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To be an engineer
You don't have to be an engineer to appreciate this true story.
A toothpaste factory had a problem. They sometimes shipped empty boxes without the tube inside. This challenged their perceived quality with the buyers and distributors. Understanding how important the relationship with them was, the CEO of the company assembled his top people. They decided to hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem. The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP(Request For Proposal), and third-parties selected. Six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution - on time, on budget, and high quality. Everyone in the project was pleased.
They solved the problem by using a high-tech precision scale that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. The line would stop, someone would walk over, remove the defective box, and then press another button to re-start the line. As a result of the new package monitoring process, no empty boxes were being shipped out of the factory.
With no more customer complaints, the CEO felt the $8 million was well spent. He then reviewed the line statistics report and discovered the number of empty boxes picked up by the scale in the first week was consistent with projections, however, the next three weeks were zero! The estimated rate should have been at least a dozen boxes a day. He had the engineers check the equipment, they verified the report as accurate.
Puzzled, the CEO travelled down to the factory, viewed the part of the line where the precision scale was installed, and observed just ahead of the new $8 million dollar solution sat a $20 desk fan blowing the empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. He asked the line supervisor what that was about.
"Oh, that," the supervisor replied, "Bert, the kid from maintenance, put it there because he was tired of walking over, removing the box and re-starting the line every time the bell rang."
Oh how the simple solution seems to baffle some people! This made my fiance laugh for 5 minutes!!!
In the early days of woodworking factories moving to Mexico, this tale of quality control, believed apocryphal, make the rounds.
A Mexican shop got a contract to make table tops of solid Oak. Equipment set up, employees hired. Quality control, management, all started up and were shipping. However, it was soon discovered that there was about a 20% reject rate from Quality Control on the tops. Various defects, familiar to us all, were showing up in too many tops to be profitable.
The management called in middle management - the beleaguered production manager - who was harnessed with two jobs - meet production quotas and eliminate the rejects. He was lectured, coddled, threatened and advised the number of days he had left if the problem was not fixed. They set a goal - zero rejects.
That first week was still 20% or just a hair under. Next week was about 15% - progress. Third week about 10% rejects. Everyone feeling better. This continued down until the reject rate was zero. Top management toasted their success at once again clamping down on the workers to carry them thru the day. Each manager took credit for his advise - each a variation of threat - as being the one that did the trick.
When one of the top managers finally asked the production manger what he did and how, he explained clearly. The first week he did not own a truck, so there was no change.
But once he showed an uncle how many tops were being tossed out each week, he loaned the money to the production manager to buy a used truck.
The truck was old and not reliable but the second week the P mgr and his uncle managed to haul away a few of the tops. Enough to pay for some repairs to the truck. The third week they hauled off more, but there were so many the uncle hurt his back, the truck was overloaded, etc.
In the next weeks, they hired a young man to drive, borrowed money to buy a newer, larger truck and in no time, they were able to haul away every rejected table top the company made.
Zero rejects had been accomplished, once again by sweat, hard work and ingenuity. However, they soon had many table tops, with limited use.
They found a market for these tops - a company down the road that also made table tops - the first company's chief competition. They made an offer, and the tops went from one shop to the other in flawless fashion, so to speak.
The company buying the tops was able to lower costs significantly once it marketed its own new line of 'distressed' table tops. It soon surpassed the first company and grew larger and more stable. The first company management, of course, found out only too late that their narrow mandate to reduce to zero waste had been the death of the company.
A friend of mine working in a millwork company said they fixed the reject problem by installing a wood burning stove.