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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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Wanting to end this, I nod to him. "Okay, I hear you. Let me look into it."

"Will you keep him out of my area?" asks Ted.

"I'll let you know, Ted."

After he's gone, I have Fran track down Ralph Nakamura for me. What's puzzling me is that Ralph is not what you'd call an abrasive person, and yet he sure seems to have made Ted very upset.

"You wanted to see me?" asks Ralph from the door.

"Yeah, come on in and sit down," I say to him.

He seats himself in front of my desk.

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"So tell me what you did to light Ted Spencer's fuse," I say to him.

Ralph rolls his eyes and says, "All I wanted from him was to keep an accurate record of the actual times for each heat of parts in the furnace. I thought it was a simple enough request."

"What prompted you to ask him?"

"I had a couple of reasons," says Ralph. "One of them is that the data we have on heat-treat seems to be very inaccurate. And if what you say is true, that this operation is so vital to the plant, then it seems to me we ought to have valid statistics on it."

"What makes you think our data is so inaccurate?" I ask.

"Because after I saw the total on last week's shipments I was kind of bothered by something. A few days ago on my own, I did some projections of how many shipments we would actually be able to make last week based on the output of parts from the bottlenecks. According to those projections, we should have been able to do about eighteen to twenty shipments instead of twelve. The projections were so far off that I figured at first I must have made a big mistake. So I took a closer look, double-checked my math and couldn't find anything wrong. Then I saw that the estimates for the NCX-10 were within the ballpark. But for heat- treat, there was a big difference."

"And that's what made you think that the data base must be in error," I say.

"Right," he says. "So I went down to talk to Spencer. And, ah..."

"And what?"

"Well, I noticed some funny things were happening," he says. "He was kind of tight-lipped when I started asking him questions. Finally, I just happened to ask him when the parts that were being treated in the furnace at the moment were going to be finished. I thought I'd get a time on an actual heat by myself, just to see if we were close to the standard. He said the parts could come out at around 3 P.M. So I went away, and came back at three. But nobody was around. I waited for about ten minutes, then went to look for Ted. When I found him, he said he had the furnace helpers working somewhere else and they'd get around to unloading the furnace in a little while. I didn't think much about it. Then around 5:30, as I was leaving for the day, I de- cided I'd go by the furnace to ask what time the parts had actually come out. But the same parts were still in there."

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"Two- and-a-half hours after they c ould have come out, they hadn't been unloaded?" I ask.

"That's right," says Ralph. "So I found Sammy, the second- shift foreman down there, and asked him what was going on. He told me he was short-handed that night, and they'd get to it later. He said it didn't hurt the parts to stay in the furnace. While I was there, he shut off the burners, but I found out later that the parts didn't come out until about eight o'clock. I didn't mean to start trouble, but I'd thought if we recorded the actual times per heat, we'd at least have some realistic figures to use for estimating. You see, I asked some of the hourly people down there and they told me those kinds of delays happen a lot in heat-treat."

"No kidding," I say. "Ralph... I want you to take all the measurements down there that you need. Don't worry about Ted. And do the same thing on the NCX-10."

"Well, I'd like to, but it's kind of a chore," he says. "That's why I wanted Ted and the others just to jot down the times and all."

I say, "Okay, we'll take care of that. And, ah... thanks very much."

"You're welcome," he says.

"By the way, what was the other reason?" I ask him. "You mentioned you had more than one."

"Oh, well, it's probably not that important."

"No, tell me," I say.

"I don't really know if we can do it or not," says Ralph, "but it occurred to me we might find a way to use the bottlenecks to predict when we'll be able to ship an order."

I contemplate that possibility.

"Sounds interesting," I tell him. "Let me know what you come up with."

Bob Donovan's ears are on fire by the time I've finished tell- ing him what Ralph discovered about heat-treat on his own. I'm very upset about this. He's sitting in a chair in my office while I walk in circles in front of him.

But when I'm done, Bob tells me, "Al, the trouble is there is nothing for the guys down there to do while heat-treat is cookin' the parts. You load up one of the damn furnaces, shut the doors, and that's it for six or eight hours, or however long it takes. What

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are they supposed to do? Stand around and twiddle their thumbs?"

"I don't care what they do between times as long as they get the parts in and out of the furnace pronto," I say. "We could have done almost another batch of parts in the five hours of waiting for people to finish what they were doing elsewhere and change loads."

"All right," says Bob. "How about this: we loan the people to other areas while the parts cook, but as soon as the time is up, we make sure we call them back immediately so-"

"No, because what's going to happen is everybody will be very conscientious about it for two days, and then it'll slip back to the way it is now," I say. "I want people at those furnaces stand- ing by, ready to load and unload twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The first ones I want assigned there are foremen who are responsible full-time for what happens down there. And tell Ted Spencer that the next time I see him, he'd better know what's going on in heat-treat or I'll kick his ass."

"You bet," says Bob. "But you know you're talking about two, maybe three people per shift."

"Is that all?" I ask. "Don't you remember what lost time on a bottleneck costs us?"

"Okay, I'm with you," he says. "Tell you the truth, what Ralph found out about heat-treat is a lot like what I found out on my own about those rumors of idle time on the NCX-10."

"What's going on there?"

Bob tells me that, indeed, it's true the NCX-10 is sitting idle for as much as half an hour or more at a time. But the problem is not lunch breaks. If the NCX-10 is being set up and lunch time rolls around, the two guys stay until the setup is completed. Or, if the setup is a long one, they spell each other, so one goes and eats while the other continues with the setup. We're covered fine dur- ing breaks. But if the machine stops, say, in the middle of the afternoon, it may sit there for twenty, thirty, forty minutes or so before anyone gets around to starting a new setup. The reason is the setup people are busy with other machines, with non-bottle- necks.

"Then let's do the same thing on the NCX-10 as I want to do on heat-treat," I tell Bob. "Let's get a machinist and a helper and have them permanently stationed at the NCX-10. When it stops, they can get to work on it immediately."

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