GKN plc

GKN takes the lean approach

Lean manufacturing is viewed by many as the latest management trend in the cost-reduction arena.

This type of manufacturing is the production of goods using less of everything compared to mass production: less waste, human effort, manufacturing space, investment in tools, and engineering time to develop a new product. Having recently adopted its Lean Enterprise approach, GKN is rapidly improving its tools and techniques through the entire value chain.

Peter Watkins, global lean enterprise and business excellence director at GKN comments: “When we talk about lean, we don’t just talk about lean manufacturing. This is a mistake some companies make – they concentrate on improving value flow of the physical product on the shop floor, which is great but if you think about all the other supporting processes, such as design, finance and human resources, there are a significant number of factors, which are not even being touched. We look at lean in its entirety – from the customer order through to delivery, and all the factors, which are affected in between – the whole value chain.”

He continues: “I joined GKN about three years ago to help develop a common approach to continuous improvement. As a result, the new ‘lean enterprise approach’ has now been implemented. We started at the first level of physical value flow in the cell/line by setting up team members into natural works to implement our ‘six enablers’ – Standard Work, Visual Management, Lost Time Analysis, 5S, Autonomous Maintenance. These enablers focus us to train and develop our team members to improve their own work. We use the six enablers system to do this. This is a scorecard programme with levels one to five. The higher up the scale an employee involvement team gets the more skilled they are at improving their own workplace. The six enablers scorecard sets them very clear goals on what we want them to achieve and then we do everything in our power to support them.

“We are also looking at how we can improve synchronisation between cells/ lines in our plants so the products flow more efficiently. We are teaching people in all our sites to redesign flow in their factories to suit their particular product families. In addition to this, we are taking into account the larger product flow – outside the factory (extended value flow). We are looking at how we can synchronise all the links between factories – internally in GKN and externally out into the supply chain. All of this hard work is guided, directed, prioritised and coached by leadership steering committees, which are present in each site and function. Their focus is to plan improvement and develop the capability of team leaders and members to improve business results by ensuring a continuous improvement culture exists.”

Through its worldwide presence, GKN provides technology-based, highly engineered products to virtually all of the world’s major manufacturers of light vehicles, agricultural and construction equipment, aircraft structures and aero engines. Over 40,000 people work in GKN companies and the group has joint ventures in approximately 30 countries.

GKN’s businesses are organised into three portfolio groupings. Automotive comprises Driveshafts, Torque Technology, AutoStructures, Cylinder Liners and the Emitec joint venture. Powder Metallurgy, which includes GKN Sinter Metals and Hoeganaes, Off-Highway and Industrial Distribution Services also comprise one of the portfolio groupings. Aerospace is based on three business units; Propulsion Systems and Special Products, Aerostructures North America and Aerostructures Europe.

GKN’s new lean approach is being implemented in all of the organisation’s sites, which includes factories in approximately 30 countries worldwide. The most recent additions to GKN’s network are a number of sites in China. Peter explains: “GKN works hard to set up partnerships with companies in China but we have managed to develop strong long term relationships with leading companies such as the Shanghai Drive Shaft Company Limited (SDS).

Over the past 20 years, GKN has established a reputation for technology leadership with by developing many strategic partnerships in China. Peter continues: “Through joint and wholly owned ventures we have been able to increase our presence in this market even further. We have recently developed or acquired new sites for other divisions, including a Off-Highway plant, a Cylinder Liners facility and a Sinter Metals plant.

“GKN has been strategically restructuring around the world to ensure they are continually operating in the right manufacturing locations and customer markets. The overall market is steady at the moment but there is significant growth in the Asian markets. Therefore, we are ensuring our global footprint will enable us to optimise and main these growth areas.”

Peter concludes: “The vision for the future of the company, in a lean sense, is to create a culture of continuous improvement within our business and production processes. A lean enterprise is not about using a bunch of lean tools and techniques’ – its all about the people. We have to get our entire workforce to think in a lean way, therefore making it the way we operate rather than just another programme. It is a big challenge to encourage all 40,000 of our team members to think in this way, so we have trained over 300 continuous improvement leaders to help give everybody the understanding of how to think and act lean on a daily basis not just attend the odd kaizen event. We have come a long way since we launched the lean enterprise approach – there have been some huge leaps forward – but we still have a long way to go towards achieving a true company culture of continuous improvement – a lean enterprise.”

GKN plc

Products: Automotive, aerospace and off-highway
Sites: 135 worldwide
Employees: 40,000