A conversation with manufacturing leaders at Bridgestone

Wednesday, November 17, 2021


by Ralf VonSosen, chief solution officer at Rever

I recently had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with two manufacturing leaders at Bridgestones operations in Mexico. A few of the key messages were:

  1. Adapting leadership skills to manage more diverse and remote teams
  2. Leveraging technology to drive standardization and efficiency
  3. Empowering and developing operators to incorporate the company strategy and customer needs into their daily work


About the Guests

Manuel Palma, senior tech service manager for Tire Development
With over 20 years’ experience at Bridgestone, Palma has been involved in all aspects of Bridgestone’s manufacturing planning and execution process. He is passionate about manufacturing operation’s ability to adapt to business’s changing needs and the development of the individual workers who contribute to Bridegstone manufacturing operations’ success.

Javier Bahena, continuous improvement chief in Cuernavaca Plant
Bahena has spent almost 15 years at Bridgestone with a focus on operational excellence and continuous improvement. He has driven programs throughout all areas of the organization. He is passionate about the impact individuals can have on the improvement of operational performance, and specifically how that can also impact individuals’ growth and success.

How is manufacturing changing? Especially with the pandemic.
Palma: Some very basic things have changed. When I started to work for Bridgestone, having a computer was a challenge or a special thing. Now having a computer is very basic, but these are also big changes. Like challenging the skills needed to be a team leader. When somebody is working here in the plant and somebody is working in a home office, that can be a big challenge for the whole team to work together, but in separate places.

Bahena: Beyond the obvious global negatives of the pandemic, there have been positives and negatives specifically at Bridgestone. The positive is that the pandemic disrupted the way we were working, and we took advantage of that and we accelerated the development of different tools to communicate. It gave us the chance to develop some dashboards using new software and now we don't need to have continuous improvement or the industrial engineer showing the information here in the plant.

The negative impact has been on gemba walks. It is part of our essence and we are very committed to go to the shop floor and observe what is happening and how things are going. We have to find a way to go to the gemba in a safe mode. Instead of big groups we carefully plan the gemba walks. Rever has been very helpful to us in this.

How do you adapt your frontline to your company strategy?
Palma: Here at Bridgestone, we understand we do more than manufacture tires. These days we're talking about being a mobility solutions leader in the world market. We are changing the company to take our work to a new level of innovation. We are developing specific skills to be this kind of leader. We call this way to work our North Star, our framework.

We have to adapt our way of working, our way of seeing the whole process. Our operators nowadays are thinking a lot about the client. They know a lot about the client. Not only their general requirements, but the performance that the client is expecting and what we have to offer in the market in terms of meeting their mobility requirements. Now that means in the near future, we are going to reach a point where we may provide real-time insight into the temperature of their tire, or something like this.

Bahena: We have to create an environment where operators feel confident about what they are doing. Operators have to know a lot about our customers, about our product, and about the processes.

Once the operators feel comfortable, we have to give them the right tools and make them part of our continuous improvement culture.

So once they are confident, they are empowered and receive feedback from colleagues on how they are incorporating the voice of the customer. The right feedback and the right recognition are going to motivate people to do more and get more involved. By doing that, great results will come.

How do you leverage technology?
Bahena: We are looking for better ways to communicate, better ways to create things, and how new tools can help us empower the operators and the people on the factory floor. We firmly believe in empowering our teammates. That means, here at Bridgestone, we are working closely with the operators on the factory floor to maintain communication with the whole department to support the operation and to maintain a high level of quality and safety.

Ten or 15 years ago things were very different. For example, one of my first improvements here was related to barcodes for inventory control. So the operators started increasing their skills to interact with machines and operate new touch devices and processes. Technology has been growing a lot. Rever is one example of where operators now have the skills to handle technology devices and are able to manage continuous improvement activities to make continuous improvement easier.

Palma: My mindset is to always look for more friendly technologies, better ways for how the team is working. Those two things improve our performance. During a time when Bridgestone mobility solutions presents a big challenge and requests continuous improvement, the whole team needs to come together. Rever has come to our business and our factory and has given us the ability to improve teamwork with the help of friendly technology.

How are you preparing for the future?
Palma: Operator empowerment is the key. We have a pretty clear way to handle the production process in the near future. But the operators are able to find more opportunities. We grow little by little, to create a better situation for a person, a better process, and show better results.

Bahena: Safety is number one at Bridgestone. In the past it was hard to collect and track our KPIs. With Rever we are able to create reports, classify them, fix what we have to fix, and define better standards. And this is the best part, now we are applying that to quality production and costs. One lesson is that this gives us a more comprehensive approach. We give even more autonomy to the frontline operators to improve their processes because they are getting the feedback on how they contribute to the company goals.

Rever is a very useful tool in that way. The most important thing is to build upon a culture of continuous improvement by empowering the teammates and giving them new tools that facilitate their continuous improvement activities.

What parting advice do you have for operations leaders?
Palma: One of the very important things that a leader has to develop is life skills. New leaders have to know how to work with diverse teams. We have to understand the different generations, backgrounds, and cultures here at Bridgestone. We are developing, supporting, and encouraging diversity to strengthen people. We need to have very strong teams, to maintain our business in a market that will be harder than in the past and has big challenges waiting for us in the future.

Bahena: Well, I firmly believe in continuous improvement. As we have said, things have changed and things will be changing probably faster than they used to change. So my advice is to never stop improving. There will always be a better way to do things. Leaders must have a continuous improvement mindset.

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This article is sponsored by Rever. A version of this article originally appeared on Rever's blog. Its appearance does not necessarily indicate that AME endorses products and services mentioned here.