SMED (and Shingo’s brilliance)

Quote of the day:

When I ask about the major difficulties encountered in the many factories I visit, the response is usually brief: diversified, low-volume production. When I dig a little deeper and inquire why diversified, low-volume production constitutes a problem, the main difficulty generally turns out to be the setup operations required – calibration, swithcing of tools or dies, etc. Frequent setups are necessary to produce a variety of goods in small lots.

Even if their number cannot be reduced, however, the setup time itself can be cut down. Think of the productivity improvement that could be attained if a setup operation requiring three hours could be reduced to three minutes! This has, in fact, become possible with the implementation of single-minute setup.

Single-minute setup is popularly known as the SMED system, SMED being an acronym for Single-Minute Exchange of Die. The term refers to a theory and techniques for performing setup operations in under ten minutes, i.e., in a number of minutes expressed in a single digit. Although not every setup can literally be completed in single-digit minutes, this is the goal of the system described here, and it can be met in a surpisingly high percentage of cases. Even where it cannot, dramatic reductions in setup time are usually possible.

~ Shigeo Shingo, A Revolution in Manufacturing: The SMED System

Toyota got it right when they decided that the problem wasn’t that they needed to produce more of the same widgets (think Ford) but that they needed to enable cost-effective, low-volume production through innovative use of interchangeable tooling.

Shingo was one of the engineers who helped them get there.

Now replace:

  • factories with firms
  • diversified, low-volume production with custom, high-value engagements
  • tools or dies with projects or tasks

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