When production forgets to...

Last update: December 31st, 2008
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The story

On a recent assignement, I was following the production flow upstreams, to trace disruptions at assembly line, regularly starved from some parts. These parts where produced in an other workshop in the same factory.

I found the needed parts produced on a brand new machine, pride of the shop manager.

You see, he explained me, only one or two of these machines exist in the world, and it is a great honor to help the machine builder to debug it.


Yes, this machine is a new generation, full of electronics.
Our good relations with the machine builder allow us to install it here and help to debug it.

While the shop manager explains me electronics (software in fact) look like an impredicable science to him, I notice the lady operator dedicated to handle the products coming out of this wonderful machine walking more often to the scrap bin than towards the OK parts box.

For my inquiry being complete, the machine stops, Breakdown.
You see, The shop manager says while pointing the graph on control monitor, She sometimes gets crazy... This time we'll have her several hours down to fix it...

As I wonder why the dire needed parts are produced on this particular machine, not yet under control and still lacking reliability, the shop manager repeats in a no-reply tone that this is a great chance and privilege to participate to "finish it".

What lessons learned from this story?

1. Mismatch of objectives

The workshop manager got himself a "technician pleasure", regardless the interest of the company, because if there can be some advantage to collaborate debugging this machine, all the wastes brought up drop company's performance.

It seems he is forgetting his most important and first mission: to grant production, to favor a secondary activity.
This kind of "mismatching of objectives" happens sometimes and leads production staff to forget about their purpose: ... produce!

2. Creating a bottleneck

The supplying workshop has a globally longer lead time than assembly line, which is compensated by longer openning (Week-end) and a buffer stock.

The missing parts from this shop are in a relative just in time flow, so to produce them on a non controled (not reliable) process adds random disruptions to the flow variability.

The choice of another machine might have helped to smooth the flow, but by choosing this unreliable machine, the shop manager created himself a bottleneck even more difficult to manage.

3. No cross functional coordination

The shop manager didn't get support from cross functional coordinator, like a suply chain manager.

The different divisions and workshops in this company are still self centered and focused on local objectives. No cross functional coordination nor global optimisation exists.

This story reminds me...

This story reminds me another one, about a foreman leading an electronics automatic insertion workshop. He was probably a frustrated librarian loving to fill and manage a lot of files and folders. He got passionated about TPM, not for technical aspects, but for the data to yield and analyze, for plotting graphs and setting up KPIs, etc.

This passion lead him to ask his teams to focus on data collection and filling forms, distracting them from basic productive activities.

He also forgot the main reason of his shop: to produce!

To read on
 HC online

Lean Manufacturing
Theory of Constraints
Supply Chain Management





The author, Chris HOHMANN, is managing partner in an international consulting firm.

He advises and trains on industrial and logistics performance topics.

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