It is human nature that we are much more likely to respond to a single large event than a number of small events. This is true even though the cumulative effect the small events may exceed the single large event.

Manufacturing is no different. Most people will react urgently to a machine failure. They will throw people and resources at it until it is up and running again. Small line hiccups are often ignored.

I saw an example of this while doing a workshop. This plant had a number of lines packaging small pouches. While sightseeing in the packaging room, one of the machines ran out its film roll and I had a chance to observe the reloading process. Here is how it went:

After the machine had stopped, it took a minute or two for an operator to notice. He then had to use a dolly to carry a new roll from the other side of the room. Once at the machine, he had to remove the shaft from the old roll and mount the new roll. Finally, he spliced the film and restarted the machine.

Later I asked my workshop group to describe the roll replacement process. What they told me showed that I had seen a typical example. They estimated that it normally took 10 minutes from the time the machine stopped until it restarted.

I asked why they did not have the roll staged, on a shaft, mounted on the machine so that it could immediately be spliced in. I also asked why there was not a yellow stacklight to indicate when there was five minutes left on the roll as well as a red light when the machine stopped.

The consensus of the group was that it was fairly minor and that management did not want to spend the money (about $8,000 per machine) to fix it.

Then we did the math:

Take 2 roll changes per shift x 2 shifts per day x 10 minutes per change x 240 days per year = 9,600 minutes per year of lost production. That is 160 hours or 20 shifts per year. Per machine!

So, what do you think? Should they live with these “minor” stoppages? More importantly, what about you? Are you living with “minor” stoppages because they have become just part of the background noise?

My story does have a happy ending. The plant manager visited the workshop and the group explained this to him. He promised to issue a purchase order the following morning to upgrade the machines. He also wanted to know why nobody had explained it this way before.