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Thread: The difference 1mm can make...

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    Diamond Member adrianh's Avatar
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    The difference 1mm can make...

    I changed a laser cutting plan this morning by shifting two lines 1mm over. You might say "So what?" The business lessons learned from this are really interesting.

    We were chatting this morning about our workload and that our main problem is not that we don't have enough customers, we got more than enough, but rather that we can't deliver fast enough.

    I know that the laser cutting goes fast because I recently optimized my cutting procedure. I also know that the staff work fast. I've optimized so many things....what else could we do?

    I asked my staff what takes long to do. They say that nothing takes long because they've devised ways to do everything really fast. So what now, there must be an answer. So we talk a bit more and I eventually ask the following question: "What in your opinion do you think is a waste of time" The one guy explains that the laser cuts a part of the model a little thin sometimes and they remove the offending section and rebuild it by hand. He goes on to say that they do this with 4 out of 5 models but that it is ok because they do the rebuild quickly.

    What a revelation.

    We chat a bit longer and I discover that their idea of "quickly" and my idea are different things. They consider 2 days to do the repairs to be quick. We grab a model that has not been cut and one that has be cut and we look closely at the issue. It becomes apparent that the problem is a lot bigger than they make it out to be. They actually rebuild the entire back part of the model because they are forced to cut away the left and right rear and that forces them to hack out the middle as well.

    The problem is that the laser cut line is too close to the edge and also that the rear end needs a little plate to be laser cut so as to remedy an alignment problem that they have.

    Off to the Pc, fire up the CAD software and spend 10 minutes drawing...shift a couple of lines and draw a little plate. Now for a bit of testing. Not a single model has the defect and the little rear plate fits like a charm....problem solved.

    You might think so what, a couple of seconds saved here and there. The implications are gigantic. The particular model is made for our biggest customer and we need to deliver very fast. The faster the better because they don't give us a hard time and pay quick.

    The business lessons

    1. It is very difficult to get to the crux of a problem because we don't always know what question to ask.
    2. People interpret questions differently and answer accordingly. The question "Do you work fast and efficiently" is answered in terms of their own frame of reference which is not always meaningful in the bigger scheme of things.
    3. The question "What do you think is a waste of time?", in this case, was the trigger to the solution. Could it be that they thought of it because it is a way to have a little stab and also feel vindicated in the idea that the boss sometimes wastes their time.
    4. Having clever people who are able to solve problems on the fly isn't always the answer. The answer is to train those people to have a different perspective on problem solving. Rather than solve the symptom efficiently, they should rather concentrate on resolving the root cause. (A bit like the dentist giving you a months supply of pain killers for your toothache rather than doing a root canal on the offending tooth)
    5. The solution often lies in making a small upstream change that cascades downstream eliminating lots of problems.

    We are quick to say that one should work smart rather than hard. The difficulty lies not in fixing a problem but rather in finding the root cause of the problem and fixing that. We tend to look at a direct solution for a problem and yes, the solution may be a patch but it is not always the right answer. Upstream problem often only show up long after the implementation of the big plan and are often so deeply embedded that they cannot be repaired without major redesign and cost. Maybe the solution doesn't lie in repairing the design flaw nor in fixing the symptom but rather in finding a point in the process stream where a cure would be most effective. I always found software design to be fraught with this type of problem. A system will be designed and implemented only to find that the basic design ideas were wrong. Lots and lots of patching is done to fix all the downstream issues. The client now sits with a lot of spaghetti that nobody really understands any longer because the patches complicated everything. I am of the opinion that to modularize as far as possible is the answer. To design with clean interface boundaries i.e. object oriented programming encapsulation. The last thing of course to remember is that systems and procedures evolve and unlike mother nature where every evolution cycle sits on top of the previous iteration, we are free to design and create revision 2. This revision is not derived from the body of version 1, but rather from the understanding of its soul.
    How easily someone is offended is directly proportional to how stupid they are.
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  2. Thank given for this post:

    Blurock (02-Jun-14), Dave A (02-Jun-14)

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    Diamond Member Blurock's Avatar
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    An engineer, a worker a clerk and an auditor has different perspectives of a business and the issues at hand. That is why communication is so important. That is also why management, including the accountant, should spend time on the factory floor to see and understand what is happening and where the problems arise.
    Workers are sometimes intimidated by management meetings and do not know how to express themselves. That is why Kaizen quality circles became so effective and important in the workplace.
    Excellence is not a skill; its an attitude...

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    Diamond Member Justloadit's Avatar
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    The other issue is that you need to understand the complete manufacturing process, from beginning to end to understand that there can be a better way to do this, or a change in a particular direction may even derail the process.

    On the whole employees are usually exposed to one facet of the manufacturing process, leading to a limited view of the process, and work accordingly, even to resolve issues.
    Another aspect is that workers in most instances have no skills or desires to improve a manufacturing process, they quite content to continue doing the same thing over and over again, even though with a bit of thought, could make their life easier. How many times has it happened that a worker decides to think that he knows better, and changes the method in which he is processing his part of the manufacturing process, to only create a f..k up some where later in the final product. I have had this a number of times, and come down hard on a worker for changing the way he was told to do a process.

    What I try and get my employees to do is to come up with ways of doing things better, but before implementation, requires my acceptance, after analyzing the consequences of the changes.
    Victor - Knowledge is a blessing or a curse, your current circumstances make you decide!
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    Gold Member Houses4Rent's Avatar
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    Yes, sounds all very familiar from the days when I was still a Manufacturing Engineer finding holistic solutions across the organisation, not just one isolated station/section.
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    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adrianh View Post
    5. The solution often lies in making a small upstream change that cascades downstream eliminating lots of problems.
    I've found this very often. More often than not, it's a case of "prevention is better than cure". But a word of warning, that isn't always the case.

    In this instance you have found that the material "waste" costs less than the "patch" overall. Sometimes that works out better the other way around overall.

    Or somewhere in the future the precision improves and you no longer need that "safety margin" built in.

    Quote Originally Posted by adrianh View Post
    The last thing of course to remember is that systems and procedures evolve and unlike mother nature where every evolution cycle sits on top of the previous iteration, we are free to design and create revision 2. This revision is not derived from the body of version 1, but rather from the understanding of its soul.
    Oh, I really like this!

    I've found that regardless of the level of effort that goes into developing it, the first iteration of a process or product is rarely much better than "functional."
    Version 1.0 is really a beta and is bound to be full of bugs.
    Version 1.1 to 1.x is really just the same process with bug fixes and patches.

    It's only once you take all that experience gained (experience just being another word for pain, I think), and then rebuild right from the beginning again, that you start approaching effectiveness.

    And even then, it's a cycle of endless improvement.
    The trouble with opportunity is it normally comes dressed up as work.

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    Diamond Member adrianh's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave A View Post

    Oh, I really like this!

    I've found that regardless of the level of effort that goes into developing it, the first iteration of a process or product is rarely much better than "functional."
    Version 1.0 is really a beta and is bound to be full of bugs.
    Version 1.1 to 1.x is really just the same process with bug fixes and patches.

    It's only once you take all that experience gained (experience just being another word for pain, I think), and then rebuild right from the beginning again, that you start approaching effectiveness.

    And even then, it's a cycle of endless improvement.
    But once you reach a landmark of improvement you use that information to rationalize the overall design and then produce version 2. (Of course if you are Microsoft you use this landmark to toss the baby out with the bathwater and force the entire customer base to head off on a totally new direction starting with version 1.0 again...)

    This is the way evolution works but in the analogy of a motor car. Imagine a car that not only needs to be designed to run but also to reproduce a better suited version of itself whilst not being able to simply discard the original design but to evolve that design, not in leaps and bounds, but in slight tweaks over time.

    We can clearly see why it takes millions of years to create animals that are more or less suited to their environment. The problem of course is that there are many issues that create problems.

    We should design and plan with knowing that modules will have to be revised. A 10,00000 line C# program wrapped around a 5,00000 line Delphi program wrapped around a 300,000 line Pascal 6 program is not the way to go.
    How easily someone is offended is directly proportional to how stupid they are.
    ~GS Elevator

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