By Barry Nigrini, Continuous Improvement Manager, Bridgestone South Africa

Like all South African manufacturers, Bridgestone faces serious challenges. Among them are a flood of cheap imports, a shrinking domestic market, often fractious labour relations and low productivity levels. We do have a weak currency and good technical expertise, but it remains a tough climate for manufacturing.

And yet most commentators agree that a strong and growing manufacturing sector is the essential foundation for an economy that is expanding and creating new jobs. Both are absolute imperatives in this country, with its high unemployment rate and stagnant economy—and millions of people hungry to improve their lot.

Achieving manufacturing excellence is clearly critical if we are to stand a chance of exporting successfully, and of seeing off foreign competitors from ultra-low-cost countries. In our own case, we decided we really needed to take decisive action to change the way we did things in order to achieve these goals, and we decided that the Integrated Work System (IWS) offered us the principles and methodology we needed to do so.

We began piloting IWS some two years ago, and are now well into rollout, and the results have been encouraging.

IWS is an innovative approach to manufacturing originally developed by P&G and is presented in SA in association with EY. It was born of P&G’s ongoing drive to improve its manufacturing processes. It has two key principles: to strive to reach zero losses during the manufacturing process, and 100-percent employee ownership.[1] It is all about engagement!

Our traditional leadership style was no longer effective or appropriate in today’s world, particularly as we have a new generation of better educated workers in our factories. We saw IWS as a way essentially to turn the traditional management structure on its head, and make the people who operate each piece of equipment the “boss”, in effect giving them autonomy. This means that the “owner” of each piece of equipment is empowered with the skills needed to undertake basic maintenance, take the lead in suggesting improvements and decision making at the coal face.

This requires a significant mind shift for everybody, not least the machine operators themselves. Finding yourself the point of accountability rather than a mere operator takes some getting used to.

One aim is to speed up decision-making. It’s similar to the way that reflex actions cut the brain out of the loop in order to make the split-second reaction that is required. By pushing decision-making—and thus accountability—down onto the shop floor, we will ultimately be able to remove two layers of management (supervisors and middle managers)—a huge cost saving combined with a significant gain in efficiency.

Of course, such a process does not happen overnight, and these middle managers will form the nucleus of the teams that will help the equipment owners make the transition over an average two-year period. It would be highly disadvantageous to lose their skills thereafter, so they will move into the centres of excellence that we have created to support the manufacturing operation, with a key focus on coaching on the floor (COTF).

We are about to commence the third phase of a planned five-phase implementation and already the results are apparent. Some of the highlights are:

  • Discernible performance improvements as people buy into the concept of taking ownership of their machine. Two operators have already been promoted into management positions.
  • Machines suffer fewer breakdowns because of ongoing maintenance, and some shifts have been able to be eliminated.
  • Uptick in operators completing their trade tests to facilitate the concept of autonomous maintenance.
  • Process improvements; for example, the merging of three control sheets into one has reduced the time spent on documentation.
  • Throughput on individual machines has improved by up to 44 percent.
  • Increased resilience as time saved (planned stops) by increased throughput used to reduce number of shifts, thus allowing for cross-training on other machines. This means the production capability is more flexible, and can respond to unexpected situations more easily.

These results are great but, for us, the biggest impact has been the way the machine operators have bought into the concept, and how they have blossomed. Some days we receive 11 suggestions for improvement—a sense of ownership and desire to contribute simply did not previously exist.

Some of the comments we have received include: “I feel IWS brings about meaning to my workplace… and brings about positive working culture”; “There is a change and things are now better”; “I can see improvement with regard to breakdowns and defect handling response time”; “IWS has shown BIG improvements to our standard of work. Now we work smart and see the results”.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the positive attitude shown by the machine operators has changed the whole dynamic in the facility and, as shown above, has also delivered concrete results.

Like all businesses, despite its reliance on machinery, manufacturing is essentially dependent on its people. IWS is showing us how true that is.

[1] Franz Dill, “Integrated Work System”, available at

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