The Lean Bucket Brigade – Part 1 | Christoph Roser | AllAboutLean

“Many topics in lean address how to deal with uncertainty and fluctuations (or mura for unevenness). There is a particularly neat trick for manual lines that self-organizes fluctuations in the workload: the Bucket Brigade! It does have some advantages, but it also has quite a few limitations and prerequisites for it to work. Most importantly it works best only for very short cycle times as for example picking materials. Unfortunately, these requirements are rarely mentioned in literature. Let me show you the basics work in this post before I go into some of the trickier details in the next post.”

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Michel Baudin‘s comments: The bucket-brigade system, also known as “bump-back,” is indeed a clever solution, often applied to mass-customization, as in the following examples of food service at Chipotle and Subway:

It is also used in the more complex process of custom bag assembly at Timbuk2 designs. See also John Bartholdi’s description and simulation of the system. The concept is discussed on pp. 141-142 of Working with Machines and, in this blog, as a sometimes preferred alternative to the baton-touch approach .

Incidentally, Christoph’s post-WW-II picture reminded me of a story I heard long ago about a hotel guest in Germany at that time complaining about hearing trains all night. “But there is no railroad near here,” said the innkeeper. Walking out, the guest saw a line of people passing bricks to each other, saying “Bitte schön, danke schön, bitte schön, danke schön,….”


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