Solution or counter-measure

Applying a band-aid to a problem, a measure to counter the impact of a problem is often an attractive short term option, particularly to a management  measured in the traditional way on output, to whom stopping a line is heresy.  Superficially it may hide/solve  or move the problem, and it is easier in the short term than doing the hard yards to identify the source of the problem, and eliminating it. 

However, counter-measures are rarely solutions, and they almost always come back to bite, usually at the worst time possible.

Years ago in a plant I was running, we suddenly had trouble with a carton erector at the end of a high speed line, and whilst we kept the thing running with numerous counter-measures of various types, the impact was obvious when you looked at the overall line productivity numbers.

We eventually took a hard look at the problem, formed a team of people who had a range of specific skills we thought relevant to the problem, and went through a process of what would be now called “root cause analysis” using the “5 why” tool , but then was a little less defined, at least to our early but evolving understanding of the principals of lean.

Below is a summary of our steps through the 5 why process :

Why did the case packer crash?

  • The sensors failed to “find” the edges of the flat cartons

Why did the sensors fail to find the edges?

  • The edges were a bit more “ragged” than was usual

Why were the edges “ragged”

     –     The suppliers knife used to cut the cartons became blunt with use, producing a ragged edge

Why was the supplier not replacing or sharpening the knife more often?

  • We had changed suppliers to get a small cost reduction, and there was nothing in our specifications about the tolerances required by the sensors to pick the edge of the carton, state of the edges or knife maintenance.

Got to the answer in 4, but it took a while, and was a bit messy, but once we understood the root causes were the performance measures imposed on the Purchasing Manager, and the lack of cross functional communication and complete specifications, the solutions  were blindingly obvious, and nothing like any of the counter measures that had been used to date.





About strategyaudit

StrategyAudit is a boutique strategy and marketing consultancy concentrating on the challenges of the medium sized manufacturing businesses that make up the backbone of our economy. The particular focus is on their strategic and marketing development. as well as the business and operational efficiency improvements necessary for day to day commercial survival. We not only give advice, we go down "into the weeds" to ensure and enable implementation.
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