Essentra is a multinational plastics manufacturer, listed on the London Stock Exchange. The location in Buitenpost, Friesland (a province of the Netherlands), has 50 production lines and produces many different plastic profiles. Process improvement is essential for Essentra. The results are so tangible that improvement projects get high priority. Process engineer Jeffrey van Dodewaard talks about the continuous improvement process within the company.
The Essentra Process Engineering department, from left to right: Klaas Huisma, Jeffrey van Dodewaard, Ralf Meijer en Jan Wijma.
“Essentra uses a multi-phased extrusion process in which different colors and plastics can be combined into one single profile. “Just like Play Dough in the old days” Jeffrey explained. “Push the clay through the machine and a shape will appear.”
That’s how Essentra makes various products: price tags on shelves, kitchen plinths, door rubbers, plastic frames. Different colors, hard and soft plastics, transparent and opaque materials: the possibilities are endless. After a complete production run, the line is retooled for the next product. That can easily happen many times a day. Jeffrey van Dodewaard is continuously improving the production process.
“In the old days, without OEE, things were quite simple: you could only see what went into the warehouse. We made 100 pallets for example, but we could have made 150 pallets too. So where was the loss? We just didn’t know.
OEE gave us insight. Now, we can clearly see how much production time is actually lost on the changeover of a production line. In the old days we saw 40% stagnation on the lines, now we see that half of it is caused by changeover. Retooling cost us twice the amount of time we thought it did. It turned out to be our biggest waste."
“First we only saw where the waste occurred, now we can see what causes the waste.”
After the waste was determined, changes were necessary. How did that go?
“Changeover is a repetitive process. Sometimes after only eight hours, a new line needs to be assembled. The machine needs to 'run' and plastic has to be pulled through the entire production line. Adjustments need to be monitored meticulously – and only then the new production can start. Changeover and calibration happen all day long.
Cierpa’s OEE tool shows us why changeover takes so much time. Are we short on capacity? Can we speed up changeover time? We can see that in the tool. Our goal now is to cut changeover time in half. And after that, cut it in half again. That will literally save us hours each day and defines whether we can or cannot produce more.”
“At first, people thought we were mad when we said we were going to cut changeover times in half, twice. But the OEE tool really shows you where improvements can be made.”
So how do these conclusions translate to work floor improvements?
“We use multi-disciplinary teams to address waste. We include people from the technical and maintenance departments, and technicians and cleaners, people who’ve been with the company for 50 years. The team has many operators and day laborers, so we are really connected to the work floor.
And then we observe: why does changeover take so long? Small changes can lead to big differences. For example, on the work floor, there was much searching for certain types of plugs or hoses. So how do we solve that? Do we need more supply, do we store it near the line by default?
Each week, we’re busy making improvements in the production process. And there’s a lot of support for our improvements too, people are asking for them. At first, people thought we were mad when we said we were going to cut changeover times in half, twice. But the OEE tool really shows you where improvements can be made. Things that seemed 'impossible to change' turned out to be changeable after all. And every week, we share the progress information we get from the OEE tool. That’s a huge motivation.”
“Things that seemed “impossible to change” turned out to be changeable after all.”
So is the OEE tool a good match for your company process?
“When I started, in May 2017, Cierpa OEE had been implemented in 15 lines. That gave us so much valuable information that we immediately decided to expand to all 50 lines. There’s your proof. But we’re also working with the people from Cierpa to optimize the OEE tool for us continuously. Small adjustments can create an even bigger match with our process. And Cierpa is quite fanatical in its cooperation, which is great.
Also, we are jointly developing a dashboard that gives us a view of all production lines. That will save us a considerable amount of time. Where we normally do our rounds two or three times a day, we can now instantly see how many failures occur or if too many or too few people have been allocated to a line. This way we can respond much faster to problems. And that is invaluable information for a foreman, especially during shift transfer.
The changeover process is clearly your biggest improvement point. Do you have anything else planned?
“We start with the most significant source of waste: the changeover process. But another issue is scrap. During a changeover, our raw material is being used constantly. Part of it we re-use and part of is discarded. That’s a waste of time and money. So another team is already busy reducing scrap. And after that, we’ll take a look at the next instance of waste. This way we continue to go deeper into the improvement process.