Monday, October 21, 2002

5,000 (well, 4,502) Apple Pies – The Results

We finished the production of pies on Wednesday night, October 16. I’ve recovered from 17 hours on my feet that day and reflected on what happened. Here are my thoughts on implementing a lean system.

  • Energy matters. We had a bunch of Purdue students from a service organization there join us for production each evening. Hard to measure the impact of injecting 20 college kids into a group of 35-50 year old adults, but it is positive. Especially in a volunteer system like this, the simple ability and tendency to move quickly matters.

  • Material handling matters. While a simple understanding of lean pays most attention to the cell or assembly structure, a deeper understanding knows that how raw materials get to the cell is equally important. We saw this. Fortunately, we saw it quickly when it broke down and could correct it in minutes.

  • Equipment breakdowns cost money. Our goal was 5,000 pies. We made 4,502. The difference??? The refrigerated trailer we rented broke down on night one…we had to cut off production two hours early. In those two hours, we could have easily made 500-600 more pies. This error cost our fund raising efforts at least $2,500. It was an expensive breakdown.

  • Productivity goes way up. Compared to 2001, we made 50% more pies with 1/3 less manpower. Roughly speaking, this is an improvement in productivity of 80% to 90%. All by going to three u-shaped cells and using simple visual kanban for material movement. This blows me away.

  • Satisfaction goes way up We had repeated comments from folks who worked the line that “wow, this is a lot more fun!” Anecdotal, perhaps, but we’ll have a lot easier time recruiting workers next fall since they enjoyed it this year.

  • Humans want to batch, not flow. My biggest disappointment was how difficult it was to get to single piece flow (or single pie flow, as I jokingly termed it) in each cell. Our volunteers really, really wanted to push pies through in batches, not one at a time.

  • WIP goes way down Despite the mini-batches, the cells physically limited the WIP. The small cells just wouldn't hold much of a "batch." So much so that when we shut down the lines at the end of Wednesday night, we went from full-bore production to the last pie in the box in only 16 minutes. We were producing at a rate of 450 pies per hour and still only had 16 minutes of raw apples in the system. That was cool.

  • Gotta have metrics I did a simple tracking of how many pies per cell per hour we produced. Even this simple method of scrawled notes on a 3x5 card in my pocket gave us committee members insight on the fly during the hectic day of production. Lean systems have to have metrics.

All in all, it was quite an experience. We raised nearly $30,000 for the school scholarship fund. This works out to around $35/hour for the time contributed by the volunteers. This feels good for people to know that their time is well worth it.

Thanks for following this saga. It was fun.

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