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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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So the furnace operators put in the parts, from a dozen or less to a couple of hundred, then they fire up the thing and cook the parts in there for a long time-anywhere from six hours to sixteen hours. And afterwards, the parts always have to go through a further cool-down to air temperature outside the fur- nace. We lose a lot of time on this process.

"What's the problem here-we need bigger furnaces?" I ask.

Bob says, "Well... yes and no. Most of the time these fur- naces are running half empty."

"How come?"

"It's the expediters who seem to cause the problem," he says. "They're always running over here and having us run five of this part or a dozen of that part just so they can have enough to assemble a shipment. So we end up having fifty parts wait while we heat-treat a handful. I mean, this operation is run like a bar- bershop-take a number and stand in line."

"So we're not running full batches."

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"Yeah, sometimes we are. But sometimes even if we do a full batch in number, it's not enough to fill the furnace."

"The batches are too small?"

"Or too big in size, and we have to run a second heat to handle the pieces that wouldn't fit in the first. It just never seems to work out," says Bob. "You know, a couple of years ago, there was a proposal to add a third furnace, on account of the prob- lems."

"What happened to it?"

"It was killed at the division level. They wouldn't authorize the funds because of low efficiencies. They told us to use the capacity we've got. Then maybe they'd talk expansion. Besides, there was all kinds of noise about how we've got to save energy and how another furnace would burn twice as much fuel and all that."

"Okay, but if we filled the furnace every time, would we have enough capacity to meet demand?" I ask.

Bob laughs.

"I don't know. We've never done it that way before."

Once upon a time, I had an idea for doing to the plant essen- tially what I did with the boys on the hike. I thought the best thing to do would be to reorganize everything so the resource with the least capacity would be first in the routings. All other resources would have gradual increases in capacity to make up for the statistical fluctuations passed on through dependency.

Well, the staff and I meet right after Bob and I get back to the office, and it's pretty obvious, awfully damn quick, that my grand plan for the perfect un balanced plant with Herbie in front is just not going to fly.

"From a production standpoint, we can't do it," says Stacey.

"There is just no way we can move even one Herbie-let alone two-to the front of production," Bob says. "The sequence of operations has to stay the way it is. There's nothing we can do about it."

"Okay, I already can see that," I say.

"We're stuck with a set of dependent events," says Lou.

As I listen to them, I get that old familiar feeling which j anes whenever a lot of work and energy are about to go down the tubes. It's kind of like watching a tire go flat.

I say, "Okay, if we can't do anything to change their position

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in the sequence, then maybe we can increase their capacities. We'll make them into non-bottlenecks."

Stacey asks, "But what about the step-up in capacity from beginning to end?"

"We'll reorganize... we'll decrease capacity at the head of production and increase it each stage on through," I suggest.

"Al, we're not just talking about moving people around. How can we add capacity without adding equipment?" asks Bob. "And if we're talking about equipment, we're getting ourselves into some major capital. A second furnace on heat-treat, and possibly a second n/c machine... brother, you're talking megabucks."

"The bottom line," says Lou, "is that we don't have the money. If we think we can go to Peach and ask him for excess capacity for a plant that currently isn't making money in the mid- dle of one of the worst years in the company's history... well, excuse my French, but we're out of our goddamned minds."

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My mother and the kids and I are having dinner that eve- ning when Mom says to me, "Aren't you going to eat your peas, Alex?"

I tell her, "Mom, I'm an adult now. It's my option whether or not to eat my peas."

She looks hurt.

I say, "Sorry. I'm a little depressed tonight."

"What's wrong, Dad?" asks Davey.

"Well... it's kind of complicated," I say. "Let's just finish dinner. I've got to leave for the airport in a few minutes."

"Are you going away?" asks Sharon.

"No, I'm just going to pick up somebody," I say.

"Is it Mommy?" asks Sharon.

"No, not Mommy. I wish it could be."

"Alex, tell your children what's bothering you," says my mother. "It affects them, too."

I look at the kids and realize my mother's right. I say, "We found out we've got some problems at the plant which we might not be able to solve."

"What about the man you called?" she asks. "Can't you talk to him?"

"You mean Jonah? That's who I'm picking up at the air- port," I say. "But I'm not sure even Jonah's help will do any good."

Hearing this, Dave is shocked. He says, "You mean... all that stuff we learned about on the hike, about Herbie setting the speed for the whole troop and all that-none of that was true?"

"Of course it's still true, Dave," I tell him. "The problem is, we discovered we've got two Herbies at the plant, and they're right where we don't want them. It would be as if we couldn't rearrange the boys on the trail and Herbie had a twin brother- and now they're both stuck in the middle of the line. They're holding everything up. We can't move them. We've got piles and piles of inventory stacked up in front of them. I don't know what we can do."

Mom says, "Well, if they can't do the work, you'll just have to let them go."

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"It's not people; it's equipment," I explain . "We can't fire machines. And, anyway, what they do is essential. We couldn't produce most of our products without these two operations."

"So why don't you make them go faster?" asks Sharon.

"Sure, Dad," says Davey. "Remember what happened on the hike when you took Herbie's pack from him? Maybe you could do something kind of like that in the plant."

"Yeah, but it's not quite that simple," I say.

Mom says, "Alex, I know you'll do the best you can. If you've got these two slow pokes holding everything up, you'll just have to keep after them and make sure they don't waste any more time."

I say, "Yeah, well, I've got to run. Don't wait up for me. I'll see you in the morning."

Waiting at the gate, I watch Jonah's plane taxi up to the terminal. I talked to him in Boston this afternoon just before he was leaving for Los Angeles. I told him I wanted to thank him for his advice, but that the situation at the plant was impossible so far as we could see.

"Alex, how do you know it's impossible?" he asked.

I told him, "We've only got two months left before my boss goes to the board of directors with his recommendation. If we had more time, maybe we could do something, but with only two months..."

"Two months is still enough time to show an improvement," he said. "But you have to learn how to run your plant by its constraints."

"Jonah, we've analyzed the situation thoroughly-'

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