Last month, we had the opportunity to walk the Springfield Assembly Plant (SAP) floor with Jeff Webb, plant manager, and Mark Hernandez, senior vice president, Global Manufacturing, to learn about the updates in the plant over the last five years including the improvements in lean manufacturing. Below is a Q&A about their lean journey and what the future holds for the plant.

When did the lean journey begin at SAP?

Jeff: Our lean transformation began in October 2013. Our focus was and continues to be on eliminating waste – wasted time, wasted money and wasted space. Many people assume lean means cutting jobs and cutting costs. The reality is that lean is about becoming more efficient with our existing resources, so we can grow and evolve to meet our customer’s demands.

What recent updates have been made in the plant?

Mark: Millions of dollars have been invested in capital projects and improvements in order to increase capacity at SAP to manufacture the GM vehicles and our new International CV Series.

One of the most notable lean manufacturing improvements is the new Andon system. Andon was originally developed by Toyota as a way to call for help. Employees are encouraged to pull the Andon cord to notify supervisors of issues such as a broken tool or not having the right parts on the line.

I want to stress that lean manufacturing is not just about investing dollars; it also involves a culture change. For example, pulling the Andon cord can sometimes have a negative stigma – but it is a good thing. It activates the help chain, so problems don’t continue down the line. Before this system was installed the line was either on or off, now you can pull the Andon cord to keep the line moving smoothly.

Jeff: In addition to the physical transformation in the plant, you’ll see a lot of new faces on the floor.  You’ll notice them walking around in green training vests. Hundreds of new employees have been added in the last year to support the production of the new vehicles.

What are the plans for SAP moving forward?

Mark: All our manufacturing facilities will continue their lean journeys with a focus on data. Manufacturing is getting much more sophisticated and transparent thanks to the ability to collect and report data on our work. At Navistar, we are collecting data now, but we need to refine the analytics piece to become more efficient and use it to our full advantage.

Just like how Facebook tracks our clicks and searches, we track our work on the plant floor. Facebook targets ads and we will eventually be able to target improvements on the line thanks to analytics.

Click here to read a Springfield News-Sun article that shares more about the Springfield Assembly Plant and its lean transformation.