Manufacturing changed dramatically with the introduction of the Toyota Production System (TPS) in the early 1990s.

The philosophy of minimizing waste of energy without sacrificing productivity used on factory floors around the world is known as lean production or lean manufacturing.

While Compass Made is no stranger to lean practices, the company is sharpening its focus on efficiency, productivity, and quality with the integration of the Keys Management System.

What is Keys?

Keys takes the ten most important lean best practices and creates a five-level ladder that takes an employee from newbie to expert. Each level introduces a new challenge and, once mastered, demonstrates additional capability.

Led by Vice President of Process Innovation, Don Mills, the vision behind the Keys program is to improve Compass Made’s safety, focus on the customer, its project speed of delivery, waste elimination, and employee involvement.

How Keys Benefits Our Clients

Any change to workflow comes with an eye towards providing Compass Made clients with a higher quality product with a reduced cycle time. The company’s management team sees Keys as a vital part of its ongoing business strategy and execution.

Successful implementation of Keys, says Mills, means many things to both client and company.

“Number one, safety in the factory improves dramatically. Second, the quality of what we’re delivering to the client grows. Third, we reduce that lead time quoted through the factory. Fourth, we drive out waste and get productivity improvements.

“Safety, quality, and lead times are where our clients will really see the largest improvement,” he continues. “We’ll see productivity improve at the same time.”

Integrating Keys at Compass Made

The work of bringing Keys to the Compass Made facilities in Fremont, Deming, Guadalajara, and Palomas began in early 2019.

Mills gathered the production staffers at each facility to explain Keys and how it would be implemented.

From there, teams were created at each production area was separated into teams. Deming has three teams while Fremont, Guadalajara, and Palomas have one. An area supervisor and production manager coach each team. Each team member gets a responsibility, such as a Team Leader or Team Recorder.

Communication Boards are established in important areas on the factory floor. Each board is the rallying point for every Team, displaying the road ahead with easy to read graphics and serving as an information hub.

That Team’s Key is also on a print out with a star indicating their current achievement level.

So far the company has installed the following Keys: Flow Manufacturing, Safety & Health, Quality, Housekeeping, Employee Involvement, Employee Development, Tool & Equipment Maintenance, and Productivity.

Why Keys?

Compass has been in the contract manufacturing business for 40 years now. Day to day activities and processes are established, sometimes without much planning or thinking about how one step impacts the rest.

Over the past year or so, the management team has evolved in its top-down approach. Keys is the next step because employees are taught manufacturing best practices and then given the latitude to integrate them into their process.

“We’re turning the responsibility for implementing these best practices over to the people that are doing the actual work,” Mills explains. “They understand the process better than anyone else, but maybe they didn’t understand the best practice around that process. Keys brings those to things together and gives them the most effective approach.”

Plus, Mills says, it’s a way to allow employee’s change the way they work rather than management directing the change. “It turns the organization upside down, and now management’s job is to support the teams, and the teams’ job is to implement the best practices.”

Indeed, when management audits each Team the main question asked is “Do you need any support from management?”

Day to Day

Everyday Team members look for ways to achieve the Key. The team meets weekly to plan out implementation strategies, review progress, and find solutions to obstacles. All of those notes are recorded and saved in a minutes folder placed on the Communication Board.

A new level on a Key is unlocked as soon as all the requirements are completed. While the Team moves up, they must maintain all the requirements of the preceding level.

A Team starts with a score of ten and can go as high as 50.

The Future

As with all programs of this magnitude, Keys will continue to evolve.

“Our management team is committed to looking for ways to make every piece of our business more efficient and effective for our clients’ benefit,” Mills reports. “We’re just not interested in resting.”

That will play out, he adds, as employees move into management roles and bring the entire company up to a higher standard.