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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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148

"Or years," mumbles Bob.

I sit down and close my eyes for a second. When I open my eyes, they're all looking at me.

"Obviously, we're not g ing to have time for that," I say. "We've only got ten weeks now to make something happen be- fore Peach blows the whistle. I know we're on the right track, but we're still just limping along here. We've got to accept the fact we're not going to have perfect data to work with."

Ralph says, "Then I have to remind you of the old data processing aphorism: Garbage in, garbage out."

"Wait a minute," I say. "Maybe we're being a little too methodical. Searching a data base isn't the only way to find an- swers. Can't we come up with some other faster way to isolate the bottleneck-or at least identify the candidates? When I think back to the model of the boys on the hike, it was obvious who the slower kids were on the trail. Doesn't anybody have any hunches where the Herbie might be in the plant?"

"But we don't even know if we've got one yet," says Stacey.

Bob has his hands on his hips. His mouth is half open as if he might say something. Finally, he does.

"Hell, I've been at this plant for more than twenty years. After that much time, I know where the problems usually seem to start," he says. "I think I could put together a list of areas where we might be short on capacity; at least that would narrow the focus for us. It might save some time."

Stacey turns to him. "You know, you just gave me an idea. If we talk to the expediters. They could probably tell us which parts they're missing most of the time, and in which departments they usually go to look for'them."

"What good is that going to do?" asks Ralph.

"The parts most frequently in short supply are probably the ones that would pass through a bottleneck," she says. "And the department where the expeditors go to look for them is probably where we'll find our Herbie."

I sit up in my seat. "Yeah, that makes a lot of sense."

I stand up and start to pace.

"And I'll tell you something 7 just thought of," I say. "Out on the trail, you could tell the slower kids by the gaps in the line. The slower the kid, the greater the distance between him and the kid in front of him. In terms of the analogy, those gaps were inventory."

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Bob, Ralph, and Stacey stare at me.

"Don't you see?" I ask them. "If we've got a Herbie, it's probably going to have a huge pile of work-in-process sitting in front of it."

"Yeah, but we got huge piles all over the place out there," says Bob.

"Then we find the biggest one," I say.

"Right! That's got to be another sure sign," says Stacey.

I turn and ask, "What do you think, Ralph?"

"Well, it all sounds worth a try," says Ralph. "Once you've narrowed the field to maybe three of four work centers, it won't take long for us to check your findings against the historical data just to be sure."

Bob looks at Ralph and says in a kidding voice, "Yeah, well, we've all seen how good that is."

But Ralph doesn't take it in a kidding way. He looks embar- rassed.

"Hey, I can only work with what I've got," he says. "What do you want me to do?"

"Okay, the important thing is that we have new methods to try," I say. "Let's not waste time pinning the blame on bad data. Let's get to work."

Fueled by the energy of new ideas, we go to work, and the search goes quickly... so quickly, in fact, that what we discover makes me feel as though we've run ourselves straight into a wall.

"This is it. Hello, Herbie," says Bob.

In front of us is the NCX-10.

"Are you sure this is a bottleneck?" I ask.

"There's some of the proof," he says as he points to the stacks of work-in-process inventory nearby-weeks of backlog ac- cording to the report Ralph and Stacey put together and which we reviewed about an hour ago.

"We talked to the expeditors," says Bob. "They say we're always waiting for parts from this machine. Supervisors say the same. And the guy who runs this area got himself a set of ear- plugs to keep him from going deaf from all the bitching he gets from everyone."

"But this is supposed to be one of our most efficient pieces of equipment," I say.

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"It is," says Bob. "It's the lowest-cost, highest-rate means we have of producing these particular parts."

"So why is this a bottleneck?"

"This is the only one like it we've got," he says.

"Yes, I know that," I say, and I stare at him until he explains.

"See, this machine here is only about two years old. Before we installed it, we used other machines to do what it does. But this machine can do all the operations that used to take three different machines," says Bob.

He tells me about how they used to process these parts using the three separate types of machines. In one typical instance, the process times per part were something like two minutes on the first machine, eight minutes on the second, and four minutes on the third-a grand total of fourteen minutes per part. But the new NCX-10 machine can do all three processes in ten minutes per part.

I say, "You're telling me we're saving four minutes per part. Doesn't that mean we're producing more parts per hour than we were? How come we've got so much inventory stacked up for this thing?"

"With the old way, we had more machines," he says. "We had two of the first type, five of the second type, and three of the third type."

I nod, understanding now. "So you could do more parts, en though it took you longer per part. Then why did we buy e NCX-10?"

"Each of the other machines had to have a machinist to run

Bob says. "The NCX-10 only needs two guys on it for setups.,e I said, it's the lowest cost way for us to produce these parts."

I take a slow walk all the way around the machine.

"We do run this thing three shifts, don't we?" I ask Bob.

"Well, we just started to again. It took a while to find a re-

placement for Tony, the setup guy on third shift who quit."

"Oh, yeah..." I say. Man, Peach really did it to us that day. I ask, "Bob, how long does it take to train new people on this machine?"

"About six months," he says.

I shake my head.

"That's a big part of the problem, Al. We train somebody and after a couple of years they can go elsewhere and make a few

151

dollars more with somebody else," says Bob. "And we can't seem to attract anybody good with the wages we offer."

"Well why don't we pay more for people on this equipment?"

"The union," says Bob. "We'd get complaints, and the union would want us to up the pay-grade for all the setup people."

I take a last look.

"Okay, so much for this," I say.

But that isn't all. The two of us walk to the other side of the plant where Bob gives me a second introduction.

"Meet Herbie Number Two: the heat-treat department," says Bob.

This one looks more like what you might think of in terms of an industrial Herbie. It's dirty. It's hot. It's ugly. It's dull. And it's indispensable.

Heat- treat basically is a pair of furnaces... a couple of grimy, dingy, steel boxes, the insides of which are lined with ce-ramic blocks. Gas burners raise the internal temperatures to the 1500-degree-Fahrenheit range.

Certain parts, after they've been machined or cold-worked or whatever at ordinary temperatures, can't be worked on any- more until they've been treated with heat for an extended period of time. Most often, we need to soften the metal, which becomes very hard and brittle during processing, so it can have more machining done to it.

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