A Master Black Belt in LEAN Six Sigma and competitive athlete, Kim O'Connell has over 25 years of experience in precision manufacturing. Her production background in assembly, combined with her degrees in engineering, made Kim a natural fit for the Rochester Precision Optics team. Since joining RPO as Continuous Improvement Manager this past summer, Kim has made great progress in enabling capacity growth for RPO and its high-volume optics program customers. She shares her insights on lean manufacturing process improvement below.
How did your background in engineering translate into a career in continuous improvement?
LEAN Six Sigma brings out my competitive nature—I was an athlete and this role really demands rigor and a coaching mentality. I started my career in manufacturing and assembly at Ford, later moving on to Xerox and Lidestri. It was while I was working at Xerox that I got into continuous improvement. Their program focused on quality and I worked on projects that had to be taken from prototype to production.
Through this program it became clear I had a knack for continuous improvement. I was good at asking the right questions to make sure the designers upstairs and the managers on the production floor were all on the same page. I wasn't afraid to challenge inefficiencies, and I liked the work involved in finding the root causes of issues.
With RPO's current growth, how do you ensure programs stay on track?
I am a disruptor and a communicator. I challenge a lot of what the teams propose and ask a lot of questions in order to ensure we're looking at the full picture on every project. Asking key questions up front allows us to ensure we add the most customer value.
Keeping all teams up to date is another key to meeting customers' program needs. I take a structured, documented approach. Constant communication helps remove silos. Optics and optical assemblies are complex programs that require everyone to be on the same page. When our projects are ramping up, I have to make sure that any change made in engineering and design is communicated throughout every stage of production. I am the glue; I work to keep it all together and move everyone in the same direction.
With so many programs ramping up, knowledge transfer has been a big initiative for us. Optics molding, fabrication and assembly can't be learned in traditional classrooms. It's a blend of legacy skills and fast-emerging science. We're working to fill those gaps, getting our newest team members to work and learn alongside those employees who have a rich knowledge base. This improves consistency for our customers and strengthens their optical systems supply chain.
What are you working on right now?
Creating seamless communication from optical design through prototype and high-volume manufacturing.
From initial project evaluation on, communication across departments is critical. Understanding how one project could impact several departments helps us assess and prepare for work in glass molding, IR optics, single-point diamond turning, engineering services or one of our other departments.
As optics are an enabling technology to new high-growth markets such as UAV, how do companies prepare for that increase in demand?
New product development can have long and often unpredictable timelines and volume demands. Well-coordinated communication of project status helps RPO ensure readiness. Because RPO is vertically integrated, any output from one group is an input for another, so clear communication through all project progress is essential.
I continuously work with each team to look for opportunities to create efficiencies. It may require working with the Business Development team to determine best-fit projects or coordinating lead times between engineering and production. Our relaunch of Epicor gives us greater visibility on this as well. By focusing on clean data and key processes, our teams have improved quoting, lead times and consistent delivery.
On the manufacturing floor, we're finding those efficiencies in multi-cavity tool projects. In plastic optics and precision glass molding especially, we're closely examining which projects qualify for multi-cavity machines so we can do much larger runs. This not only provides a cost-savings for the customer, but reduces production time for our teams.