Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dude, you gotta understand waste better than that!

Dude, you gotta understand waste better than that!

Had a sales rep call on us last week with a proposed improvement to one of our processes. He was selling a motorized mechanism with specific attachments for certain products. Although his presentation was weak, we were able to ascertain eventually what he was offering and how it genuinely may be helpful to us.

At one point in the conversation, he stated fairly emphatically “I think this unit can really help you eliminate waste.”

Cool, I said, tell me how!

He stammered a bit, as if he didn’t quite understand my question. So I asked again, “There are multiple wastes, seven to be precise; which do you think you can reduce?”

After a blank stare for a few uncomfortable seconds, he began to talk about scrap. And indeed his unit could help in that regard. One of our engineers then asked about the changeover time for the various attachments.

He stammered a bit again and then told her “Oh, I’d allow about an hour to make the change.” Three of us gasped audibly. She pursued the questioning; “So, if you got good at it, how long would it take to swap the attachments?” The rep circled a bit and then said “Well, you really don’t want to change very often. Once you get it adjusted, you should run at least 500 parts.”

When I pointed out that one of the parts had an average weekly demand by our customers of about 50 parts, it was his turn to gasp audibly. I went back to the “waste” comment and said that we didn’t want to decrease the waste of quality to merely increase the waste of excess inventory.

This rep was a good man, had a good product and we may well use it. However, it was very clear that any drive for process excellence would be something we’d have to carry out on our own. This vendor didn’t have the ability to help us.

It also made me wonder how much better he and his company might do with a simple understanding of waste and of the principles of rapid change-over. The potential was there, yet it remains unrealized.

In a world where the contrast between process excellence and process mediocrity is becoming starker, how long can machine vendors avoid recognizing it??

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