Sunday, April 29, 2018

LEAN Legos: A Challenge for All You Lean Thinkers

I have the honor of teaching a class at Central CT State University called "Lean Operations Management". The class meets once a week on Friday mornings from 9:30am until 12:05pm. I've been teaching this one class for 6 years. My students are generally Juniors and Seniors and Graduate students, and they are highly motivated and wicked smart. 

Since my class falls the morning after "Thirsty Thursday" night, where some college students might partake in some party-like behavior, I realize it would be cruel and unusual for me to make them listen to me for 3 hours. So, all 15 sessions feature learning lean concepts using Legos. Yup, college students play with Legos every single week for an hour or so. 

The way it works is we pretend we are a manufacturing plant comprised of 6 employees. Each shift is 6 minutes long. Each employee adds 2, 3, or 4 parts to a 16 piece finished airplane. The object of the game is simple.....how many planes can 6 people build in 6 minutes? As students learn to see and eliminate the 8 wastes in this process, they can make more and more planes with the same number of people and in the same 6 minutes. Their performance is tracked with a simple profit and loss statement. Each employee is paid $1 per minute. Each Lego has a raw material cost of $1. Every finished plane is sold for $85. 

We shoot video of every 6 minute shift, and the video is e-mailed to each student so they can watch it and suggest ways to eliminate one or more of the 8 wastes (defects, overproduction, waiting, non-essential processing, transport, inventory, motion and unused employee brainpower) for the next class. They then do A3 to gain agreement and implement the improvement(s) using PDCA (plan do check act).  Nothing beats direct observation to learn to see waste in a process. 

The "world record" for this exercise is 56 finished planes in 6 minutes. My current class, featured in this video, just tied the world record. They will be shooting for a new world record next class. 

You will notice that the students have implemented Kanban in the form of a card placed in front of each workstation. This is to avoid overproduction. The rule is you can't work on a new piece until the next person's card is empty. An empty card is a license to make another part. Kanban is a very good way to link processes. Instead of 6 seperate silos (or departments), the 6 processes are now linked. It is based on the premise of "use one make one". Without it, inventory would pile up in front of the slowest process. 

You will also notice they have an andon system. By raising their hand when they are not physically working, they are "shedding light" or making visible the fact that there is a problem....they are experiencing the waste of waiting. 

Before the students implemented Kanban and andon (and dozens of other A3s), they were only capable of making 8 planes in 6 minutes, and there were hundreds of unfinished plane parts (WIP) at the end of the shift. Profitability was -250% and sales per labor hour was $18. For the shift on the video, profit is near 25% and sales per labor hour is $120. With the same number of employees and the same 6 minutes!

My challenge to you is to watch this video and suggest one improvement. Let's pretend our customer just gave us an order for 60 planes but they need it in 6 minutes.....how would you proceed?

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