The Virta project brings LEAN thinking into production

The five-year-long Virta project is a plan that will help TT Gaskets pursue not only profitable growth, but also internationalization. The roots of this large-scale project lie in the generational change of the family business and the new factory expansion.

– We realized that an internal project is quite necessary. We had a need to renew and modernize our ways of work, management, and responsibility. Based on that, we started to develop the Virta project entity and LEAN management, says Matti Järvinen, Quality and LEAN manager.

The Virta project consists of eight different project packages. Each entity has its own goals and persons in charge. The project that began in 2020, is expected to last until the end of 2025. The aim is to enable international growth and benefit the customers through more efficient processes.

New models for day-to-day management

TT Gaskets’ management team got new operating models from a training. The management participated in the Tampere Business Campus’ TBC Academy for more than a year. The basic goal was to apply LEAN thinking to management, starting with how supervisory work should be conducted in today’s world and what opportunities, tools and practices exist for job development.

– Our team leaders have been working here for a long time, so they know people, machines, and products. With the new practices, production teams meet daily or a few times a week. The meeting is for checking how the department is doing and reviewing indicators related to safety, quality, as well as development ideas, Järvinen says.

LEAN thinking streamlines all functions. Deviations and other possible findings are reviewed together, and good ideas or practices are implemented. All ideas come directly from the employees.

– The new management models improved inner communications significantly. When we go through every-day matters collectively and maintain constant follow-up, the staff also realizes their ideas don’t go to waste and that things move forward all the time. Their tacit knowledge will be heard.

A more efficient process brings customer benefits

In the Virta project, LEAN thinking has been extended not only to management but also to production operations. The new production hall increases the efficiency of processes as materials and work will only flow in one direction. The warehouses are at each end of the U-shaped hall, soft materials at one end and hard materials at the other.

– All materials flow in only one direction. The raw materials come from the courtyard to the warehouse, from where they are transferred to cutting and then post-processing department for finishing. After that, the finished high-quality products leave the factory through the packaging department and the back door, to the customer. This one-way flow also applies to workstations. One doesn’t need to look for things when the output always moves to the next input in the work process. This is a very transparent way of working, Järvinen describes.

– The entire chain can be controlled and monitored very visually with the help of our IT systems. We immediately see where the bottlenecks are starting to form, and which step of the process the work is at. Thanks to numerous checkpoints, defective products are caught in the production, and we learn from deviations together. The risk of for example not performing a certain step in the process is minimized. All this, of course, increases the efficiency of the processes, therefore improving our quality and reducing the delivery times.

Ready for international growth

The benefits of the Virta project are already visible in everyday life, and achieving goals also brings joy.

– One of our goals was to get the first patent this year, and we succeeded. Smart gaskets are just one example of how we are constantly looking for the right skills and technologies for the company. In this way, we keep up with developing in a changing world, internationalization and, for example, carbon-neutral operations.

Job satisfaction is also an integral part of the Virta project and LEAN management models. The 6S themes “safety, usability and comfort” refined from TT Gaskets’ Virta project run as a common thread in the operation of the factory. 6S refers to a tool for developing and maintaining cleanliness and order: sort, store, shine, standardize, sustain and safety.

– When it’s easy and comfortable for people to work, it’s ultimately also reflected in efficiency and cost savings. Innovations such as smart gaskets, in turn, bring great savings to our customers, for example in proactive maintenance. Everyone wins, Järvinen says.