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Tata Steel

From talent to skill

Tata Steel makes steel. That is easy to say, but it is a complex process. In practice this means that on their IJmuiden site alone, an area similar in size to the municipality of Zeist, there are eleven operating units with several factories to make production possible. And in a market where price and quality are key drivers of the company's success, system availability and effectiveness of the processes are of great importance.

For steel production at Tata Steel, many people are working 24/7 in a large number of capital-intensive installations. The various factories in the area are interdependent in terms of supplying and receiving semi-finished products. A fault in the process at one plant can have consequences for the next one. Therefore faults in systems and processes need to be speedily and, above all, effectively resolved. An important tool here is a systematic approach to identifying, recording, analysing and permanently solving these faults. Jan-Hein de Groen, as manager of the TQM BEI department, is responsible for that process. “Trouble shooting faults used to be considered as a talent. Today we are a lot further on. We now know that you can teach people to work on solving faults with a thorough approach”, Jan-Hein puts his finger on the crux of the matter: “The complexity lies in making the right decisions. As a problem solver, you should use good data, not jump to conclusions and arrive at the action with which you can solve the problem permanently in a demonstrable way. And if there are multiple possibilities, you look for the way that achieves the best effect at the lowest possible cost."

To make this approach the standard one, Tata Steel is working with CoThink on a so-called Action Programme. Here a team of people are brought together to work with each other on the structured approach to current problems. That may be recurring faults but it can also be high levels of downtime, rejects or cost problems. In groups of up to twelve project leaders, situations are dealt with which are current in the participants' teams. The project leaders take the situations into the training course and work them out further with their own teams in practice. For this, the course begins with a base of theory but, with every session, the practical share increases. The project leaders help  each other by asking questions until the root cause of the situation is found. The beauty of it is also that, in this way, a team of experts is created that is spread over the entire IJmuiden site. This team of experts will continue working on improvements.

Jan-Hein: "There are obviously some challenges. We train people to not be too quick to draw a conclusion. They have to make a fault-based  analysis, in which cause and effect are clearly demonstrated. If there are several faults, they  should prioritize in relation to the impact of each fault on the company's business. Solving a fault should contribute to the business goals of Tata Steel”. There is a third challenge that is at least as important in everyday life. Jan-Hein: "We teach people to really round off the problem at the end. That goes beyond just solving the fault”

Are all the faults completely worked out? No, situations that can be solved directly with knowledge and experience do not necessarily need to be worked out by following the model, especially if a case that was previously worked out can help solve a problem. But if the problem returns, the systematic A to Z approach is needed. The team describes the situation with the so-called Event Map  and works it through, until they have demonstrated cause and effect.

This approach to tackling problems in structured way has been adopted for over a year by  CoThink and Tata Steel. It has achieved measurable results. Jan-Hein de Groen: "The processes show the effects. As an example, we have calculated that one action programme has yielded some 800,000 Euros by improving 12 problem processes."

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