2006 TOTY Finalist Profiles: Wyeth Italy Continuous Improvement Pilot Projects, Aprilia, Italy

This article chronicles THREE teams involved in continuous improvement pilot projects at Wyeth's Aprilia, Italy, facility.

By Paul Thomas, Managing Editor

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Success of the Samurai

A Wyeth team dramatically cut changeover time, improved OEE and became a model for other teams to emulate.

Editor's Note: To read the introduction to all five Team of the Year Finalists' stories and access links to the other teams' profiles, click here.

When the Italian Ministry of Health upgraded packaging and labeling requirements for its nation’s drug manufacturers, it caused problems in the packaging lines for Polase, Wyeth Italy’s popular nutritional sports drink. The new regulations mandated clear separation between primary and secondary packaging operations, and that leaflets and more detailed information for consumers be included with each package.

In the wake of the changes, the Polase line had seen Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) decline for several years, to a low point of 27% in 2003. Following the construction of a new warehouse area at the facility, packaging materials were stored even further away from the packaging lines than previously.

The Samurai team was formed, and began to brainstorm solutions. At first, there seemed only two ways to meet demand: increase the workload of the two shifts, including Saturday hours, or start up a third shift.

The team sought — and found — a third option that would increase OEE in two steps: first they would tag any piece of equipment that had been responsible for either minor or major work stoppages. Operators and supervisors spent a day or more tagging equipment with explanations of problems and potential solutions. Once they’d finished, solutions were analyzed and prioritized so they could be addressed one by one.

The second step was to apply the single-minute exchange of dies (SMED) methodology to reduce changeover time between batches — which stood at an unacceptable 20% of available equipment time.

Within just a few months, OEE jumped back up to 54%. Changeovers that once took 90 minutes had now been reduced to less than 30. “The target was 45 minutes, but it is now around 25,” notes Fornaro, the team sponsor. Both the Tagging and SMED successes had a direct impact on cycle time, cost savings and customer service.

Operators saw clear opportunities for improvement in their daily jobs, and were eager to volunteer for the team. Francesca Moschella, for instance, went immediately to Fornaro when she heard about the new team. “I work on the line, and I want to be part of who decides what’s going to happen on the line,” she told him.

“They were pushy volunteers,” Fornaro jokes.

Once change began to take root, the Samurai’s enthusiasm grew. The operators on the line, some of whom had been at their positions for 20 years, clearly saw the improvement. “We were no longer just doing things as they happened, but we were deciding how to do things in the best possible way,” says operator Christina Dalla Bona.

Team member Mariano Di Giorgio enjoyed the analytical aspect of the project. “These are processes that we’ve been doing for a long time, and we could see in detail what the problem was and how to do it in a more rational way.”

The success has rubbed off on other teams within the Aprilia facility, who are asking the Samurai for advice, particularly in relation to SMED and changeover time reduction.



Paperless Procedures for a “New Generation”

Computerizing set-up procedures is just one of the New Generation team’s achievements.

A blister packaging line at Wyeth’s Aprilia facility had been in operation since 1987, and it showed. Minor and major work stoppages were all too frequent, Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) was low, and operator morale was poor. “People were not happy to be delegated to that line,” says Giovanni Fornaro, the plant’s manufacturing manager.

A 10-member “New Generation” team of production operators, line supervisors, shift supervisors and engineers was assigned to fix the problems. As a first step, New Generation tackled the work stoppages. It applied the technique of Tagging to identify problem areas on the line and address them according to priority. The team did this successfully — OEE rose from 17% to 35% in a short period of time — as the first phase of the line-improvement project, but there was more work to be done. Set-up time for different product runs was still more than 20% of OEE.

For phase two of the project, the team decided to rewrite operating procedures to optimize set-up activities, focusing on improved collaboration between set-up mechanics and line operators. “Before, there was always a clear border between the activities of the mechanics and operators,” says operator Mirko Maggi. “One started working when the other one finished.” All set-up work was performed when the equipment was shut down.

Using the single-minute exchange of dies (SMED) methodology and Pareto analysis, New Generation analyzed the activities and divided them as either external, those done while machines are running, and internal, those that require equipment to be stopped. In some cases, they sought to transform internal activities into external ones. For instance, changing the tooling of equipment used for stamping lot and expiration dates on the blister packs had always been done in an “internal” fashion. The team decided to create a new station along the line where new stamp settings could be prepared before they were needed. During set-up, the new stamp could be quickly installed.   

The new practices required line operators to perform some of the functions that had been the domain of setup mechanics. Things did not go smoothly when the new collaborative procedures were implemented. “We had some problems because we were invading the other’s territory,” says Alessandro Attenni, another operator. “Mechanics had always held their knowledge very tightly and did not share very much.”

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