Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wasted and Travel-Weary

Logs on truck by CIFOR
Logs on truck, a photo by CIFOR on Flickr.
This post is part 2 in a series on waste...

Transportation is the second form of waste that we are discussing in this series of posts.  How much do you have to move how far to complete your work processes?  How long does it take to do so?

The sneaky thing about transportation is that although the picture of logs on a truck might come readily to mind, there are other forms of transportation that might not.  Things like:

  • Unnecessarily long routes to deliver materials.  In a multi-story office building this could be items stored on one floor that are needed for production on another floor.  Or one piece of the item being produced and assembled might have to be carted from one end of the factory floor to the other.
  • Double-handling data between two processes.  For instance, student data might be used by the registrar's department to set up classes and the food services department to generate the student's meal card.  When the same data for a particular student is being entered by more than one user, there is wasted data handling.
  • Moving a dozen people to meet with one person.  This form of waste is often the result of culture, and the spoils of status in a company.  When you're the hondo, people come to you, even when it costs more to do so.
  • Using snail mail (or interoffice mail) instead of email.  In one company where there were multiple buildings on a campus, interoffice mail delivery of a customer blueprint could add as many as 2 days one way and an additional 2 days back to its originating office once the document was processed.  

Measuring transportation waste
There are two types of waste impact in transportation:

  1. Time - Transportation time sometimes isn't on the management radar because it's not obviously long.  But the significance of the time factor can be surprisingly large.  Delay from transportation might only be a matter of seconds, but when you multiply the seconds by the number of items being produced, you suddenly realize that you're dealing with a significant cost.  Compounding the cost, when nothing is happening on the other end of the transport because materials have not yet arrived, investments in work hours and machinery are being wasted during the wait.
  2. Distance - Greater distance in transport can also result in materials that are lost or damaged, unnecessary stressors on the bodies of the humans moving the items, etc.  As is the case with the time element, an arm stretch to pick an item might not seem to be a big deal in one incident.  But when you multiply the long reach by dozens, hundreds, or more repetitive occasions, injury can result - and that disrupts production capacity.

The online work environment has created the potential for incredible savings in moving people from meeting to meeting.  Gatherings that used to happen only with the help of a car ride, train, or flight can now happen with the help of a click of a mouse and Skype, Twitter, GoToMeeting or a host of other tools.  Even a phone can facilitate a face-to-face conversation to bring people together.  Some companies aren't taking full advantage of technology here because they don't have consistent access to the technology across their company.  In some instances it's more a matter of fear of using the technology.  And there are some times when a 3-D, legitimate face-to-face conversation is the only way to achieve your goal.  An XOXO or ((  )) doesn't achieve the same results as a live hug or kiss.

Technology is sometimes the answer to the non-human components in transportation waste.  For example, pneumatic tubes can suck lightweight parts right off the line and carry them to their next process step almost instantly, even when it's all of the way on the other side of the production floor.  Electronic transmission of data can replace paper forms and snail mail.  But technology is not always the best answer, best being defined as effective while cost effective.  When creativity is being applied instead of capital to reduce cost, transportation waste can often be reduced substantially by rearranging the physical configuration of people and work processes, by improving the ergonomics in moving and picking process materials, or by establishing decentralized storage methods.


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