All posts by wmdavis

Megan shares her CAT experience!

I’m back!  This summer I took a break from my job as a Student Process Improvement Coordinator to participate in a Technical Marketing internship with Caterpillar, Inc. in Peoria, Illinois.  Although my primary job functions did not include continuous improvement work, I was able to gain exposure to both Lean and 6 Sigma efforts at Caterpillar during my internship.

During my internship, I took both my DMAIC and DMEDI 6 Sigma green belt tests.  DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.  DMAIC is useful for CPI processes, which are Continuous Product/Process Improvement projects.  DMEDI stands for Define, Measure, Explore, Develop, Implement.  DMEDI is useful for NPI projects, which are New Product/Process Introduction projects.  As someone who was only familiar with the Lean methodology prior to my experience at Caterpillar, it was interesting to see some of the overlapping of concepts and tools used, as well as the new concepts and tools I was unfamiliar with.

In addition to my 6 Sigma training, I was also exposed to CPS– the Caterpillar Production System.  Like Lean, CPS stems from TPS, the Toyota Production System.  The use of CPS was very apparent on the various facility tours that I was able to participate in.  At the different facilities there were metrics boards on display, and visual controls used for a variety of things, such as lines on the floor indicating where walking space was, signs to let people know that they are entering an area where extra safety equipment is required, etc.   Assembly lines were also set up to work for the people working on them; every tool seemed to have a place that it belonged.  On assembly lines there were also error-proofing methods used to make sure that the product was being made to exactly meet the specifications of the customer.

My experience this summer with Caterpillar was a fantastic opportunity and I learned so much, so I am excited to use my new 6 Sigma knowledge as I dive back into being a Student Process Improvement Coordinator at Michigan Tech!

-Megan Johnson

July Lean Training

The third training session for Michigan Tech Lean Facilitators and Lean Implementation Leaders was held this week.  These two training groups have four more sessions to complete the training.  As a result of the training sessions, the participants will be expanding their training knowledge as they support future Lean improvements here at the University.  If you are making improvements in your area or department, please contact me to have a facilitator help you out! 

Lean Consultants Mike Taubitz and Larry Osentoski with Wendy Davis
Team working on a Strategy Deployment Exercise
Team practicing Problem Solving using Affinity Diagrams

Energy Usage Kaizen

A quick improvement event was held last week at the Portage Lake Golf Course.  Below are some pictures from a ride we took on the course – a trip to the gemba (where the work is done).   Golf Course staff – managers, mowers and maintenance –  along with some outside eyes were brought together to investigate fluctuating fuel use (gallons) from season to season.   The team did some inventory and data collection during the kaizen to understand where the fuel was being used (flip chart picture below). 

As a result of the kaizen, refueling standards were put in place:  holding tank refuel schedule every 2-3 weeks and a full refuel of all machines and holding tank at the end of each season.    In past years, the tank was refueled when empty and not consistently at the end of each season (i.e. a lapse in full refuel in season A would cause a substantial increase in gallons in season B).  This new standard will provide a consistent fueling schedule season to season, a first step to being able to better forecast fuel costs.  Other causes for fuel fluctuations will continue to be investigated – mowing sequence and patterns (movement waste, over processing) , idling times (waiting waste: working around customers on course, moving benches, etc.) and maintenance of machines (correction waste).    To learn more about the types of waste, you can download the Learning to See Waster PowerPoint HERE

The best outcome of this quick kaizen was that the staff left with inspiration to beging working on the other improvement opportunities! 

My First Kaizen Event

I participated in my first kaizen event last week.  The cause for the kaizen was to identify a standardized process for frying and grilling items in the MUB Food Court. There was no set process which caused employees to make instinctive decision that sometimes resulted in too much or too little product for the customers.  

We began with some data collection and analyzing the current situation.  With an understanding of what currently was happening we brainstormed what we would like the future state to be.  We then did a lot of data collection: cooking times for all of the grill items (thawed and unthawed timing) and then taste tests after intervals under the warmer to note poor quality intervals.  This data allowed us to set a standard for each items cooking time and holding time.

Matt Lean, who led this kaizen, had some data regarding which grilled/fried food items were sold at different time periods throughout the day from previous months of data collection. As a team we had to evaluate the data so we could find the average items sold at different 15 minute increments. One of the bigger and time consuming problems was which method to use to find these averages. It took us a good chunk of time and a check and adjust process to figure out which way worked best and in the end we were able to see the averages and come up with some possible solutions to our initial problem.

In the end we had a solid start on our new standardized process, as well as visuals for both the workers and customers to see (max hold times, cooking times for each item, “Grad n’ Go”, “Please Order Here”, “Don’t see what you’re looking for? Please Ask!”). My favorite part about the whole experience was getting to see others learn and experience lean. By the end of the kaizen the whole team had a good understanding of Lean thinking and how the kaizen approach works.  We all got to see firsthand how beneficial this type of thinking is.   

–Kaylee Betzinger, Student Process Improvement Coordinator

Michigan Lean Consortium


I just wanted to pass along a great resource to the campus community: The Michigan Lean Consortium (MLC).

I have been in touch with some board members from the MLC for a few months now, they are making great strides to bring Lean practice to Michigan businesses.  One of our Lean training consultants  is the Secretary of the MLC, Mike Taubitz.

The MLC offers Lean learning events which are typically many driving hours away from Michigan Tech.  However, they have now begun recording these sessions.  Read about their latest event on Lean Leadership and find links to watch the recording HERE. 


Books Available for Loan

Hello Michigan Tech Staff and Faculty,

If you are interested in expanding your continuous improvement knowledge, consider checking out a book from the new “Lean Library” in the process improvement office.  We will also be expanding our collection in the next few weeks so any recommendations you have would be much appreciated.

Welcome Kaylee and Puneet

Two new student process improvement coordinators began working this summer, Kaylee Betzinger and Puneet Vasudev!  Kaylee and Puneet’s role is to support kaizen teams and improvement projects at Michigan Tech.  Below they each have shared a message to intorduce themselves:

“I am Puneet Vasudev, a new Student Process Improvement Coordinator, I am a Master’s student in Mechanical Engineering and I’m from New Delhi, India.  Before coming to Michigan tech in August 2011, I have worked for a total of 7 year at various positions in Manufacturing Industry. I have had hands-on experience of implementing lean tools like kaizen, SMED, Visual Controls, 5-S and Kanban. I gained more knowledge of lean tools by taking up Lean Manufacturing course at Michigan Tech in spring 2012. I am looking forward to working on projects this summer.  Currently I am working with dining to implement ‘HEIJUNKA’  in the food court  and stores clerk standardized work. My email address is, Please feel free to contact me.”

Hello!  I am Kaylee Betzinger, I am a third year Marketing and Management Information Systems Major and am from Cedar Springs, Mi.  This is my first experience working with lean and I am very exciting to learn about the lean systems and processes and put them to good use throughout campus and in my personal life. One of my first process improvement projects that I am working on is a custodian waste experiment. I have been collecting data (time cycles) at the Lakeshore center to see if there are any possible improvements that can be made when it comes to custodial work.  I can be contacted at if you have any questions or need anything of me.”

If you see Puntee or Kaylee around, please welcome them aboard!

Lean Consultants Coming to Campus

With grant funding from Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a team of two Lean professionals have been selected to provide Lean training on campus:

  • Mike Taubitz is a retired General Motors manager.  He has over 40 years of experience implementing Lean practice and culture.  Mike currently serves as the Michigan Lean Consortium Secretary and is the principal of Lean Journey, LLC.
  • Larry Osentoski is a Michigan Tech alumnus from Electrical Engineering.  He is the owner of DRIVE Developments, Inc. and uses Lean concepts to shape his business practices.  

 The goal of this training and grant project is to build labor and management relations and communication using a Lean culture building model and approach to continuous improvement.  Two groups of employees will be trained:

  • Lean Facilitators – facilitate Lean improvement events
  • Lean Implementation Leaders – lead a Lean transformation in their unit

There will also be opportunities for Lean learning available to all staff and faculty during consultant visits.  Mike and Larry will be on campus about 2 days per  month from May – November 2012.   Please watch this blog and Tech Today for Lean training announcements!

Respect for People

One of the two pillars of the Lean house is Jidoka, and that is the focus of this post.  Jidoka is one of the core principles of Lean and within the Toyota Production System it focused on the relationship between “man and machine.”   Jidoka is used to empower employees (man) to stop a process whenever a problem is detected.  When practiced at Toyota, this actually meant employees would stop the assembly line (machine) if there was a quality problem with the product.  They might have pulled a lever or pressed a button to do so.  When stopped, employees would gather to address and respond to the problem immediately before the line could begin again. 

Jidoka is typically described as a “respect for people,” as it is used to encourage staff to report and respond to problems.  When addressing a problem it improves communication among the process stakeholders, with an outcome of decreasing errors and defects.  The urgency and emphasis it puts on responding to problems gradually shifts the culture of an organization.  It shifts the focus from passing on errorsto immediately responding to them without assigning blame.  Without the fear of blame and focusing on the problem, trust builds and employees are even further empowered.   

To be more inclusive to our University environment, I I like to think of Jidoka as a relationship between “man and process.”  Not all process and parts of processes include phisical product or machines.  I encourage you to think about what errors you encounter each day within your processes and think about how you could incorporate a stop and respond approach to ensure the same problem did not occur again.

Personal Kanban Board

Kanban is a Japanese term that means “signboard.”  It is a tool used in Lean practice to communicate upstream when inventory (product or information) is needed downstream (in the next step of the process).  Kanban is used to support just-in-time processes. 

Using the idea of a kanban, I played around with the idea of a kanban board for my personal inventory – my time.  Where will I devote my time  today, tomorrow?  In other words, what is pulling my time?  I used the PDCA Cycle as the outline for my personal kanban, as you will see in the image below.  It was a super simple project.  The “Do” is my projects today.  “Plan” is what is upcoming.  Tasks in my “Check” and “Adjust” columns will need attention down the road and will most likely flow through the PDCA cycle again.  I used stickies so they can be moved easily.  You will also notice the green star sticky – that is a hot topic I need to address!  I imagine there will be more visual controls like the green star incorporated as I continue to use this tool.