Saturday, August 21, 2004

Always Pull Elephant Ears

Always Pull Elephant Ears

Regular Reader Gary Grissom of Dart Controls gave me permission to share this email he sent me last week. Enjoy this great story!
My wife and I went to the Indiana State Fair with another couple yesterday. The weather was ideal for a day at the fair. This resulted in great attendance figures. About half way through the day the couple we were with decided they would indulge in an elephant ear. My wife and I didn't care to partake in the deep fried carbohydrates, so we stood under the awning and by the observation window of the fried concoction trailer. This allowed us some time to get out of the sun and, according to my wife, to 'people watch'. While she was observing the individuals in the crowd I turned my attention to the processes that were occurring in the trailer. In less than 30 seconds I was ready to offer up my lean manufacturing consultation services.

They definitely were running in mass production batch mode. Even though my wife was annoyed by my incessant babbling about "they need to change this process", she turned her attention to me and away from the 50-something-year-old-overly-tattooed lady in the bright blue hip huggers and fluorescent pink tube top. Her escort was a hum-dinger as well, but that's another story. Even though my wife didn't understand what I was describing, she obligingly listened to my "This is how they should make Elephant Ears story". For your enjoyment here are my observations...

On first look I easily identified that I was looking at a manufacturing, warehousing and sales operation. The sales department was the guy running the cash register. He was charged with taking orders, ringing up the sale and making the cash transaction. He had a secondary role to provide technical support as well. When a customer asked what the difference was between an elephant ear and a funnel cake, he would state "The guy in front of you just ordered a funnel cake. An elephant ear is like that only it is flat and has granulated sugar instead of powdered sugar." He was doing a great job promoting their wares!

Upstream from the sales guy was the inventory of finished goods. A big pile of funnel cakes and a single elephant ear were basking in the bright warm glow of a heat lamp. When sales got an order, an inventory specialist would pull the order from stock and add some fresh sugar then, if needed, would turn around to the back of the trailer and fill the drink order for the customer.

Next to the finished goods stock were the workers of the production department. They were clearly producing to a sales forecast. As I walked up they had removed the last funnel cake from the fryer thereby completing the production batch they were told was needed. Finished goods had been increased by eight funnel cakes. Uh oh - only one elephant ear in stock! Panic ! Make more now! But wait ... a single individual was in front of deep fryer #1 (it was labeled that). She was making elephant ears using a dough processor that turned a ball of dough into a pizza crust kind of shape which she then placed in the oil for transformation into that beautiful golden hued calorie container. It only took about 30 seconds of fry time. She was able to make one at a time and keep up with sales.

By now I had been watching for about five minutes. During that time not a single funnel cake was sold from stock. They were becoming everyone's LEAST favorite fair treat - the dreaded oil sponge cake. The powered sugar had dissolved into the mass. They were looking not too appetizing. That's why the sales assistant added new sugar. I noticed every customer wanted an elephant ear - maybe because while in line they were witnessing the melting into goop process. Anyway by the time the sales transaction was completed the fresh ears were ready for just in time delivery. I was wondering how that was happening.

Then I noticed it. The deep fryer #1 operator was not working to a forecast. Even though she was at the far end of the noisy hot trailer she could hear the customer orders. If they ordered two she would drop two dough masses in. She had figured it out - just in time production of fresh product! And they were delivered fresh - the customers were having a hard time holding the hot plates. It was working great. Then the training of the other workers kicked in and they identified that there was a crisis in the inventory (OK the manager had yelled at them to quit standing around and to get busy). They needed to react before the customer was impacted.

They all sprang to work. One went to the raw materials warehouse and started up another batch of dough, even though the last batch had only been about 20 percent consumed. Other coworkers pretty much pushed the just in time operator away from the dough machine and started running it at capacity. The output from the dough press was placed not only in fryer #1 but another coworker grabbed some partially cooked ones and moved them to fryer two - the funnel cake fryer - thereby running both fryers at capacity. Within a few minutes all was right in the world for workers in the trailer. Inventory was again full. A customer crisis was avoided. Elephant ears would be available for everyone that wanted them. My friend had received the last of the just in time elephant ears. I could see the pile already beginning to look like the funnel cakes - gooey.

The bottleneck of the operation was the sales department. Because they couldn't process orders quickly enough they were not only underutilizing manufacturing capacity they were losing sales. Lots of potential customers would stop near the window and state "Looks really good but I don't want to wait in that long line". A second cash register and moving one of the production folks to it would have easily more than doubled their sales capacity.

Beyond the sales constraint this process was clearly in need of a lean transformation - lean really can work on anything. I'm thinking about another trip to the fair to see if any competitors have figured out better i.e. lean ways to meet customer needs. I'll let you know if I do.

I hope you enjoyed my story more than my wife did. By the time I walked away she had zoned me out and was looking at the crowd again.

Gary tells a great story here. Two things are at its core: Finding a way to pace production to demand (takt time) and identifying constraints to increase throughput. While humorous when viewing a concession stand with only two products, the principles apply in each of our companies.

What is particularly useful here is using a simple process to make a profound point. Which is the entire point of this weblog.

Gary, thanks so much. It is useful to me and I hope for all other readers.

(And your wife and mine would both roll their eyes together at all this....)

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

No comments: