By Bill Baker, Target Editor-in-Chief, Speed To Excellence- President, www.billbakerste.com
I worked for a company and we sent a couple of executives to Japan to learn about Just-In-Time, the precursor to Lean manufacturing. Upon return to the U.S., I heard one of the travelers respond to a question “What did you learn?” He thought for a minute and responded with “I learned that beef is very expensive in Japan.” I have to say my conclusion was not very complimentary. Here we had paid for his trip and that’s all he could learn & share? Zero learning and sharing.
I learned that a plant visit must have a goal to bring something back to our company.
Later in my manufacturing career my operations boss asked me how I planned to level the flow in our seismic streamer assembly production area. Seismic streamers may be a mile long and trail behind the ship while recording the seismic bounces from the ocean floor, looking for oil deposits. Since this was before Lean manufacturing, I had no clue what he was talking about, so I did some research and found a book on “one-piece flow.” Wow! We were pretty good at small batches, but one-piece flow--- why do that? Reduced setup times and flexibility to meet customer demands.
The next week we found out that we had to ship 25 50-meter-long streamer sections with seismic sensors to Australia. This demand was because our seismic exploration ship had lost their streamer on a reef and the ship was not operational and was incurring about a $100,000 loss per day!
Guess what, we used the best practices from the book and we all learned to flow one piece at a time at high speed to supply the replacement 25 streamer sections and place them on a charter aircraft to Australia ASAP!
So, we were able to learn from a book.
I had the opportunity to meet a benchmarking cohort from Kodak back in the 1990’s. Kodak wanted to improve their film packaging process. So “thinking out the box,” they explored companies with a similar process that was key to their business success. Guess what, they identified Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company. Process similarities were: product with a life span and expiration date, product needed protection from normal environments, direct sale to the consumers needed to be recognizable and pleasing. They learned a lot from Ben & Jerry’s. Who would have gone down this path of learning?
This is the fastest way to learn- from people in another industry who had to change and have already made all the mistakes!