Using Photos and Video to Analyze Processes

Woodweb's "LEAN" seminar thinks about using pictures to develop insight into shop workflow issues. May 6, 2009

Here's an interesting video that I came across it when I was doing a search of people with Lean Manufacturing backgrounds in the woodworking industry. The video left me with several impressions. One was about the role of Lean thinking in lowering costs of production. Another was about the role of video in discovering excess motion.

I can remember the first digital camera I bought. It was a little point and shoot and quite expensive for its time. It paid for itself however, the first week I owned it. In that case I had sent it along with someone to a job site to record some conditions about window sill/casegood interface. What we saw when the images came back was a service panel for low voltage wiring that would have, had we forgot about it, cost the price of six cameras to fix on an emergency basis. That service panel had been there all the time but with we somehow didn't see or record it when we were doing onsite measurements.

I think the information was much more salient because we were outside the moment when we were looking at it. The excess motion that the video points out is also probably much more apparent in video than in real life. There's just too much stimulation when you are in the moment.

We at one time made a video of a fellow flattening boards on a jointer. I could stand by this guy all day and not pay much attention but what I saw on film was painful to watch. If I could have done a colored sepia tone for the video, and did red for when motions just added waste and green for when he was doing something the customer valued you would have seen a pretty short blast of green.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor T:
This is a great video for training- where can I find more? This is the kind of teaching tool that will speed Lean understanding and training in my shop. We had a similar success in taking our laminate layup time from 12 man minutes per panel to 1.5 minutes, using some of the same techniques. The difficulty, as always, has been sustaining the improvement, getting everyone to remember that it doesn't take two people anymore, and how good it feels to be able to do it that well that fast every day. The only question I have is what were they doing building all those pallets in the first place?

From contributor N:
A couple thoughts come to mind with this video in particular.

1. The improved build time is a bit misleading, since with the new process some of the components are pre-fabricated.

2. There are a couple things introduced that are typically anathema to lean thinking.

They built carts to speed production. They are dedicated to the process and they are mobile. Carts are not always bad. They are cheaper and more flexible conveyor belts. We should remember this when preaching to eliminate carts. They are pre-fabricating components. They have some significant WIP tied up in runners and top sheets, but they are using it with a Kan Ban system so they don't get runaway WIP. We should remember this when preaching 1-piece work flow. Quantity on hand is not 1; it is whatever is right for the product and process.

Typically missing from this presentation is thorough cost-benefit analysis. I want to see a real time improvement number that includes the time spent pre-fabricating components. I want to see the ROI for time and money invested in improving the process. Is it days, months or years? If I had to guess, I would say a few months, but would like to see that quantified.

From contributor R:
What amazes me is that it takes this much analysis to see that the guy could pre-cut a bunch of parts if he's building the same pallet all day long. The plywood parts were pre-cut, why did it take so much time and money to figure out that there could be a stack of 2x parts available. I'm seeing more of an implementation of common sense here, rather than any kind of "system".

From contributor F:
All the disciples of lean should take a look at the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor, Mr. Time-Motion-Study himself. A pioneer in this field, he developed many of the standards still in use today. In his spare time, he also helped develop high-speed steel. He was an interesting guy who saw all these lean things over 100 years ago.

From the original questioner:
You made some very thoughtful observations. I think you are correct that the payback in direct labor costs from restructuring this work cell might be a ways off but there also some benefits associated with better worker ergonomics and better space utilization. My sentiments about carts are well documented. Just like a project will expand to the time available, a lot of times the number of carts filled up with half-completed projects will just expand to the number of carts that are available. Carts are for conveying things but they can also be used for conveying priorities. Where something lives in your building can provide information as to status of completion and can serve as a trigger for releasing work upstream from the cart.

In the case of the video the cart also became a bench for holding fasteners and nailguns. By adding definition in this work cell there is also the benefit of adding control. At my shop we have a problem with people mortising cabinet doors right outside my office. Adding insult to injury we also have to pay to spend money collecting and putting away the tools associated with this activity. A well defined work zone for this would possibly be a cart on wheels but would probably be better developed as a bench that was transportable with a pallet jack. At least that way it would usually live a reasonable distance from my office.

I found a lot of things to learn from this movie. One of them, as I mentioned before, was just the transparency that seeing this on film provided. Many golf instructors use video to help your game. A football team does also. We could be doing this in our shops as well. Maybe not with the video, but definitely with the storyboard.

From the original questioner:
The sustain part of a 5S program is probably the basis for another thread. One of the guys in my shop pointed me to a YouTube video that coined the phrase "Factory Physics".

The laws of factory physics say that water will follow the simplest path. We have to figure out how to make the sustain part a structural event rather than an edifying exhortation.

An example of this might be tying your drill press chuck key to a cable so that it can't get lost. Another one might be too hard of wire for the air nozzles. This is small stuff until you have to start wandering around looking for a chuck key or an air nozzle.

It's big stuff when one of your guys lowers the buffering sander outfeed onto a box of screws and starts to tear the rubber conveyor belt. We have put in a mechanical sustain part here that preludes horizontal storage in this area. Bulk screw storage is at the outfeed end of our sander but it now has a diagonal lid on it. (Don't ask how come this became a priority). Sustain needs to be done on a structural basis whenever possible. If you kill the quick disconnects you will always know where the staple gun is.

From contributor K:
Are we over analyzing the situation? Donít take this the wrong way, but in the video we are just building pallets. Itís probably one of the simplest forms of woodworking. Itís pretty general and doesnít take a lot of common sense. Is the assembler even considered a woodworker? One problem to solve is changing the environment for a cabinet shop, or a furniture maker that only builds one of kind commissions. How does a company organize to be efficient? Also are they willing to spend the money to move equipment around the shop. Where I work they are not. Sure a person can organize the workflow, but itís only as good as the worker doing the work. We all know everyone works at their own pace. Just guessing here, but the difference could be as much as ten minutes in time gained or lost per individual per pallet.

Another aspect is that are we talking about putting video in the workshop. Is it the next step above data entry? How many workers will allow that? I for one will not Ė certainly after 32 years at my position and never one complaint about the work being done, both quantity and quality. I donít need my supervisor with his college degree telling me how to do my job, or even watching me for that matter. He can give me suggestions, but itís up to me to implement them. As I hope everyone here will admit, I still learn things almost every day. I also make mistakes every day.

From contributor B:
You're right about the value of video in analyzing movement and systems, I apologize if my comments were a little off-track. You mention golf swing analysis. It seems to me, the more complex the sport, the more they use it. Here in Seattle, Mike Holmgren almost always hedges any game criticisms immediately after the game with, 'I have to look at the video'. And the best quarterbacks in the game are often credited with spending inordinate amounts of time studying film - Peyton Manning being just one example. These guys are among the best in their field.

Video's other power to me is as proof of concept. I've worked around rookie - even very experienced woodworkers; try telling them you can build a hand-dovetailed drawer in ten minutes. They won't believe you. Maybe it's not as precise as the skinny bubinga dovetails they just spent all day working on, but how many clients want to pay you a day's labor to do the joinery for one drawer? Anyway, video can be a good tool to demonstrate baseline performance, or give someone a sense of what's possible. The four minute mile was unbreakable, until it wasn't.

To get even more philosophical about it, video analysis is just another path to the truth. How are we really spending our time, what is really wasted effort; what are the real safety problems. Being able to slow down and speed up playback is a very useful tool. I would imagine a good manufacturing consultant would use video extensively in troubleshooting and diagnosing manufacturing inefficiencies. Thanks for getting me thinking about this.

From the original questioner:
There is a book called Light, Science and Magic about lighting for photography. In the part about polarized reflection they discuss how photos can show things differently than the way our brain processes them. The opportunity to detach your from the moment gives you a unique perspective, and, as you pointed out, the ability to include others in analysis of the moment. A video presentation requires a storyboard at the front end. This very act introduces a discipline that is not available when processes are approached more casually. Looking at this through the binocular end would also present some opportunities for the marketing side of our businesses.

From contributor T:
We do all kinds of observations and time studies in our plant. Everyone knows that it's for two specific reasons. One to improve our estimating and two to spot and eliminate waste, making the individual's work easier and less frustrating and the company more profitable. We did a kaizen on an assembly bench in our specialty area that involved four guys with clipboards (two from office, two of his peers) observing one of our best specialty assemblers for two, eight hour days. He thought it was ridiculous, they felt sheepish, and who knows what the rest of the shop thought. But when they came up with the incontrovertible fact that he was spending a mere 15% of his paid time adding value to the product he was working on, and wasting the rest of his time moving parts, looking for tools, trying to figure out drawings, waiting for materials etc. it opened some eyes.

We used the information to change the way our benches were set up and the way our system works, and our productivity in that area has radically improved, along with the quality of work life for the specialty assemblers as a group. If we were to do this again using a video camera we'd ask the assembler first and I don't think we'd get any objection if we explained what it was for. So far my experience has been that my people react with pride and enthusiasm when we ask them to help improve shop processes and change their environment for the better. I assume it's because we include them in the discussion- if we just put a video camera out there they might not be so enthusiastic.

From contributor B:
I have been reading a lot of posts about lean, here and elsewhere. I have learned a lot and have implemented some of the ideas and am working on implementing more. I like the idea of taking video of the tasks to see how we can improve. I took still shots of the shop and lumber areas, and really learned tons from that. We improved our lumber storage by building carts to take right out to the lumber truck. We used to have everything just piled on the floor. We arranged our router bit drawer and labeled each hole for each bit, we added peg board behind the shapers for wrenches, fences, sample blocks etc. What a huge improvement. We now took our hinges and bought bright yellow bins to put them in. Also they now have a dedicated place on the shelf with a removable tag to take to the order gal when we are low. Such simple things have improved our throughput by huge amounts. The employees are starting to 5S on their own. They come and ask me what do you think about adding a divider here or there for x. I say go for it. It has resulted in almost doubling our sales/throughput over last year with the same employees.