Monthly Archives: August 2015

What’s the opposite of the current process?

The boss had to show me the procedure more than once. When the product loses its yellow color, run analysis on a jug of the uncolored product. If the density is low, the product was agitated too much (whipped). Determine how much salt and color is needed to “fix” the product still in the storage tank. Complete the production run.

This did not make any sense. If the product was agitated too much, what happened to the salt and color? It should be well mixed.

The next day, before filling jugs, I climbed the massive storage tank and looked inside. The product was separated. No color could be seen. Beach ball size globules floated in a colorless oil. It did not look appetizing. The heavy ingredients like salt and color must have settled to the bottom of the tank. Lighter ingredients floated to the top. A jug from the middle of the production run was less dense because the heavier ingredients were in the jugs from the beginning of the production run. The problem was not over agitation; it was under agitation.

The storage tank had an intermittent agitation setting that kept the product stable before packaging with minimum agitation. Whoever set up the machinery must have known the product would have a tendency to separate. That’s why the jug said, “Shake well before using.” Since bad batches were incorrectly diagnosed as too much agitation, it became taboo to use the agitator. Some batches sat a day without agitation before packaging.

Our shift started using the agitator and the bad product went away.

“What’s the opposite of the current process?” is a great question. It works more than you would expect.

How could we have caught this problem sooner?

Make it easier to look inside the finished product storage tanks. The top of these tanks were close to an overhead walkway. Strolling down a ramp is much easier than climbing an oily, two-story ladder wearing a safety harness.

When a batch changes during packaging, analyze samples throughout the production run. This would have identified the high salt content in the first jugs. No one ever questioned the quality of yellow product. A batch should be consistent throughout the production run.

The Last Lean Question

The most difficult part of lean is identifying a problem to work on. Hence, the last question in a lean improvement should be, “How could we have discovered this problem sooner?”

A lean correction from the food industry illustrates how critical this last question could be. The new oil supplier did not add preservative. The parts per million (ppm) calculation was difficult. When I gave the poundage of preservative needed to the oil tank farmer, he laughed. He would need a fork truck to add that much preservative!

I double checked my math with another type of oil that used the same amount of preservative. The computerized calculation was only one-tenth of the preservative needed. Incorrect math meant unsafe products left this plant for years. Extensive internal and external audits did not identify the problem.

How could we have discovered this problem sooner?

The company had several identical plants. A oil tank farmer from another plant would have identified the miscalculation immediately. How many problems could someone from another, similar gemba easily discover? Was this problem the only reason the plant’s costs were lower than the other plants? Is the lowest cost a reason to celebrate or a reason to worry? Should all kaizen events include someone from a similar plant? Would both plants benefit? Who should we send? The last question usually leads to many questions.

07/07/2017 Before you hire someone required to do math, give them a math test.