Simple Solutions

Carlos Villela’s blog lixo.org has a great story about simple solutions. I really have no idea if it is true or not – indeed, a couple of the details don’t hang together. On the other hand, I have seen for myself the kind of thinking that is described in this story.

Link to full story: Networks are smart at the edges.

The factory is having a quality issue. The response is pretty typical:

The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution — on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using some high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighing less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done.

And a great solution. It stops the line and forces someone to pay attention to the problem. While I would usually add that these instances need to be followed up by problem solving to eliminate the issue, even if I were doing so, I wouldn’t eliminate the final verification check. Even Toyota performs a thorough and rigorous final inspection. But that’s not the point here.

It turns out, the number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use. It should’ve been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers come back saying the report was actually correct. The scales really weren’t picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

Puzzled, the CEO travels down to the factory, and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before it, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin.

“Oh, that — one of the guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang”, says one of the workers.

Like the Dilbert cartoon about 25 critical focus areas, this is more funny because the original reaction is totally typical, especially in companies who are comfortable with technology, controls, automation, etc.

Cudos to the CEO who realized, at least, that “No problem is a problem” and went to investigate at the actual gemba.

Once the team had a challenge (in this case small-Peanut-MMsprovided by the annoying bell) they dealt with what they saw as the issue.

Oh – and this graphic? It is an inside joke for some of my readers. Maybe we should have put some fans on the conveyer.

Thanks to Hal for sending the original link to this article.

One Reply to “Simple Solutions”

  1. Mark, can’t validate this story but having run a toothpaste packing operation, amongst other fmcg and food/drink operations.

    I can certainly couch for the power of fans and air amplifiers to remove empty or light packaging, without the need for check weighing equipment.

    Air amplifiers are my chosen solution as you can make them fire only when packaging is flowing by linking to proximity sensors, saving on energy.

    Regards, Mark

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