November 17, 2009

People Balance

We faced a difficult task today in our seminars. We began with 7 people acting as operators in an industrial line, making plane's at a rate of one every 7 minutes, but needing to make them every 3 minutes 30 seconds on average. However, this time was when they needed to get their own materials, whereas we had the option to change the number of operators to allow one, two or even three people to ferry the materials for the operators who were building. We tried to use just 3 operators, each of whom would have somebody to deliver the materials for building, but then the number of tasks for each operator was greatly increased. This of course did not work, and the final product for each process was taking far longer than the previous time.

We then began to look at the task at hand a lot more scientifically, which was really the aim of the whole seminar, as we were in the improvement stage of the DMAIC six sigma process. There were two large bottlenecks in the process that we had not thought to break up into individual operators, and we finally were able to get our heads around the idea that each process should take 3 minutes 30, as when the line is working perfectly, they'll all be working at the same time and taking 3 minutes 30, which will result in a plane being created by the last person at the end of each 3 minutes 30. Once we began to think like this, we were able to split the tasks up in a far more realistic way, and find the correct number of operators, which we believed to be somewhere between 5 and 6, leaving 1 or 2 people to provide the materials.

One idea that did come to me (a little too late) was the JIT technique which I learnt on a course a few weeks ago, and I wondered if this would have improved our line management. The method is explained here: jit.htm

and it involves person one placing a specific number of finished articles onto the next person's work station, rather than just one at a time, and then the worker only being able to act when there are this number of articles present. This is in an attempt to lower inventory, which was one of the problems we had to think about in this process, as we would be punished if our plane's were created too fast as well. however, this was not a problem that we had to wrestle with very often, so I did not think that this would be a particularly appropriate method for our situation.

I'll keep trying to think of a better one!

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