What is SMED

Put the ED in SMED


Let’s put a new spin on a familiar tool: what if the “E” in SMED stood for Employee? 

Before we get into what that means, we’ll take a couple seconds to make sure we’re all on the same page about SMED. Whether you’ve used it recently or never heard of SMED, here’s a little background.

What is SMED?

You might be thinking there’s already an ED in SMED. If you are, you’re right. Officially, the acronym stands for “Single Minute Exchange of Dies,” thought it can be used in a variety of machines and situations with or without dies. Other names for this type of waste reduction include “Quick Changeover” and “Rapid Exchange of Tooling.”

The idea is to look at a process or machine and find as many parts as possible that could be treated as “external.” That means they could be changed outside of the process without interrupting the process itself. Think of the last time you discovered you could prep one part of the process while the rest of the process was running, such as putting your credit card back in your wallet while the gas pump filled your car. Anything else you could do while you waited for something else to be finished would probably qualify.

The opposite of external parts are internal parts, which have to be accessed inside the machine or during the process. For example, you wouldn’t try to fill your gas tank while a mechanic was replacing your gas tank. If any part of that replacement process could be done outside of the car without affecting the filling of the gas tank, it would be considered external. Otherwise, it’s internal and the process has to stop in order for it to be changed.

All of this information about SMED is helpful and valuable, but there’s another piece to it, another benefit lurking under the SMED surface.

Employee Development

Rather than just looking at the SMED process as a way to reduce waste and find tasks that could be done concurrently, think about what Employees learn when they’re pulling apart a machine or a process. They get to see it from a new perspective that usually remains hidden when the process is in action. What do they learn from this perspective? How does that affect the rest of their jobs?

  • Cause and effect: Looking from the inside of the process, they see how their actions on the outside affect what happens inside. This may reveal a whole domino effect of inside movements. Seeing that can give Employees ideas of what to change or how things could be improved.
  • Identify redundancies:Ideally, there would be none, but SMED will expose any redundancies that may exist. We all know what happens when a redundancy is discovered. It’s changed or eliminated. When it comes to tasks that are going to increase TAKT time and cost, there’s no room for performing them multiple times.
  • Expanded understanding of the process:When the people running the process understand more clearly how it really works, they are better equipped to make other improvements and troubleshoot in a pinch. They may also see the overall process flow more clearly or how their individual jobs affect the product that is sent to the customer.
  • Employee Engagement:There’s a growing desire among Employees, especially younger Employees, to develop more skills. Rather than keeping them on the outside of the process only doing their specific job all the time, they could be on a project that would show them the whole picture, expand their skills, deepen their interest in the process, and engage a larger part of their minds.

We’ve all heard about Employee Engagement, how important it is and how it ties to real business outcomeslike customer satisfaction and safety. We’ve also heard about the need to show positive results for our Lean projects. Next time you’re looking for data to back up a project you’d like to do or justification for increased spending on Lean, look for connections between the teams who participate the most in Lean activities and their engagement. If your company conducts an engagement survey, look at that data. Connections between Lean and Engagement will most likely be connected to other things every business cares about, like safety and low turnover.

One final way to use SMED for Employee Development, would be with new team members or others who aren’t on the team and could benefit from understanding what this particular team does. Not only will SMED boost their initial learning, it will build connections between teams and help them take each other into account in their daily work. 

In the interest of continuous improvement, you could also think of all the new insights and ideas that could come from a fresh set of eyes.

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