Five Questions With: Ted Kennedy

Among the fields in his 35 years of experience, Polaris MEP Project Manager Ted Kennedy has worked in the automotive manufacturing industry. So, he makes it his business to get companies moving fast toward using lean tools and improving operations.

Kennedy is certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt. Six Sigma is a set of tools and techniques for process improvement. Utilizing space in efficient ways – designing plant layouts and modifying building layouts – is one of Kennedy’s many areas of specialty.

PBN: Do you think most people think of lean tools as something used in managing workflow as opposed to managing workspace?

KENNEDY: Most companies I talk to think of using lean tools to streamline workflows. They usually want Polaris MEP to map out the flow of work to see if it can be made more productive. But for most of my career, I have used lean tools for both workflow and operational improvements.

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I don’t think companies realize [that] productivity improvements … can be realized with the right lean tools, making simple, low-cost changes to operations. One of the best examples of this was a team I worked with that had a large assembly cell. We started with 21 people outputting 27 units per hour. By continuously improving every aspect of the operation with lean tools, over several years we boosted output to 19 people at 87 units per hour. That freed three team members for other needed production roles. The payback of the project was dramatic.

PBN: What is an example of how lean methodology can improve productivity in plant layout creation?

KENNEDY: Plant layout is a good example of where Polaris MEP helps clients pick and use the right lean tools to manage workflow and workspace.

The first step is to gather production volume and material movement data along with forecasted future volumes. We use the data to determine an approximate location in the building for each operation or department. The departments that have the smallest amount of current and future material movement could then be relocated in the back of the building, away from the shipping and receiving area.

The operations with the highest material flow volume go closest to Shipping and Receiving. The same is done with material storage. Something you need often in Shipping and Receiving would be stored close by, reducing steps and speeding up turnaround. These lean layout changes cut down on labor in a building – it makes the team leaner in how much it handles materials.

PBN: What is a common modification you recommend in existing manufacturing operation floor space to improve efficiency? 

KENNEDY: A common fix Polaris MEP recommends to improve efficiency is to right-size work stations and connect them. Often companies will purchase the same-size tables, no matter what the specific assembly operation is. If you organize each workspace properly for the task, the worktable can usually be made smaller. A 5-foot table can be cut down to 3 feet.

By right-sizing tables, you can save overall space and move operations closer together. But if we are able to connect these now-right-sized operations together in a work cell, Polaris MEP also can create more of a single-piece flow and eliminate subassembly inventory.

PBN: Your career includes creating layouts for 30,000- and 120,000-square-foot plants – considerably different sizes, consolidating space for some facilities by as much as 40%. Do the same principles apply for each?

KENNEDY: I have used the same techniques in all sizes of buildings. The goal is to reduce needed manufacturing space and material storage space for current operations, so that our clients have more available space for expansion – without needing a larger building.

PBN: Do you find your space-consolidation and organizational skills used in other parts of your life?

KENNEDY: I have always used lean techniques to get the most done in each day – most people do so without thinking. For instance, I first put bread in the toaster, then while it is toasting, I get butter and a knife. If you get the bread, butter and knife together before you put the bread in the toaster, it will lake you longer to get finished toast. That’s lean in daily life!

I also consolidate things in my home to make the most of space. My policy is to remove items that have not been used for years – after discussion with “co-workers” like my wife, of course. If a new item comes into my house, I try to offset it by removing something else that takes up equal or more space. You know how a lot of people can’t park their car in the garage because it’s filled with clutter? The same lean tools we use with Polaris MEP clients – good layout, clearly labeled bins – means my car is cozy and dry all winter.

Susan Shalhoub is a PBN contributing writer.