Guerrilla Lean Initiative taking Somers’ efficiency quest to a whole new level

By now everyone connected with Olin Brass, and the metals industry in general for that matter, is familiar with the concept of “lean” and the transformational benefits it can bring to an organization in search of improved efficiencies. No Olin business unit has been more strongly committed to its pursuit than Somers Thin Strip, where lean efforts began in 2012 and momentum has been building ever since.

Most recently, the company embarked on a “Guerrilla Lean” initiative designed to generate change “from the bottom up” – that is, not by top down directives from upper management, but rather through targeted efforts conceived and carried out by small, self-directed teams of volunteers working at the operational level.

Teams are drawn from employees of all levels in all areas of the company and operate under the leadership of “champions,” who come up with the event concepts, perform data analysis to determine procedures, and then coordinate the event itself.

As the “guerrilla” label implies, their goal is to root out inefficiency wherever it’s hiding. And the results to date have been extremely promising, according to Production Manager and enthusiastic participant Steve Galullo.

“Our first guerrilla lean event started in January, and since then we’ve had about 10 different people step up to champion events,” he said. “Overall, the reception has been great, for a couple of reasons.” 

The first is results – measurable results that everybody on the team can see and take pride in. “For example, we did one event that started with an issue we were having with hydraulic pumps failing and lines leaking,” Galullo recounted. “So we did some root cause analysis and discovered that when we shut down for the weekend, the pumps were left running. This was putting excess load on the pump itself, keeping undue pressure in the lines, and just subjecting all of the equipment to unnecessary wear and tear.”

The solution was obvious. “So we altered the procedure and saw immediate improvement. And that in turn led us to develop standardized shutdown procedures for every machine in the facility – a detailed, itemized checklist that became part of the MO for every operator.”

And the results? Not only did they see measurably less downtime and fewer machine breakdowns, but significant energy savings as well – which in turn led to another event focusing on facility lighting and modifying weekend shutdown procedures for lighting throughout the Waterbury facility.

But beyond such tangible results, Galullo also sees intangible benefits the guerrilla lean initiative brings to participants and the entire company as well.

“These events are team efforts in the best sense of the word,” he said. “Everybody is on the same side and, maybe more important, on the same level. As a manager, I can’t stress enough how big a difference that makes. When I get in with these teams, everybody’s equal. Nobody pulls rank, everybody at the table has a say – and it gives me the opportunity to be their peer, rather than the manager.”

Galullo sees this as a terrific way to empower people, encourage them to take ownership of their jobs and feel a sense of partnership with their coworkers and the company itself. And that, in turn, mirrors the ultimate goal of “lean” as a company philosophy, which is to change the organization’s focus from vertical departments and structures to the value stream of products and services that flows horizontally across technologies, assets, and departments to customers. Less than a year after starting, it appears Somers Thin Strip is on the right track.