Improved problem solving capability reaping rewards for Galway medical device company
08 September 2015
Author: Peter Delmer, principal manufacturing engineer, Boston Scientific, Galway
Boston Scientific Galway develops and manufactures critical-to-life medical devices in an evolving and competitive environment. Excellent performance in safety, quality, service and cost is crucial to patient care and maintaining position as a global market leader, but this cannot be achieved without a mechanism for continuous improvement.
The journey to becoming a CPD award finalist began with the realisation in late 2012 that problem solving was a capability held by a relatively small number of employees, mostly in the engineering functions.
Although good training courses were in place, delivered to a large audience, there was no follow-up system that ensured learning was applied on the job. The challenge lay in developing a team problem solving system that would develop more and more people to become capable problem solvers. Boston Scientific needed to build individual skills and organisational capability to support a culture of continuous improvement where problems are solved at the appropriate level.
It was realised that problems needed to be eliminated across the organisation, at all levels. The benefits of achieving this were clearly around improved performance in safety, quality, service and cost, but were also around professional development, morale, empowerment and improved job satisfaction.
A team of people, selected from across the manufacturing operation, began to develop a team problem solving system under the guidance of the director of manufacturing engineering. While the team did focus on developing best-practice problem solving methods it was even more important that they focus on all the elements of a system that would ensure improved problem solving activity levels and better outcomes.
For example, training would need to be supplemented with project work, coaching, project reviews and feedback mechanisms; teams would need problem solving boards, templates, cheat sheets and easy access to reference material; and a good set of metrics would need to be developed that would drive the right system behaviours.
Of course there were many obstacles to be overcome along the way. How to build teamwork between technical and non-technical team members? How to convince people that this is not just a fad – problem solving should not be something else we must do, it should be what we do to achieve our goals. How to train and coach hundreds of busy people in teams? How to sustain the effort beyond 12 or 18 months?
Training began in October 2013 and was delivered to almost 50 teams in short modules. Teams began working on problems immediately, armed with all the tools they needed. Coaching was delivered on the shop floor. Problem solving was made visual as problem solving boards were installed across the plant. Managers and senior engineers were trained to support the teams and ownership of problem solving was handed over to production supervisors.
Teams worked on daily problems using the plan/do/check/act methodology and on larger projects using six-step problem solving. The larger projects were documented in A3 format and stored in a database for easy knowledge sharing. The system was continuously monitored and adjusted to drive desired behaviours and maintain momentum.
After 15 months of training, coaching, supporting and driving the Galway site finally hit an internal goal of closing five projects in a month across the site. A transformation has been achieved and for the past seven months that level of activity has been met or exceeded. The knowledge database has 64 completed A3s at the time of writing.
“Team problem solving is a great example of Boston Scientific’s commitment to Continuing Professional Development. It enables employees to thrive in a culture of learning while delivering measurable results to the business.”
Mike O’Flynn, vice-president, operations
A far greater percentage of our manufacturing population now have the skills to solve problems with permanent solutions using a standardised approach, under minimum supervision, to prevent recurring problems. Vital process knowledge is now captured in a growing knowledge database which is accessible to all employees.
Although there are many other contributory factors in a wide-ranging continuous improvement effort, team problem solving has helped to ensure production performance continues to improve in safety, quality, service and cost.
Perhaps the biggest benefit has been in the development of people. Problem solving, technical writing and coaching skills have improved; better teamwork and leadership skills have spilled over into other areas; people have improved their communication skills by presenting projects and have gained recognition as trailblazers; they feel that they have developed professionally and enhanced their job satisfaction.
“The methodical approach that was driven through the process helped us as our problem solving techniques became more organised, systematic and ultimately led to a more effective permanent solution.”
SES Core Team 2
“Good learning experience … problem solving enhanced teamwork within the core team. Team involvement is vital to the success of the project.”
Moulding Days Core Team
Having strong technical capability within operations is critical to maintaining high standards. Boston Scientific Galway adopted the Engineers Ireland CPD framework as a strategy for developing talent within the organisation. Building upon its systemic, multi-layered approach a system for problem solving was developed, implemented, improved and sustained.
Persistence in working towards a common vision has ensured that today Boston Scientific is reaping the rewards. While Galway is a leading plant in the Boston Scientific network, maintaining this performance is vital to attracting new business to sustain jobs for the local and national economy.
Peter Delmer is responsible for developing internal capability in problem solving and process improvement methods. A certified Six Sigma Black Belt, Peter has extensive experience in manufacturing processes having worked in Fujitsu, Microsoft, Motorola and Boston Scientific, starting as a maintenance technician and progressing through various process engineering roles. He has an diploma in electronics (hons), a BSc degree in information technology and is currently pursuing an MSc in lean enterprise
CPD Employer of the Year Award 2015
The 2015 search for the CPD-accredited employer that uses formal learning and development to best effect is coming to a close. The aim is to recognise and reward engineering-led organisations which demonstrate best practices in the use of continuing professional development (CPD) to adapt to steps-changes in their operating environments.
The CPD Employer of the Year Award is the premium award for employers of professional engineers and technicians. Now in its twelfth year, the Award aims to recognise successful accomplishment of an organisation’s strategic vision through the use of suitable CPD initiatives. This year’s finalists will present their entries to an audience of CPD-accredited employer organisations on Wednesday, 7 October, in Clyde Road. Winners will be announced at the Engineers Ireland Excellence Awards in the InterContinental Dublin, Ballsbridge, on Friday, 6 November 2015.
In announcing these awards, Engineers Ireland was saluting organisations that have pioneered new approaches, new processes and new practices. These achievements are of national standing, of sectoral significance and they have sustained and protected thousands of jobs, if you take the totality of what our finalists have achieved.
A stellar selection of entries has been whittled down to just three – the very best of the best. The 2015 finalists comprise:
- Boston Scientific (Galway);
- Farrans Construction;and
- KCI Manufacturing.