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November 28, 2010

Learning By Doing – The Meccano Exercise

The Meccano exercise was a great demonstrator of the characteristics of a production line. I really enjoyed it too, and I feel like I learned a lot. For me, one of the best parts was that it was drawn out over three days. Often with something like this, you get three hours and you’re done – this felt more like a real project in the way that we had time to try things, reflect on and learn from the experiences, and improve based on them. It was amazing to me, how much room for improvement there was, on a process that originally seemed quite standard, and typical of what you might find on most assembly lines.

We were using DMAIC, guided by our black belt (!), but it never really felt like we were approaching things in a particularly structured way when working in our groups. This made getting started quite hard, and showed me the value of having a step-by-step way of doing things, at least at first. 

Our approach, eventually, was to try to reduce the variation in time each process took each operator to do, to streamline our line. We settled on a target of around 2:45 mins, and began to redistribute the amount of work in each individual process, so that five people (plus one supplying parts in a logistical role) could do the work of seven, and in less time overall. We also found that it was possible to break the processes in such a way that the first two operators could work simultaneously. All in all, I think we were quite successful, and given more time to get used to it, I’m almost certain our output variation would have reduced further!

Multiple rounds of trial and error based tests took place to achieve this – PDSA in action. I learned the importance of having the right people in the right roles (playing to their strengths, nimbleness of fingers especially!) and communicating within the line, as well as seeing control charts in practice. One other important thing was getting a feel for how stressful the job of a production line worker can be – I was stressed, felt like I was bad at my job when I was causing a bottleneck, too warm generally, etc, and none of this even mattered! But also, I know how having a positive, enjoyable working environment can make all the difference to productivity and satisfaction. That’s something I would really like to create in the future.


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