Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Have You Checked Your SMED, Lately!

SMED stands for Single Minute Exchange of Dies. One of Shigeo Shingo’s and Toyota’s greatest gains in increasing flow was figuring out how to change the extremely large, heavy dies used to produce (stamp) the large body parts of different car models quickly. Toyota was able to improve this changeover time for one part to another from an industry standard of many hours (often eight or more) to less than five minutes!

So, what did this allow Toyota to do? It allowed them the ability to make smaller, more efficient, lots of the different models of cars. When you lose a whole day of production to change the dies, you can’t afford to do it very often. Which means, for economy's sake, you need to make large batches (there’s that “b-word”) at one time, which, also, means large inventories of parts, which then need to be paid for and stored at high costs. All very “un-Lean.” Toyota was a small company back then. They couldn’t afford any of that and stay competitive. Plus they had a small market in Japan and had to challenge themselves to produce a high mix of different products.

What did Toyota do? They had a need, a problem, that required a solution. Shingo and the workers got to work using what we’d recognize today as A3 Thinking. They went to the gemba, observed every aspect of the change over, “brainstormed”  possible countermeasures (together), and experimented until they reached their goal, or very close to it, being much better than before.

The equivalent of SMED in veterinary medicine is the time it takes to get an exam room ready for the next patient, or the surgery room ready for the next procedure, after you’re done with the previous. How fast can you go from spay to neuter to dental to cat abscess?

In essence, what we are are doing is looking at the flow between “flows”; identifying the time (delays and activity) between value added operations. A competitive swimmer must perfect his/her strokes and pace, but races can be lost by sloppy "flips" between the laps. So, swimmers must perfect this process, also. How fast can you “reload, aim and get ready to fire, again?” Consider ways to eliminate waste, 5S projects in the exam room or surgery room to facilitate quick change over, standardizes work to get everyone on the same page, and improved resource (doctors, staff, supplies, inventory, etc.) utilization through kanbans (signals).

What does this mean for a vet clinic? For example, could the previous surgery be recovered someplace other than the surgery table? Could a staff member clean and repack instruments while the doctor is busy performing the next procedure so they are ready to be autoclaved later? Could a trained, licensed tech induce anesthesia, intubate and prep the next patient while the doctor is placing skin sutures in the current patient? If so, what safety procedures and standardized work would need to be put in place? In the past, I have allowed trained staff to draw up injectable anesthesia, inject it, intubate the patient and start prepping. BUT, a second trained tech had to verify the proper type and amount of injectable anesthesia, and had to double-check the correct endotracheal tube placement. Any uncertainty or questions resulted in a halt of the process by those involved until verification and resolution by a doctor could occur.

In all of my years of practice ownership and management, I had never thought about, or even heard about, this concept before. That is one of the things that intrigues me so much about Lean. The different perspective and mindset that it brings to the day-to-day practice of veterinary medicine.

So, after some work on improving your value streams, take a look at your own SMEDs. Don’t be embarrassed!  And then, let us know how it went!