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Bob Breaks and Fred Breaks

  • Indium Corporation
  • Folks,

    Dr. Phil James, a former student of "The Professor", gets a phone call, let's listen in......

    Phil James was staring out the window of his office in Exeter, NH. Fall had arrived and there was a chill in the air, a dusting of snow was on the ground. Suddenly, the phone rang and he was startled out of his mini stupor.

    “Phil James here,” Phil answered.

    “My name is Karl Hermann, owner of AXI Assemblies,” was the response.

    “How may I help Karl?” Phil responded.

    “I think I need some help with my shop’s productivity,” Karl said with enthusiasm.

    “Why do you think that?” answered Phil. Although Phil knew that everyone needed help with productivity. He had been to over 200 facilities world-wide and had never seen one that could not improve their productivity by 30%, most could easily double it.

    “Well I went to an SMTA chapter meeting where Patty Coleman gave a presentation on how to improve productivity. My team is well versed in Lean Six Sigma, but I sense we are still not as productive as we could be. Patty’s pitch further convinced me of it. However, I’m just too busy and inexperienced to take on a project like this. Can you help? Patty said you were the best. ” There was the long response.

    Phil knew that this wasn’t true. Patty undoubtedly said that The Professor was the best and that if he wasn’t available that he would be a good second stringer. It didn’t bother Phil, The Professor was amazing and he still felt that he was a student to him. As a matter of fact, technically, he was, as Phil got his PhD from Ivy University with The Professor as his advisor some years back.

    Karl shared with Phil that business was good at AXI. Their four assembly lines were working flat out, 3 shifts a day, producing $100 million of product a year. The good news/bad news scenario was that a new customer had contracted with AXI to produce $50 million worth of product a year, starting in 4 months. Karl was hoping to avoid purchasing two line lines. Phil mentioned that the average line produces about $35 million a year on two shifts, so he was hopeful that, with the right productivity improvements, he might be able to produce the new product with the four lines he now has.

    Phil and Karl worked out the details of Phil’s week-long visit. At the end, Karl asked if there was anything that could be done in preparation. Phil asked that they measure their assembly line uptime. Karl asked for Phil’s definition of line uptime. Phil then told Karl that line uptime is simply the % of time the line is running during working hours. 

    “It is easy to measure, simply go to the line at regular intervals, say once an hour. If the line is running, score a 1, if not a 0. At the end of a week or two add all of the 1s and 0s and divide by the number of measurements. Multiple this number by 100 and you have your line uptime.,” Phil expounded.

    They agreed that Phil would come after two weeks of Karl’s team measuring line uptime.

    The two weeks passed quickly and Phil was happy to go south to AXI. He packed his clubs, hoping to get in some golf at the end of the season, as AXI was more than a few hundred miles south of Exeter. Upon his arrival, he met with Karl and was introduced to Sarah Johnson, a college intern, from Tech. Sarah was to be Phil’s host. Phil asked, if for his first day, he could observe the shop floor and ask questions of the operators, techs, and engineers. This strategy was agreed upon and Phil started his one day tour. Phil had long ago learned that the management and engineers of a company usually didn’t know the day-to-day operational realities as well as the operators on the shop floor. He felt he needed this input.

    As he toured the facility, Phil noticed strong evidence of an effective Lean Sigma program. The shop floor was immaculate and orderly. The workflow seemed well laid out. He saw white boards at the end of each line with the status of the parts, etc., for the next job. Needless to say, Phil was impressed. He wanted to check all of the lines to see if they were time-balanced but none were running. So he stopped by the break room. It too was spotless.   He thought we would talk to some of the operators.

    “Hi, I’m Phil James,” he said to the assembled group. “Weren’t you guys on break just a short time ago?” he inquired.

    “That was a Fred break,” Chuck Wilson, one of the obvious group leaders, answered. “This is a Bob break,” he continued.

    Everyone burst out laughing, just as Sarah walked into the room.

    “Fred break, Bob break?” Phil asked.

    What is a "Bob Break," what is a "Fred Break?"  Stay tuned to find out.

    Dr. Ron