You have started the journey in lean manufacturing in your company. One of the first things you have done is set up an assembly line that builds products in a one-piece flow instead of batch mode. But, most days the line is not meeting its TAKT time and the flow down the assembly line seems ragged. You wonder to yourself, is something missing?
There are many things that can cause assembly line to have bad flow, such as an unbalanced assembly line, bad parts, added work called fluctuation (extra work or problems that happens occasionally) or periodic (extra work or problems that happens every so many units), and many other problems. The assembly line teammates are only given "x" amount of seconds to complete their cycle work before they are expected to begin their next unit. They do not have time to "fix" problems and when encountered, they lose the time and cannot recover without help. What kind of help do they need and where should it come from? The team leader.
Team leader's role
The team leader has three primary responsibilities: to restore flow, to identify problems, and to correct problems.
Restore Flow: This happens many ways. The team leader identifies a behind condition on the assembly line or is alerted by a signaling system that the assembly teammate has activated. The team leader responds promptly (less than 30-45 seconds) and helps to restore that station to TAKT Time. When the flow is restored, the team leader determines if a temporary countermeasure is needed and implements the countermeasure or assigns a support teammate the responsibility of implementing the countermeasure.
Identify Problems: The team Leader then identifies what problem occurred that caused the interruption to the station's flow and lists the problem on a problem solving board.
Correct Problems: The team leader uses a problem solving methodology to identify the root cause of the problem and ensure a true fix is implemented. In many cases, the team leader will assign some of the problems listed on the board to other individuals on the support team.
Other team leader responsibilities include training new teammates, cross-training teammates, moving teammates to cover absences or vacations, maintaining a training matrix, loading the build schedule in the scheduling box for the next shift, ensuring a proper unit mix is loaded, charting line performance such as calculated vs measured WACT (weighted Average Cycle Times), helping to implement Kaizens (work improvement activity), and providing feedback on teammate performance.
Even when your one-piece flow line has matured, rest assured there will be problems daily that prevent teammates from meeting their TAKT time on a unit. These problems are not the fault of the assembly teammates in most cases. You do not want the teammates to hide or ignore their problems because this prevents them from being fixed at the root cause and they will just occur again at a later date.
The team leader, when used correctly, is the right way to ensure that the assembly line flows smoothly. The team leader will restore the flow to a station that has experienced a problem, he/she will identify what problem interrupted the flow, and will ensure that the problem is corrected at the root cause to prevent it from occurring again.