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English Roads Reveal a Principle about Systems

English Roads Reveal a Principle about Systems

Reflections on Driving in England

My wife, The Lovely Joanne, and I have just spent a couple of weeks driving around the hills and dales – yes, they have things called dales although I’m still not sure what they are – of England and a bit of Scotland. In America, many roads are fairly straight, and towns are laid out in squares, generally. Neither is true of the UK! If you’re not careful, driving can drive you batty.

Some roads were built by the Romans, and some of those still exist as modern roads, reasonably wide and straight. Other roads evolved as farmers walked their cows or sheep to the next field, or to market in town. Guess what – cows and sheep don’t walk in straight lines. (Maybe neither did the farmers.) As time went on, those paths got worn into thoroughfares, as other farmers took the same routes, and farms were linked to each other as well as to town.

Those roads eventually got graveled, and then some were paved. Horseless carriages followed, and because they could travel much faster on those same little twisty lanes, road striping and signage emerged, and rules and regulations to keep us from running into each other. But those back roads were still the little twisty lanes barely wide enough for a load of hay, in some cases – making it more than a little tricky when you are driving your horseless carriage and meet an actual load of hay, as we did a few times!

A Straight-Ahead System

Is there a lesson here? It seems to me sometimes we ‘build a road wherever the trail was’ in our quality systems, by continuing to use the same method we started with, even five or ten years down the road. By now, there is probably a better technique in machining or design, a shorter path from raw material to finished goods, or a more efficient method of measurement and QC. All ISO standards require Internal audit programs as part of Plan-Do-Check-Act. Those audits should ‘Check’ where the road is squiggly; then we analyze and reflect, and ‘Act’ on the data to improve our quality management system using a culture of continual process improvement.

Here are a few areas to consider:

Building in Quality At The Source (QATS)

There are two ways to view quality. QATS checks the first piece to confirm that the process yields conforming process, requiring strong supporting process information and calibrated inspection tools at the workstation, to ensure that outputs continue to conform. On the other hand, using a higher percentage of parts checked at final inspection to inspect-out bad parts, verifies product (not process) before shipment. While the first may take additional preparation up front, the reduced risk supports significantly reduced Final Inspection levels and time spent.

Measures of efficiency

How do you collect data to evaluate the efficiency of each process. Many MRPs will evaluate quoted time by process or machine time versus actual time taken. Is this being reviewed and process adjustments or staff training occurring to address disparities

Waste reduction

In LEAN thinking this includes reducing extra steps – by placing what you need within reach. Do staff have to walk far to find components, tooling, or answers?

Work Cells

How does the process flow? Are machines and workstations in line for straight movement, like from saw/shear directly to the next operation, reducing side or reverse travel?

Measurement methods

Are in-process as well as final QC done with calibrated equipment, or are only the tools in QC calibrated, requiring additional measurements when it reaches them? Are all measurements recorded manually? Or on a spreadsheet? Or are you using a visual measuring system that compares parts to the specifications and allowed tolerances?

The straighter road can mean more efficiency and a stronger bottom line.

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