A woodsman was asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.” The first time I heard this statement, I recall thinking how profound it was. While it effectively communicates the power and importance of preparation, upon reflection I feel like the message is inherently flawed. When viewed through the lens of continuous improvement, I think about all the potential that may exist if he acted differently, if he acted intelligently.
For our purpose, let’s imagine that the woodsman not only has to chop down one tree, but an entire forest. This scenario would apply the message to many of our challenges we face today, as we are tasked with operating efficiently, making decisions, and taking action to improve our bottom line. What if the woodsman arrived at the forest with an already sharpened axe? What if he purchased a technically superior axe that only requires sharpening every 10 trees? Does his axe really require two and a half minutes of sharpening to perform better than just one and a half minutes spent in preparation, or does it really even need sharpening at all to perform adequately to cut down the same tree in the five minutes?
All good questions, but what our woodsman would really benefit from is a means of measuring actual performance to determine what provides the best relative balance of return. If our woodsman was interested in cutting down more trees in less time and doing it more consistently, it would be beneficial to know exactly how long it took him to chop down a sample of trees with his axe in its current unsharpened form as a point of reference. He could then begin sharpening his axe in incremental units and compare against past performance (rate of trees felled) to identify the point of diminishing return and act intelligently to determine and deploy the best course of action (Uptime/Downtime). Isn’t this what any business process owner really wants to know: what is really happening on the shop floor before and after a change is made?
In fact, this is what Factory MES provides. In our example, I would argue that Factory would allow our woodsman to not only see the trees before him, but to actually see the forest because of the trees by providing him a means of collecting data on each individual action. This visibility would give him the competitive advantage he would need to reach, and perhaps even surpass his goals. Armed with this information, now easily at his disposal, he could not only affect change in-shift, based on trending data, he would also know where to focus his energy to improve his performance over time. Equally as important is the visibility he would now have to determine the effectiveness of how his countermeasures are affecting current performance. In effect, using Factory-derived data, he would now act and react intelligently rather than just chopping away.
It’s this uncertainty that we all want to bring to light. We all want to do what we do more efficiently. With Factory MES, we have a powerful tool to meet the challenge as it is specifically designed to provide reliable and relevant data to give you that competitive advantage. Next week we will take a look at dashboards, their purpose and best use in driving performance on your shop floor.