"All progress is made by a lazy person looking for an easier way"
Should we be practicing lean manufacturing or lazy manufacturing? Is there a difference?
Robert Heinlein is best known for his science fiction works such as “Starship Troopers” or “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”. They are all good but one that has stuck with me through the years is the long short story called “The man who was too lazy to fail”. Basic story line: Boy is growing up in West Virginia, sees his father working in the fields. He figures he is too lazy to do that so goes to school. When his friends graduate and go to work in the mines, he is too lazy and goes to the Naval Academy. He finds the easiest job in the Navy is flying so becomes a Naval Aviator. Flying is hard work so he invents an automatic pilot. And so on. It is an interesting story in itself but what made it stick with me was the concept of what I would call creative laziness.
When I present my Achieving Lean Changeover (SMED) workshops in client plants, many of the attendees come with impression that I am there to make them work harder and faster. In my experience, trying to get people to work harder and/or faster than the natural pace is like trying to teach a pig to sing. It frustrates the teacher and annoys the pig. What I want them to do is work less while doing it more slowly and carefully while reducing the time it takes for changeover. The only way to accomplish this seemingly contradictory goal is to eliminate work that is unnecessary.In short, I encourage them to practice lazy manufacturing.
I tell Heinlein story in my workshops and even have a slide that says “Be Lazy!”. It is not that I want people to be lazy in the sense we normally think of the word. I want people to be lazy in creative ways. I want them to find easier ways to do their jobs. To repeat, I want them to eliminate work that is unnecessary.
The initial reaction of most people is that everything they do is necessary. In some cases that may be true but in many cases, it is not.
CASE: I was presenting the workshop and we were focusing on changeover of a cartoner. The process called for a series of adjustments on each side of the machine. The way they did this was to adjust the first point on the front of the machine, walk around the end of the line and make the corresponding adjustment on the back. They would then make the next adjustment on the back and walk around to make the corresponding adjustment on the front. One of the operators noted that more than 5 minutes (by stopwatch) was being spent walking during the changeover. The first thought was to have two people working on this, one on the front, one on the back. This looked like it might take more time, getting the two people to the machine at the same time, than it would save. One of the operators asked if all the front adjustment could be made together prior to making the back adjustment. There seemed no reason why not, it was tried and on proving successful, implemented. This saved the mechanic 5 minutes or about 1/3 of a mile of walking per changeover. Walking is not productive work.
CASE: At the end of the batch, operators needed to remove bottles of tablets from the line for reconciliation. There were usually several hundred bottles. They removed the bottles 4-5 at a time and carried them to a nearby table. The table was modified by adding locking castors. Now, instead of bringing the bottles to the table, the table is brought to the bottles.
CASE: In a bottling plant, plastic bottles were laser coded on the shoulder. For each bottle height, the laser needed to be repositioned. The code was moved to the heel of the bottle. Regardless of bottle height/diameter, the centerline of the bottle at the heel is always in the exact same place. The cap is used to trigger the laser and no adjustment is ever necessary. The entire laser changeover was eliminated.
There are many other examples in all industries and all processes. I would be willing to bet cash money there are examples right in your plant.
These tasks continue to be done year in and year out for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most common is simple inertia. That is the way it has always been done so that is the way it always will be done. Closely related to inertia is failure to look at each task to determine whether it is really necessary and take action to eliminate it when it is not. It takes an effort to break out of this zone but the effort will be worth it. Changeovers will be easier and better for eliminating all wasted work. This is really all Lean Manufacturing is. It might be better to call it Lazy Manufacturing.