Hey, what is that? Yeah that. That big spot on your wall right behind you? Did you notice that before?

Okay, maybe you donít have a spot on the wall (yet) but Iím hoping that when youíre through reading this youíll put one there. And if you do youíre going to hear those words for a while and then after everybody gets used to looking at it those words will stop. Thatís when you know youíve g" />

Issue: Mar 2003


Are Your Plants Efficient?



by Gerry Kobe

Hey, what is that? Yeah that. That big spot on your wall right behind you? Did you notice that before?

Okay, maybe you donít have a spot on the wall (yet) but Iím hoping that when youíre through reading this youíll put one there. And if you do youíre going to hear those words for a while and then after everybody gets used to looking at it those words will stop. Thatís when you know youíve got trouble and thatís what Iím here to talk about.

The other day, a good friend and I were having dinner. Heís an industry guy but not in a technical or manufacturing capacity. As we jumped from one automotive topic to another, I said something about the value of having a manufacturing consultant visit a companyís plants and he politely challenged me to explain myself.

His point was that it seemed unlikely that with a facility full of manufacturing experts, an outsider could walk in, spot the obvious and make instant suggestions to fix it. ďWhat the heck are we paying our own people for if they canít see the obvious,Ē were his exact words.

Itís a great point. But that brings me back to the ďspot.Ē

I told him that if he goes home and tapes a big black circle on his kitchen wall, heís going to look at it for the next week or so and say something about it everyday. Then after a couple weeks heíll mention it occasionally and by the end of a month heíll accept it as part of his kitchen. Will he still see it? Of course he will. Is it still unsightly? Absolutely. But after a month heíll be used to it and that, I said, is exactly why people in a manufacturing facility canít see a problem that they are looking at everyday.

It has nothing to do with good people and bad people. In fact, if a company keeps the same manufacturing consultant long enough, even they will start missing problems. Thatís because they see them, but in their minds they ďrationalizeĒ why itís there and they overlook it.

For example, letís say your manufacturing line has been making one product for years and now you want to add a similar product to the same line. What often happens is the line is ďcompromisedĒ to make both products in a reasonably efficient manner, sacrificing a little bit of efficiency for flexibility. And there is nothing wrong with that.

But the problem comes in when the original product is discontinued or replaced by yet another new product. Often times, the compromised stations of a manufacturing assembly line are not corrected for the new product. Sometimes they are even made worse. But because everybody in the facility ďknowsĒ why the compromise is there in the first place, it basically becomes invisible. After two or three product changes a line can become a mess, but since everybody knows how it got that way the corrections are overlooked.

When a good outside consultant comes in, they have no prior knowledge of why a line was changed and those things stick out like a sore thumb ó much like the spot I hope you will put on your wall. Thatís usually when a line gets a complete makeover to bring it back up to optimal efficiency for the products itís manufacturing.

If you donít believe me, put the spot on your wall and see how long it takes for people to stop noticing. Itíll scare you. And once you get past that step, use that information to free up some money to have a reputable consultant (one youíve never worked with before) do a walk-through of your plant. In fact, I know of a few that will do it free of charge, based on the agreement that if they canít identify enough waste in your system to more than pay for their services then you owe them nothing. But if they do, of course, you hire them to fix it.

Iíd love to hear from you to see if you accepted my challenge or perhaps if youíve already tried it and have a story to tell. Iíll publish the most interesting comments.

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