Bigger AIN’T Better!


Bigger AIN’T Better!

Lean operating systems strive for an ideal of producing one-by-one, defect free, and on-demand. There are two huge reasons why larger and larger equipment are a barrier to that ideal:  the customer doesn’t need it all at once and the risk is too high.

The Customer Doesn’t Need It All at Once 

How many nails does it take to start building a house? The answer is one.

We tend to think you need at least a box and if you go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, they have a contractor’s section that will sell you a 5-gallon bucket of nails! Why? Well, there is the transportation to think about – to and from the store. And then there’s shipping from the supplier to the store.  And there is also at the nail factory – if you are going to set-up the press, draw bench, grinder, and forming tool to make one nail, you might as well make as many as you can.

But if the ideal is one-by-one, defect free, and on-demand, then the ideal is still one. What would it take to deliver one nail at time as needed?

What if the contractor had a nail gun that would press a nail out of a coil of wire and shoot it into the wood when the trigger is pulled? It may not be a nail that would work in every situation. It may not work well on oak, but it might work well on pine. Maybe you wouldn’t fasten shingles to the roof with the same type of nail, but you could fasten together studs to make the frame. That technology does not exist today, but the engineering know-how to build the Airbus A380 – a plane that can transport 853 people across the ocean – does exist. A lot of energy goes into bigger. What if it went into ideal?

The Risk is Too High 

The airline industry has embraced larger and larger aircraft. The belief is bigger is better, economies of scale are good, and mass transportation is the goal. The idea of risk is unpleasant to consider but obvious. If an A380 slides off the runway during take off, a large number of passengers are at risk. If a two-passenger plane has the same experience, the number of passengers at risk is much less. It is an obvious observation, but it applies to manufacturing as well. As equipment moves closer and closer to the ideal of one-by-one, the number of parts at risk is reduced.

One-by-one does not mean slower. There are injection-molding lines that make 1000’s of parts a minute. Each is made individually, or sometimes in batches of 10 or 20. When a problem is discovered, the line is stopped and the number of parts at risk is greatly reduced. The idea is to produce smaller batches one after the other as needed.

Our Own Worst Enemy

It is interesting that equipment manufacturers continue to make larger and larger presses and furnaces with greater and greater capacity, given they are manufacturers themselves. In most cases, their equipment is customized and smaller batches would benefit them as well.

Encourage your organization to think small. The journey to ideal starts with greater flexibility from smaller equipment that produces one-by-one, defect free, and on-demand.

And if you are one of those manufacturers making bigger and bigger equipment, consider the alternative – right sized flexible machines.

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” now available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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