Rf-Technologies, a manufacturer of innovative solutions for passive fire protection such as fire dampers and smoke evacuation shutters, decided to organise a pilot project to convert the Promat & Metal department into an autonomous unit. They decided on a very pragmatic approach with a gradual process.
The 170 employees at Rf-Technologies in Belgium and Slovakia develop and manufacture innovative solutions for passive fire protection, such as fire dampers and smoke evacuation shutters. These products guarantee the safety of commercial and institutional buildings throughout Europe.
Rf-Technologies is growing steadily. During the last few years, the company has managed to increase efficiency by 20% and reduce delivery periods from 10 days to 48 hours on standard products! Collaboration between the various (production) teams within the company is essential now more than ever, in order to meet increasing customer demand. Close collaboration is required to ensure the production department can switch quickly when receiving rush orders, in case of issues, etc., and to ensure the required information flows quickly.
Typical at Rf-Technologies is that the employees of the production teams work together with employees from (subcontracted) specialised companies as a single team.
In the beginning, Rf-Technologies focused on the team leaders. They participated in an intensive leadership training course and a few months later each team started organising weekly QCD meetings (Quality, Cost and Delivery). They soon realised more was required. On Agoria's recommendation, Rf-Technologies took part in the boot camp on innovative labour organisation in 2016. The main takeaway was that there are other ways to work as a team, such as self-directing or autonomous teams.
Rf-Technologies decided to organise a pilot project to convert the Promat & Metal department into an autonomous unit.
The Promat & Metal department is the only department working in two shifts. The preparations ensure that the Assembly department can start working immediately on products that must be finished and shipped within 48 hours.
A certain distance has grown between the two-shift Promat & Metal team and the other teams that only work the day shift. Furthermore, the Promat & Metal zone team members working different shifts only meet a few minutes a day, which means that the communication between these team members was limited.
The challenges for this team consisted of improving communications and transparency, giving colleagues more autonomy, increasing the feeling they were a coherent team, and collecting suggestions for improvement based on their personal expertise.
Rf-Technologies undertook a pragmatic approach towards autonomy. The first step was bringing everyone involved together on a regular basis (both shifts and their contacts, e.g. from the Maintenance and Production preparation departments).
The starting point was the fleximatrix, a comprehensive list of tasks that are performed within the department (including control tasks, maintenance tasks, etc.).
Next, all team members estimated their own skill level:
The employees tended to overestimate their abilities, this meant Rf-Technologies had a large pool of trainers. Follow-up questions were asked to assess people more accurately, such as: "What makes you a trainer?".
During the next phase, the requirements of Rf-Technologies were listed. The employees could then register for a training course for jobs they thought were interesting or which they thought would broaden their options on the work floor. This provided an overview of all the training courses required to create a fully functional team.
Rf-Technologies set aside a full quarter to complete the matrix. This was the first step towards a homogenous, satisfied group (a win-win situation: employees are satisfied because their scope is broadened based upon their interests, and the employer has more options to deal with absenteeism or leave).
The next step was to look for a suitable communications system. Rf-Technologies was aiming towards daily meetings and the group tested this for a period of two weeks. The group, however, did not think this was the best option. They preferred to communicate via the team board because this improves communications between the two shifts (the late shift does not overlap with the next day's early shift).
The board, originally structured based on the QCD principles, was adapted to the team's requirements and with extra space for sharing information (on a daily and long-term basis).
A simplified planning board was created to make sure everyone can always see who is present when and in which shift.
It was soon clear that the process has to be implemented gradually. It takes time to build trust and this cannot be forced or built overnight. It is not possible to cut corners or use seven-league boots. It took time to create the feeling that they formed a group. Ensuring everyone felt part of the team takes time because they often work alone and only see the others a few minutes a day.
The small steps process was also reflected in the team matrix which was set up together. At first the shift assessed on a daily basis how they had performed in six domains.
They quickly found out that it was too demanding to address all six matrix domains at the same time. They decided to address each domain separately and to focus more clearly to ensure issues could be dealt with more efficiently. The main priority was safety.
The main breakthrough is that the operators have become a closer team in which everybody is an essential link in the chain: the members see the other members' needs and help each other. They indicate when anything goes amiss and brainstorm to find solutions for any and all issues.
Communicating in fixed sentences was a good start and setting up a team charter that was signed by everyone also bore fruit.
How people communicated was also very important. Now everyone passes by the team board at the start of their shift and sees what has happened before they arrived. This increases transparency and most frustrations are a thing of the past. More information is passed on which means that some operators now see the "bigger picture" and not just their own (partial) responsibilities.
The team members discuss issues and solutions at the weekly team meetings. Suggestions for improvement now originate from the team!
The latest breakthrough is that each shift now informs the next shift what still has to be done and one shift even schedules their own work. The operators meet and distribute the work among themselves based on the tasks and priorities at hand.
The first goal is to guide the Promat & Metal team further towards becoming an autonomous unit. Soon the employees will be able to take on a variety of tasks and make most decisions autonomously.
Rf-Technologies has started a second project towards autonomy for the logistics team. The ambition is to attain the same level of autonomy in less time based on experience.
The two assembly teams (including a few very specific challenges!) will also start their road towards autonomy during the next few months.
The idea is to guide all departments through clear steps towards forming close teams. The approach will be tailored to the characteristics of the team.
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