a very important philosophical overview of how Lean works.

My biggest piece of advice is to look at it the way Toyota intends it: as a process. The “Lean-ness” of your team isn’t the reduced part count or increased reliability. Those are the results of your lean-ness. The lean-ness itself is the process you follow and the mechanisms you put in place to reduce your three wastes and provide improved quality.

Best of luck in your Lean Journey.

Thanks for the book tip. We’ll be sure to check it out.

I’m in complete agreement regarding the importance of process improvement. That’s certainly going to be the core focus of this project.

I’m definitely excited to see what this change will do for us next year.