By: Julie Thyne, North America Continuous Improvement Leader at The Dow Chemical Company

Julie, can you tell us a little bit about your professional background, leading up to and including your current role as North America Continuous Improvement lead at Dow?

I’ve spent the last 21 years working at Dow in a variety of manufacturing positions. I have worked in a number of business units, including the Automotive, Pharmaceutical, and Electronic Materials markets. Prior to joining the Continuous Improvement group, I was a site leader for one of our small electronic materials facilities. When I was there I saw the results that could be realized from using continuous improvement methodology. I really wanted to share my experience with others, and that’s how I came to this role.

You have recently discussed the concept of using the voice of the experts to drive reliability improvements. Can you elaborate on this concept?

Our voice of the experts process is a structured brainstorming approach that we use to improve plant performance. We’ve been using it primarily as an improvement tool for operational reliability, but there are other applications as well. In our case, the experts in this process come from all levels of the plant, from the maintenance craftsperson to the plant leader to the technology expert. We ask leading questions, we collect feedback, and then we help the plant prioritise their ideas into continuous improvement projects. Perhaps most importantly, we help the plant execute the highest value projects first so they can realise the benefits of those improvements right away. We’ve been using the process for a number of years, and the improvement projects have a lot of different scopes. Sometimes they fall into a more technical project, and we can bring in an expert to help the plant solve the issue. Sometimes the problems are more of a work process; maybe the plant doesn’t have a good meeting structure or metric structure or dashboard, or maybe they don’t have good hand-offs between maintenance and operations, and we can help with those things as well.

When you meet with the experts in the different facilities, what are some of the important questions that you’re asking them?

We do some of our own data mining upfront in order to identify where those improvement opportunities might be in the plant, but of course, we really want to hear from the people who are in that plant every day, who maybe have spent their whole career working in that environment... [...]

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