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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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He said, "Alex, there are two ways that the ideas I'm giving you won't work. One is if there isn't any demand for the products your plant makes."

"No, we have a demand, although it's shrinking as our prices go up and service deteriorates," I said. "But we still have a size- able backlog of orders."

"I also can't help you if you're determined not to change. Have you made up your mind to do nothing and let the plant close?"

"It's not that we want to give up," I told him. "It's that we don't see any other possibilities."

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"Okay then. Have you tried to take some of the load off the bottlenecks by using other resources?" he asked.

"You mean offloading? We can't. These are the only two re- sources of their type in the plant."

He paused for a moment and finally he said, "All right, one more question: Does Bearington have an airport?"

And so here he is tonight, walking out of Gate Two. He changed his flight to Los Angeles to make a stop here for the evening. I walk up to him and shake his hand.

"How was your flight?" I ask him.

"Have you ever spent time in a sardine can?" he says, then adds, "I shouldn't complain. I'm still breathing."

"Well, thanks for coming," I tell him. "I appreciate you changing your plans, although I'm still not sure you can help us."

"Alex, having a bottleneck-"

"Two bottlenecks," I remind him.

"Having tw o bottlenecks doesn't mean you can't make money," he says. "Quite the contrary, in fact. Most manufactur- ing plants do not have bottlenecks. They have enormous excess capacity. But they should have them-one on every part they make."

He reads the puzzled look on my face.

"You don't understand, but you will," he said. "Now I want you to give me as much background on your plant as you can."

All the way from the airport, I talk non-stop about our pre- dicament. When we reach the plant, I park the Mazda in front of the offices. Waiting for us inside are Bob, Lou, Stacey and Ralph. They're standing around the vacant receptionist's desk. Everyone is cordial, but as I make the introductions I can tell the staff is waiting to see if this Jonah guy-who bears no resemblance to any consultant they've ever seen walk through the door-really knows what he's doing. Jonah stands in front of them and begins to pace as he talks.

"Alex called me today because you perceive a problem with the bottlenecks you've discovered in your plant," says Jonah. "Ac- tually, you are experiencing a combination of several problems. But first things first. From what Alex has told me, your most immediate need is to increase throughput and improve your cash flow. Am I right?"

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"That sure would be a big help," says Lou. "How do you think we might be able to do that?"

"Your bottlenecks are not maintaining a flow sufficient to meet demand and make money," he says. "So there is only one thing to do. We have to find more capacity."

"But we don't have the money for more capacity," says Lou.

"Or the time to install it," says Bob.

"I'm not talking about more capacity from one end of the plant to the other," says Jonah. "To increase the capacity of the plant is to increase the capacity of only the bottlenecks."

"You mean make them into non-bottlenecks," says Stacey.

"No," he says. "Absolutely not. The bottlenecks stay bottle- necks. What we must do is find enough capacity for the bottle- necks to become more equal to demand."

"Where're we going to find it?" asks Bob. "You mean it's just layin' around out there?"

"In effect, yes," says Jonah. "If you are like most manufac- turers, you will have capacity that is hidden from you because some of your thinking is incorrect. And I suggest that first of all we go into your plant and see for ourselves exactly how you are managing your two bottlenecks."

"Why not," I say. "After all, no one visits this plant and es- capes without a tour."

The six of us put on the safety glasses and hats and go into the plant. Jonah and I head the column as we walk through the double doors into the orange light. It's about halfway into second shift now and somewhat quieter than it is on day turn. That's good because it lets us hear each other better when we talk. I point out various stages of production to Jonah as we walk. I notice Jonah's eyes measuring the stacks of inventory piled every- where. I try to hurry us along.

"This is our NCX-10 n/c machine," I tell Jonah as we arrive at the big machine.

"And this is your bottleneck, correct?" asks Jonah.

"One of them," I say.

"Can you tell me why isn't it working right now?" asks Jo- nah.

Indeed, the NCX-10 is stopped at the moment.

I say, "Well... ah, good question. Bob, why isn't the NCX-10 running?"

Bob glances at his watch.

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"Probably because the set-up people went on break about ten minutes ago," says Bob. "They should be back in about twenty minutes."

"There is a clause in our union contract which stipulates there must be a half-hour break after every four hours of work," I explain to Jonah.

He asks, "But why should they take their break now instead of when the machine is running?"

Bob says, "Because it was eight o'clock and-"

Jonah holds up his hands and says, "Wait a minute. On any non-bottleneck machine in your plant, no problem. Because, after all, some percentage of a non-bottleneck's time should be idle. So who cares when those people take their breaks? It's no big deal. But on a bottleneck? It's exactly the opposite."

He points to the NCX-10 and says, "You have on this ma- chine only so many hours available for production-what is it... 600, 700 hours?"

"It's around 585 hours a month," says Ralph.

"Whatever is available, the demand is even greater," says Jonah. "If you lose one of those hours, or even half of it, you have lost it forever. You cannot recover it someplace else in the system. Your throughput for the entire plant will be lower by whatever amount the bottleneck produces in that time. And that makes an enormously expensive lunch break."

"But we have a union to deal with," says Bob.

Jonah says, "So talk to them. They have a stake in this plant. They're not stupid. But you have to make them understand."

Yeah, I'm thinking; that's easier said than done. On the other hand...

Jonah is walking around the NCX-10 now, but he's not just looking at it alone. He's looking at other equipment in the plant. He comes back to us.

"You've told me this is the only machine of its type in the plant," says Jonah, "But this is a relatively new machine. Where are the older machines that this one replaced? Do you still have those?"

Bob says vaguely, "Well, some of them we do. Some of them we got rid of. They were practically antiques."

"Do you have at least one of each type of the older machines necessary to do what this X-what-ever-it-is machine does?" Jonah asks.

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