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Monday, August 30, 2010

A Step-By-Step Process for a Changeover Workshop (Part 1)

Changeovers take time. Different models need different dies, different fixtures, and different settings. Usually, all of these have to be changed. During the changeover process, I’m making nothing. I am very tempted to make more than I need when I have everything set and ready to run.  I may only need 100, but I will go ahead an make 500 or 1,000 units, because at least the machine was productive, and I can put the extra pieces on the shelf, ready for when they are needed.
Then they sit on the shelf.  I didn’t need them when I made them. I t can turn out that now that I have made them, I won’t need them for a long time.  Depending on what “they” are they can get dirty or damaged just from sitting.  The can rust or otherwise deteriorate.  In any case, I’d better keep track of them, because I need to know where I put them when I need them.  So someone will have to keep (or enter into the system) an accurate record of how may I stored and where I put them.
When I need some again, I need to remember to look up how many I have already and where I put them.  Sometimes we go ahead and make a fresh batch because we forget that days, weeks, even months ago, we made some of these.

Getting back to the Blog

This blog has been dormant for awhile.  I was out of the country – in Mexico – for a couple of weeks, working on a project with an NGO.  It involved particularly long hours and was very engrossing.  When I returned home, I had some post-project work to do, and kind of got out of my writing groove.  I’m in the process of getting back to it.
I have a couple of posts in the works that should be up soon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fixing Blame for the Deepwater Horizon Blowout is a Bad Idea

Much of the news coverage about the BP Deepwater Horizon oil blowout focuses on who is to blame and who is trying to avoid blame or pass it on to someone else.  There is a consensus that BP has a lot of the blame.  The Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the U. S. Department of Interior gets a lot of blame, particularly due to a scandal during the Bush Administration alleging sex and cocaine parties in which the MMS and the oil companies participated. Democrats blame Bush, because it happened on his watch. 
Interior Secretary Salazaar and President Obama are blamed because they weren’t quick enough to clean house at MMS.  Everyone, including the U. S. Coast Guard gets blamed because the capping of the well to stop the spewing oil and natural gas is taking so long.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Why I Call It “Bringing Out the Best At Work”

In the early 1970s I was a graduate student at The Wright Institute. were I was the second student to be admitted to its Graduate School.  The first group of twelve students came together in 1970 into program was little more than a vision of the founders of the Institute.  We created the first curriculum and went across the street to the University of California Berkeley to recruit part-time faculty.
The Wright Institute Graduate School offered a Ph.D in Social-Clinical Psychology.  The idea was to integrate the two fields which did not communicate much to each other.  Graduates who became clinicians would have more awareness of the social contributors to mental health.  Some of us would become, in a sense, clinicians to organizations. 
In a clinical case seminar, a student was presenting his patient to the group and going on about various theoretical models.  The professor stopped him and asked, “What does the patient say the problem is?”
“She says her work is driving her crazy.”
“What does she do?” The class participants leaned forward to hear the answer.
“We haven’t gotten to that yet,” the blushing student therapist said.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

OEE – A way to Speak with Data, But It Only Works If We Use It

Speaking with data is an important part of the journey to becoming a World Class organization.  It is a way to make the invisible visible, to see things that we are otherwise likely to miss. It is also a way to get the attention of people who control the purse strings, when we need resources to solve a problem. I first discussed speaking with data in my post March 15, 2010. (
OEE, which stands for Overall Equipment Effectiveness, can be a useful tool for managing and continuously improving.  There are three components to OEE:
1.     Availability (Planned uptime minus unplanned downtime)
2.     Performance  (Planned operating time minus minor stoppages and running slow. It is calculated by dividing the number of pieces produced by the pieces that would be produced at the rated or standard speed)
3.     Quality (All pieces produced minus defective pieces produced divided by all pieces produced)

Some companies have a mistaken view of the OEE of their equipment. I have been told that a certain machine has an OEE of .90 or .95, when I can see that it is running slowly, creating scrap, or is down fairly often. There is a convention that any OEE of .85 or above means that the equipment is working at a world-class level.  

Fairly high numbers in each of the three components can lead to an OEE that is still below level of .85. I have seen estimates that OEE in American manufacturing tends to run around .60.  I have not seen studies on which this claim is based, but it feels right to me as a ballpark. I have also been in plants where most of the equipment does not even reach that level.

Let’s consider a few examples:



The first example does not reach and OEE of .85.  One combination that does reach the world-class level is:



This combination still falls short:



It does not make much sense to make these calculations, unless we use the data. It is also important that we not use the data to beat people up, but to help us figure out where we need to focus our attention in order to improve.

One way to do this is to calculate the OEE for a given machine daily, at the machine. If the OEE is consistently .85 or better, there are probably other pieces of equipment that need our attention more than this one.    We still might want to ask whether this is an unusual level for this machine.  To know this, we would need to have a history.  I advocate not only manually calculating but also manually plotting OEE for each piece of equipment we are monitoring.   Here is a way to present the data. 

(Click on the image to enlarge it) 

On the graph we see that on Monday, the 5th, we suddenly had a drop to .15.  We should want to know what caused this drop.  Our first question: Was it a problem of availability, of performance, or of quality? A glance at the bottom of the chart, where the three components are recorded, we can tell immediately that or biggest problem was availability.  The machine was down.  We ought to find out right away what caused the machine to go down, so that we can take action to insure that this problem never happens again.
On Friday, the 9th,  we had another drop in OEE. A quick look at the data tells us that this time we had a problem with performance.  That is where we need to dig in to find out what happened and take corrective action.
Increasingly, calculations such as OEE are made by statistical packages into which data is, in some cases,collected automatically. Interesting high level graphs and reports can be generated. When I work with clients, I insist that the operator, at the machine, create this graph manually.  If we only have a report that comes out at the end of the week we miss an opportunity to act.  When OEE suddenly drops, we want to start asking what happened right away—the same day.  OEE charts on the machines that are being monitored can a part of visual control.
To begin to use OEE, I would not suggest that we start monitoring and charting every machine. Begin with some critical operations that we need to improve. Strive for consistency, then strive for improving OEE.  Some equipment may never need to be plotted because it is reliable and has a capacity far in excess of what we need.
World class OEE, .85 or better, is a factor to consider when ordering new equipment and calculating the needed capacity. 
I have had occasion to work with teams planning a new line and the equipment to be purchased for them. They planned as if the equipment would run at its stated capacity 100% or the time.  The improvements above .85 can be pretty challenging.  While part of achieving world class is demanding excellence of ourselves, plan with a .85 OEE in mind, nothing higher.
To get operators to record the data and make the calculations, we should explain that these data will help us solve problems around availability, performance, and quality.  Then, we need to earn credibility by using the data for that purpose.  It is discouraging to engage in an activity that does not add value to the product or the process.  Too often we start data collection and quickly forget why we are doing it. Start small.  Stay with it.  Show some results.  Spread the process from the early examples.
Notes: The Lean Thinker  has recently described how to calculate the three components of OEE. I chose to focus more on what to do with the OEE calculation, once you have it.  

While for reasons that I hope are clear, I object to capturing the data and doing the calculations in a centralized system.  I do not object to the operator having templates on a screen into which we can plug the data that give us the components and overall OEE that we then plot manually.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lean Manufacturing Requires Responsive and Reliable Maintenance

Lean operations require maintenance that is responsive and reliable.  When we have isolated operations that are adding value to pieces in a batch that eventually gets passed on to another operation, one machine going down does not present itself as a critical event.
If we have many operations organized in a cell and one piece of equipment breaks down, the entire cell goes down.  We require equipment that does not go down very often – ideally not at all – and when it does go down we need to get it up and running as quickly as possible.  This imposes requirements on the maintenance system. The maintenance system is not limited to the maintenance function.  The system includes standard procedures that are followed by the operators and equipment that does not breakdown and/or can be repaired quickly.
A good way to begin to improve the maintenance system starts with a workshop focused on a single piece of equipment that is or will be critical to a lean, one-piece-at-a-time operation.  The workshop team goes through a process of detailing the machine.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Standard Procedures Do Not Have To Be Regimented

Sometimes standardization smacks of regimentation. Workers say, “We each have our favorite way of doing things.”  Implicit in this is, We like it the way it is.  Don’t try to shoehorn us into a one-size-fits-all mold.
Standard work is essential to mass production, even to fairly small-scale mass production.  It is at the core of a quality process that provides a quality product.   A defect is essentially something that deviates from what it should be. The best way to get consistent results is by having a consistent--that is standardized--process.
Standardized work can be regimented, but in the best cases it is organic.  Standards are developed based on our experience of what needs to be controlled in the process.  The standards are implemented.  Their effectiveness is studied and adjustments are made to improve them.  New standards emerge on the basis of our experience of what needs to be controlled in the process.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Stretch SMED Consulting

I arrived in Spain not knowing who the client was or what was expected of me.  I was to help conduct a workshop with the European branch of the Kaizen Institute. My fluency in Spanish along with some experience in kaizen consulting got me the job.
In the opening lecture, I was introduced to 50 to 60 people as a leading expert in SMED (single minute exchange of dies).  I have facilitated five or six workshops to reduce the time to changeover equipment from one product to another.  I seem to have a knack to help a workshop team cut changeover time in half, starting from an hour and an half to two hours. I have a process that has always worked so far. I did not feel like an expert.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Leadership in the Workplace

I have mentioned that leadership places a crucial role in bringing out the best in people and the organization at the workplace.  We will explore the nature and role of leadership.
I have explored leadership with clients by contrasting it to management.  Management focuses on maintaining the states quo. This is important.  Organizations need to have consistency.  There need to be standard procedures.  Value-adding processes cannot accomplish their purpose without support around people, machines, methods, materials and measurement. These support systems need to be managed.
Leadership is focused on change.  If we want to move the organization to a new way of operating that is lean, world class, and brings out the best in people and systems, we often need to change the way we do things.  Many of my posts so far have been about things that need to change and how they need to be changed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Go to Gemba

I was facilitating a workshop in a large automobile assembly plant in Great Britain. The factory was a part of a large, western, multinational auto manufacturer. In my group, one of three or four, there were participants from several other parts of Europe and the United States.  This was to be a big learning experience for the entire corporation.
Everyone had gone through a day of lecture and discussion about the principles, concepts and some of the methodologies used in kaizen. Finally, on day two, all of the participants were sent out to the factory to find ways to improve parts of the assembly line. 
Each of the workshop groups was facilitatied by a consultant.  My group was to focus on the installation of the headliners in cars that came down the line.
Every group was given a meeting room.  Our group had about ten people. We gathered in our assigned meeting room and sat around a round table on which were piled a number of drawings of the shop floor and the section in which we would be working, as well as several stacks of printouts with data on throughput time, defect rates, line down-time, and probably several other trends which I do not remember.
Getting these managers out of the meeting room proved to be difficult.  They wanted to “study the data.”  I had to become more and more insistent that we go out to the section of the line we had been assigned to us. We needed to go to gemba (gemba means the “real place,” used in kaizen to refer to the place where value is added) to  Identify waste, which we had learned about the day before. I told the team that after that, we could get away from the noise for a bit, back in the conference room and discuss possible improvements.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Else Gets in the Way?

Sometimes managers who are very enthusiastic about their kaizen experiences can be the obstacle to improvement in the kaizen way. At one factory the plant manager was one of the most enthusiastic people whom I had ever met.  After a couple of successful workshops with gratifying results he was ready to have “a kaizen event a week.”
This became a problem for one of the reasons I have already mentioned. The support systems for the new, lean, one-piece-flow, work to takt time approach were not in place.  The maintenance system could not respond when equipment went down.  There was not a system of supplying materials in small amounts.  Water-spiders from the early workshops would get drafted to do production work to cover for absenteeism.  Many of the products were fairly low volume, but suppliers brought in huge amounts of components.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Read the Small Print

 This is from gemba panta reiYou want to become lean?  Better read the fine print:

So here again is my offer:
Lean Brings You Fast Results! Recognition, Pride and Prosperity Can All Be Yours with Lean! Try Lean Management Today!
May require significant changes to leadership behavior. May require dismantling existing reporting structures, organizational boundaries or performance measurement schemes. Positive results due to employee empowerment may be accompanied sense of grief due to perceived loss of power, position or authority. May cause adverse interactions with existing accounting systems, ERP systems and vendor management systems. Results may be delayed due to resistance from key stakeholders. Side effects may not be reversible even if lean management is abandoned. Seeing bottom line results may depend on business growth or restructuring. Actual results may vary. Sustaining of results may require constant effort. Not applicable in industries and processes where waste does not exist. One per customer. Some restrictions apply. Offer void where prohibited by law.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What Get’s In the Way of Successful Kaizen?

A dirty little secret is that kaizen efforts often go nowhere, or don’t go very far. In too many cases I have seen very successful kaizen workshops or kaizen blitzes seem to be huge successes, only to have them fade within months or even weeks.
 What do I mean by successful workshops?  A team focuses on a work group or operation.  With the help of a facilitator they identify and figure out how to eliminate waste. The facilitator, who may or may not be an outside consultant, teaches how to look for waste and the strategies to accomplish its elimination. These include moving operations closer together, moving the operations into a U-shaped cell, doing away with batch processing and putting one-piece-flow in its place, and balancing the operation with takt time and cycle time studies, to name a few. The team figures how to accomplish these ideas in this particular case. 
At the end of the workshop, there is a dramatically different situation.  Fewer people are required to produce the same amount. Throughput time is drastically reduced.  Quality is documented to have substantially improved. Everyone agrees; this is better.  This is great stuff.  (Another example might be a SMED workshop that cuts changeover time from over two hours to forty five minutes.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

An Important Form to Speak with Data

One of the most useful forms for recording and presenting data, for speaking with data, is the production control form.  I am including a sample here.
This form tells us how a production line, a production cell, or a single production operation is running hour-by-hour.  When used to its greatest advantage, a manager or supervisor can walk through a department and tell very quickly what operations most require attention.  The leaner the operation, the more critical this information can be. The information is recorded each hour by a production operator.

In the example above, the first column divides the day into one hour blocks.  In this case, we have started at 7 a.m. and carried it through 4 p.m.  The information in this column can be modified depending on the start time and the length of the shift.  For example a ten hour shift would have a couple more rows.  The form can have extra rows to be used when the operation is running overtime. A chart for second or third shift would have appropriate time labels in the first column.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good Signs, Bad Signs

I see a lot of signs posted on factory walls that make very little sense to me.  Some are clearly useful: exit signs, signs indicating where the fire extinguishers are, labels that tell you what should be stored in a given spot (a section of floor, a rack, or a bin on a shelf).  The signs to which I object are those that seem slightly insulting, admonishing you, but not making it clear what you are expected to do.
“Quality is everyone’s responsibility.”
“Quality starts with you.”
“Safety first.”
“A safe factory is a happy factory.” “A clean factory is a safe factory.”
“Keep this area clean.”
Signs such as these are from a paternal the company telling us to be good, in a very general way.  In no case are they telling us what is expected of us.  What do you want me to do?  What do you want me to not do? What precautions do you want me to take?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Speak With Data

I worked with a group of ten women who worked on an assembly line and had been given the opportunity to meet weekly to discuss, with their supervisor, what could be done to improve their assembly line.
The product that they assembled was a model of a remotely controllable, outside rear view mirror.  The control was a mechanical device in which three wires moved the mirror when a knob was rotated. The ends of the wires had ferrules that were crimped into the knob assembly by a crimping machine.
There was a consensus about the biggest problem.  The crimping machine often broke down, bringing the line to a halt, sometimes several times a day.  When the line stopped there was a wait for maintenance to arrive and tinker with the machine.  The team took pride in reaching its production targets, and this machine interfered with that goal far too often.
The supervisor agreed that this was a problem.  He too was frustrated that the fix was never permanent. He had complained up the line with no results. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Look Back

These are the postings that I have made to this blog so far.
Some people say that to improve the workplace all we have to do is follow common sense.  I suggest that what is presently considered common sense can sometimes be the obstacle to making things better.
All results come from processes. If we want to improve results, we need to examine what in the process is leading to the current results.  Inspection as an approach to quality is sometimes the best we can do, but will be an unreliable way of preventing defects to reach the customer.
Organizations lie on a continuum between Fire-Fighting and World Class. Understanding the characteristics of each extreme can help the leaders of an organization understand what needs to change to move towards world class.
Lean Manufacturing involves eliminating batch processing as much as possible. Making batches often seems easier.  Why is it important to move toward one-piece-flow?  [thirteen more topics below the fold]

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Not Common Sense or Common Practice

Maasaki Imai, founder of the Kaizen Institute and author of two bestselling books on Kaizen, has often said that the Kaizen approach and Lean Manufacturing are common sense approaches.  If they were common sense, why are they not common practice?
Imaisan is one of my teachers, from whom  I have learned a great deal. I differ with him on Kaizen approaches being common sense.  People differ widely in what they consider common sense.  A supervisor told me that he had always been told that assembly lines should be laid out  in one long straight line.  To him, that was common sense.  He also felt it was common sense to have plenty of material near the line, in case there was a problem with some component, we could always open another box.
I have met managers and company owners who tell me that they do not need to apply Kaizen.  If subordinates only did what they were told and used common sense, they would have no problems.  I some cases we agree on what it would be better for people to do.  What we differ on is whether it is actually common sense.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Quality Process and Quality Results

How do we assure that our customers receive the highest possible quality in our products?  The first thing that comes to many people’s minds is that we need to have plenty of inspection.  Defective products will get made and we need to catch them before they get to the customer.
Unfortunately, inspection (as well as various kinds of testing) does not catch every defect. No inspection process catches every defect.  Many let 20%, 30% and more escape.  Inspections can also catch products that turn out not to be defective.
In workshops, we demonstrate the unreliability of inspection by having each participant independently count the number of a certain letter (for example, “e”) that can be found in a text. All counters do not come up with the same number. If the letter were a defect, some would not be caught in the inspection process.
Inspection does not add value.  It only catches some of the defective products and leads us to other work that does not add value either, but does add cost.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Two Extremes

There are two extreme types of organization.  Most lie somewhere between the extremes.  At one end we have the World Class organization.  At the opposite end we have the Fire-fighting organization.
The obvious difference between the extremes is how smoothly they appear to run.  The World Class organization has few crises.  Things seem to run smoothly.  Problems arise, but they are quickly contained and soon prevented from happening again. 
The Fire-fighting organization is continuously fighting fires, rushing from one crisis to the next.  The same problems recur. Prevention is poor.  The World Class organization has a calm, laid-back feel to it.  The Fire-fighting organization has a frantic feel.
There are some less obvious characteristics that distinguish the two extremes.   In Fire- fighting organizations there is a lot of blaming.  Any problem will lead to fixing blame, or to wanting to fix blame.  In the World Class organization rather than asking who is to blame, we want to know what happened.  Sometimes the blaming or the desire to fix blame is personal.  It will also be focused on functions.  Production blames maintenance for not maintaining or fixing equipment.  Maintenance blames production for misusing the equipment and breaking it.  Production blames the quality organization for interfering with their ability to meet production goals.  Quality blames production for making “garbage.”  There is always someone else who bears the brunt of the responsibility. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why Not Manufacture in Easy Batches?

During a workshop, a manager resisted the idea that batches are always to be avoided if possible.  He used the example of paying his bills by check (this was before the days of online bill-paying). It was easiest for him, he said, to sit down at the kitchen table, open all the bills and take them out, write all the checks, stuff all the envelopes, put stamps on all the envelopes and drop them in the mail.
I asked the group if there was anyone present who had ever sent the wrong check to a payee.  A couple of people admitted that it had happened to them.
If you practice one-piece-flow, processing one unit at a time – in this case one bill—you practically eliminate that particular mistake.  You open one envelope, read the bill, write the check, put it in the envelope with the bill stub, seal the envelope and put a stamp on it.  If you wait to put stamps on the envelopes until all have been sealed and stacked, there is more of a chance of skipping an envelope and mailing it without a stamp.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Performance Appraisal, Merit Pay, Bonuses

For most of my career I have worked as a consultant or contractor, not as an employee.  When I worked as an employee I sometimes had to go through a performance appraisal or evaluation to determine my merit increases in pay.  On one of these occasions, I received an evaluation that was toward the low end of the scale.  If I recall I got an overall 2 on a 7-point scale. 
My boss at the time said that my separation and impending divorce had made my performance suffer.  I knew that he had to force all the six or eight who reported to him to a curve, and he had a difficult job because he had selected and developed a team of very effective people in his organization. We had different talents, but we were all professional and dedicated to our work and often called on each other for help in areas in which we knew our colleagues had greater strengths.
I suspected that he seized on my up-coming divorce as an excuse, because someone had to be at the lower end.  I felt resentment against my boss and my colleagues, even though I understood that my boss was caught in an appraisal process that was not of his making. I am not sure if this caused me to be less of a team player, but I do recall the feeling.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Takt Time

One of the concepts used by companies that are moving toward leaner operations is takt time.  It is also a concept that is often misunderstood in companies that have had a little exposure to lean processes and have picked up the term.
Takt time is the beat at which we should make a product or component to be in synch with the needs of the customer. The customer may be an internal customer such as a downstream process, or it may be an external customer, a dealer or an end user. Takt is a German word for beat when the subject is music.  The baton used by a band or orchestra leader is called a taktstock.
Let us suppose that a customer of any type needs 900 units, widgets of some kind.  The factory works an 8-hour shift, but a half hour a day goes into breaks and other planned downtime, leaving 7.5 available hours.  Seven and a half hours times 60 minutes, times 60 seconds, equals 27,000 seconds of available time in a shift.  If we divide 27,000 seconds into 900 units, we find that our takt time is 30 seconds per unit.  To be perfectly synchronized with the customers requirements for a day, we need to produce one widget every 30 seconds and each operation in the process should take exactly 30 seconds.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

No Right Way

Over twenty years ago, I was involved in a small group discussion in which my friend and colleague, Tom Lane, proposed three principles for consulting:
There is no right way.
The word is not the thing.
We make it all up.
I have not discussed these ideas with Tom in decades.  I believe that he has changed “the word is not the thing,” to “the concept is not the thing.”  I have recently bought his book, Perceptual Intelligence and started following his blog, Wake Up!
My comments here are not an attempt to present Tom’s ideas.  After that discussion, years ago, I have often reflected on those three principles and how they could be applied to consulting and to the process of changing work to bring out the best.  What follows is my own spin on the three statements.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Keeping it Simple

We often overcomplicate things at work.  Complicated machines become obstacles to getting the job done.
In one factory, a large, highly automatic machine spun nuts onto threaded nipples.  The operator’s job was mostly to catch defective nut-to-nipple assemblies as they came out of the machine and set them aside for later repair.  If practically all of the assemblies were defective, because the nut had not been spun on straight and had jammed onto the nipple, he shut down the machine, tried to make adjustments to it, and generally ended up calling maintenance.  While maintenance tinkered with the machine, the operator would sit at a workbench and use channel locks to removed jammed nuts from the nipples, so that both parts could be put back into the machine. 
Sometimes, there were so many flawed assemblies, additional workers would be brought to the area, given channel locks and put to work undoing the bad assemblies.
I worked with a team of workers and managers on an improvement project that made this problem go away. We purchased two nut drivers with sockets sized to the nuts in question.  The nut drivers were of the type that activate when you press down on the nut, and stop when you release the pressure.  We mounted these upside down, side-by-side, in the center of a small workbench.  We fashioned some brackets to hold them with the sockets flush with the tabletop, through holes in the center of the workbench.  We had a bin with nuts and a bin with nipples on the workbench. The operator would take two nuts and slide them into the sockets.  He would then take two nipples and briefly press them into the nuts in the sockets. This activated the drivers to spin the nuts onto the nipples.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Management Gets More Than It Deserves

In the factories that I visit, I find that management often gets more than it deserves from the production workers.  I remember a woman at a workbench, taking four parts from bins and using a machine to drive a rivet through all four to make a sub-assembly for a circuit breaker. She did this over-and-over, but her rhythm would often be broken because one of the parts had the hole for the rivet off location and therefore would not go together easily with the other three.  She would struggle to make them go together, and sometimes succeed in forcing the rivet through all four parts.  Other times she would eventually set aside the defective component and reach for a replacement, which, all too often, would also be so far out of spec as to be unusable.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Treating People As If They Were Robots

I have consulted to a number of plants with recently acquired robots.  Often the robots didn’t work very well.  In some cases the robots were doing work that made little sense.  In one case, the robot was taking a stamped part from a hanging line and putting it on a belt. It was so unreliable that a worker had to stand by to catch parts that were about to be dropped by the robot. Having the hanging line descend to just above the belt could have removed each part without a robot.

In a factory in Brazil, a robot cell had been installed to weld some parts together. A second cell was in the process of being installed.  Management was very proud of it’s new technology.  They had a five minute video of the robots in the dining room.  The bright orange robotic arms waved through the air and set forth a shower of sparks with each weld. The dramatic video played endlessly, for all lunch breaks on all shifts to see. 
Not a week had gone by since the robots were installed when they didn’t break down and required repair. No one in the plant could do the repair and the technicians who could do the repair were four hours away.  When they arrived it often took an entire shift to get the robots up and running again.