Contractor at Work
Finding efficiencies in your work
By Jacqui Empson Laporte
How can drainage contractors minimize waste without sacrificing productivity?
By Jacqui Empson Laporte
My spouse works in automotive manufacturing. We often talk about the differences and similarities of our workplaces. In manufacturing, the focus is put on time and process. Could we use the same thinking in agricultural drainage to find efficiencies in the way we do things, but stay true to the values that make our industry so unique?
LEAN is a continuous change philosophy that forces us to change the way we think and how we operate. Its practitioners promote value to the customer through continuous improvement and respect for people. Fundamentally, the premise attempts to minimize waste without sacrificing productivity or value.
Our group at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs is taking a bit of creative license from the traditional forms of waste, so that we can look at it from the perspective of agriculture drainage. Our industry experts identified nine forms of waste with some agricultural partners who were interested in looking at their operations in a different way.
Over-production: Making more of something or something of higher quality than actually required. A good example is manure – do we know how much manure we really need, or can we find a partner who can use the extra? Applying more manure than is required for crop growth is an example of waste.
Movement: Unnecessary movement of materials, information or equipment. Anyone who has moved equipment to one location, only to have to pick it up and move it somewhere else understands this frustration.
Motion: Any movement that doesn’t bring value, such as walking to and from a place. Do you have the tools that you routinely use? Are they located in a handy spot? Or, do you have to walk from place to place to find them?
Wait time: For equipment, tools, people or parts. In some cases, like this year, waiting for the field to dry up.
Inventory: Too much paperwork, information or equipment for what is needed. You have to find the balance between ordering what you need and capitalizing on sales or bulk discounts. A more obscure example of this might be purchasing a new piece of equipment with bells and whistles that won’t actually be used to make decisions in your operation.
A more obscure example of this might be purchasing a new piece of equipment with bells and whistles that won’t actually be used to make decisions in your operation.
Processing: More steps in a process than is needed to achieve the required result.
Under-utilized people: Mismatching or failing to properly use the skills and experience of the people on your team. A farmer colleague of mine admitted that while he is the “machine shop guy,” he is terrible at paperwork. It takes twice as long as it should and it frustrates him. It was much better for him once he partnered with someone who was “the numbers guy.”
Energy: Including electricity, waste management and water conservation. This can be as simple as a fan left running or machine idling, or as complex as maintaining equipment within operating specifications to maximize efficiency.
Correction: Steps in a process that don’t address inaccuracies or improve quality, or a flawed process that requires more review.
Ask your employees, “What bugs you?” The root cause of frustration is often a form of waste.
There may always be a place for traditional financial incentive programs, but there are always opportunities for process improvement. Ask your employees, “What bugs you?” The root cause of frustration is often a form of waste. Look at your operation with a fresh set of eyes.
We want to continuously improve how we deliver value items to our customers – the efficiency of tile installation, construction of an open drain, or erosion control for example. Continuous improvement requires us to look beyond the basic needs of the customer and identify changes on the horizon that will change our industry for both us and the customer.
Jacqui Empson Laporte is an environmental specialist and a member of the drainage team for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. She is also a director on the board of Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario, and is responsible for managing projects related to Lake Huron water quality. Laporte has penned several guest columns for Drainage Contractor over the years, here are a couple more below: