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The Goal (Goldratt E M)

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"That's just dandy with me," says Bob. "But you know how it's going to look on paper. It's going to seem like we increased the direct labor content of the parts coming out of heat-treat and the NCX-10."

I slump into the chair behind my desk.

"Let's fight one battle at a time," I say.

The next morning, Bob comes to the staff meeting with his recommendations. They basically consist of four actions. The first two concern what he and I talked about the day before-dedicat- ing a machinist and helper to the NCX-10, and stationing a fore- man and two workers at the heat-treat furnaces. The assignments would apply to all three shifts. The other two recommendations concern offloading the bottlenecks. Bob has determined if we could activate one each of these old machines-the Zmegma and the two others-just one shift a day, we could add eighteen per- cent to the output of parts of the type produced by the NCX-10. Last of all, is that we take some of the parts queued at heat-treat and send them out to the vendor across town.

As he's presenting these, I'm wondering what Lou is going to say. As it happens, Lou offers little resistance.

"Knowing what we know now," says Lou, "it's perfectly legit- imate for us to assign people to the bottlenecks if it will increase our throughput. We can certainly justify the cost if it increases sales-and thereby increases cash flow. My question is, where are you going to get the people?"

Bob says we could call them back from layoff.

"No, you can't. See, the problem we have," says Lou, "is that the division has a recall freeze in effect. We can't recall without their approval."

"Do we have people in the plant who can do these jobs?" asks Stacey.

"You mean steal people from other areas?" asks Bob.

"Sure," I say. "Take people from the non-bottlenecks. By definition, they have excess capacity anyway."

Bob thinks about it for a minute. Then he explains that find- ing helpers for heat-treat is no big deal. And we do have some old machinists, who haven't been laid off because of seniority, who are qualified to run the Zmegma and the other two machines. Establishing a two-person set-up crew on the NCX-10, however, has him worried.


"Who's going to set up the other machines?" he asks.

"The helpers on the other machines know enough to set up their own equipment," I say.

"Well, I guess we can try it," says Bob. "But what happens if stealing people turns non-bottlenecks into bottlenecks?"

I tell him, "The important thing is to maintain the flow. If we take a worker away, and we can't maintain the flow, then we'll put the worker back and steal a body from someplace else. And if we still can't keep the flow going, then we'll have no choice but to go to a division and insist that we either go to overtime or call a few people back from layoff."

"Okay," says Bob. "I'll go for it."

Lou gives us his blessing.

"Good. Let's do it," I say. "And, Bob, make sure the people you pick are good. From now on, we put only our best people to work on the bottlenecks."

And so it is done.

The NCX- 10 gets a dedicated setup crew. The Zmegma and the other machines go to work. The outfit across town is only too glad to take our surplus parts for heat-treating. And in our own heat-treat department, two people per shift are assigned to stand by, ready to load and unload parts from the furnaces. Donovan juggles the work-center responsibilities so heat-treat has a fore-man there at all times.

For a foreman, heat-treat seems like a very small kingdom, not much of a prize. There is nothing intrinsically attractive about running that operation, and having only two people to manage makes it seem like no big deal. To prevent it from seeming like a demotion to them, I make a point to go down there periodically on each of the shifts. In talking to the foreman, I drop some rather direct hints that the rewards will be great for anyone who can improve the output of heat-treated parts.

Shortly thereafter, some amazing things happen. Very early one morning, I'm down there at the end of third shift. A young guy named Mike Haley is the foreman. He's a big black man whose arms always look as though they're going to burst the sleeves on his shirts. We've noticed that over the past week he's pushed about ten percent more parts through heat-treat on his shift than the others have. Records are not usually set on third shift, and we're starting to wonder if it's Mike's biceps that are


doing the trick. Anyway, I go down there to try to learn what he's doing.

As I walk up, I see the two helpers are not just standing around with nothing to do. They're moving parts. In front of the furnaces are two tightly organized stacks of work-in-process, which the helpers are building. I call Mike over and ask him what they're doing.

"They're getting ready," he says. "What do you mean?"

"They're getting ready for when we have to load one of the furnaces again," he says. "The parts in each stack are all treated at the same temperature."

"So you're splitting and overlapping some batches," I say. "Sure," he says. "I know we're not really supposed to do that, but you need the parts, right?"

"Sure, no problem. You're still doing the treating according to the priority system?" I ask.

"Oh, yeah," he says. "Come here. Let me show you." Mike leads me past the control console for the furnaces to a worn old battleship of a desk. He finds the computer print-out for the week's most important overdue orders.

"See, look at number 22," he says pointing to it. "We need fifty of the high stress RB-dash-11's. They get treated at a 1200- degree temperature cycle. But fifty of them won't fill up the fur- nace. So we look down and what do we see here but item number 31, which calls for 300 fitted retaining rings. Those also take a 1200-degree cycle."

"So you'll fill up the furnace with as many of the retaining rings after you've loaded the fifty of the first item," I say.

"Yeah, that's it," says Mike. "Only we do the sorting and stacking in advance so we can load the furnace faster." "That's good thinking," I tell him.

"Well, we could do even better if I could get someone to listen to an idea I got," he says. "What do you have in mind?"

"Well, right now, it takes anywhere up to an hour or so to change a furnace load using the crane or doing it by hand. We could cut that down to a couple of minutes if we had a better system." He points to the furnaces. "Each one of those has a table which the parts sit on. They slide in and out on rollers. If we could get some steel plate and maybe a little help from engineer-

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