40 Years on, the Barcode Has Turned Everything Into Information | Wired

"Without the barcode, FedEx couldn’t guarantee overnight delivery. The just-in-time supply chain logistics that allow Walmart to keep prices low would not exist, and neither would big-box stores. Toyota’s revolutionary kanban manufacturing system depends on barcodes. From boarding passes to hospital patients, rental cars to nuclear waste, barcodes have reduced friction like few other technologies in the world’s slide toward globalization."

Source: www.wired.com


Michel Baudin's comments:

While this article exaggerates a bit, the fact is that the bar code is the first successful auto-ID technology, so successful in fact that more advanced technologies, like RFID or even QR-codes, have yet to displace it. There are barcodes on Kanbans, but you really cannot say that the system depends on them, because Kanbans were used early on without barcodes more than two decades.

The 40th anniversary of the barcode is an opportunity to remember, or learn, who invented it and why. This article does not credit the actual inventors, Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver, who patented it in 1952, but only supermarket executive Alan Haberman, who made its use practical to improve inventory tracking and speed up checkout. In 1974 he led an industry committee to adopt the barcode as a vehicle to implement a Universal Product Code or UPC. It is as much the story of the emergence of a standard as a story of technology.

In Manufacturing, barcodes are used almost everywhere to identify warehouse locations and stock keeping units, to validate picks, and to track component serial numbers. While celebrating the success and the usefulness of this technology, we should, however, remain aware of its limitations. Even in supermarkets, barcode reading remains a largely manual process. A human still has to wave around small items in front of a reader, or a reading gun in front of large items, and it often takes multiple attempts before you hear the beep confirming a successful read.

Fully automatic barcode reading is occasionally found in manufacturing operations where the environment is clean, with good lighting, high contrast, and a controlled orientation. QR codes are less demanding. They can be, for example, etched on the surface of a metal workpiece, and read inside the work enclosure of a machine-tool.

RFID tags hold the promise of full automatic reading at a distance. It has made them successful in public transportation passes like the Octopus card in Hong Kong or the Navigo card in Paris, as well as in electronic toll collection in the Fastrak system in California.

Barcodes are also limited to IDs and cannot be updated. As a consequence, they have to be used in the context of an information system that contains all the data keyed on the ID, which can be "the cloud" in a supply chain, or a local manufacturing execution system in a factory. By contrast, a high-end RFID tag can locally contain the entire bill of materials of a product moving down an assembly line, its current location in the process, and any measurements that may have been made on it at earlier operations. For a finished product, it can contain the entire maintenance history of a unit.


Fundamental failings in "Lean" procurement | Supply Chain Digital

A side-loading truck

"The famous Lean approach, adopted by companies all over the world, considers the expenditure of resources on anything that doesn’t create value for the end customer as waste and seeks to eliminate unnecessary processes within this framework.

The concern, however, is that companies are losing out by either not fully understanding the practice or not committing themselves enough to the change in thinking adopting it requires."

Source: www.supplychaindigital.com

Michel Baudin's comments:

The points in the article are valid, and could be summarized by saying that, in procurement/supply chain management/logistics, efficiency should never be pursued at the expense of effectiveness.

The more fundamental mistake, however, is the half-baked notion that "anything that doesn’t create value for the end customer is waste."  Any business activity involves tasks the customer is never aware of, let alone values, and a narrow-minded focus on what customers are "willing to pay for" blinds managers to the need and the benefits of, for example, supporting suppliers.

Customer willingness to pay is not an actionable criterion to identify waste. An activity is waste if, and only if, your performance does not degrade in any way when you stop doing it. If eliminating it does not degrade your quality, increase your costs, delay your delivery, put your people at risk, or make your employees want to quit, then it is waste. But, even with a proper perspective on waste, eliminating it only improves only efficiency, not effectiveness. It's about getting things done right, not getting the right things done.In a manufacturing company, procurement/supply chain management/logistics is the pit crew supporting production, and the business benefits of doing this job better dwarf any savings achieved through efficiency.

Reducing order fulfillment lead times, introducing new products, or customizing them helps the business grow. And it may require spending more rather than less on the supply chain, for example by moving trucks that are not 100% full.

5S: It's not About What is Done but Who Does It

In yet another discussion of 5S in the TPS Principles and Practice discussion group on LinkedIn, Ryan Ripley asked about the real meaning of the 3rd S, "shine."  As several contributors pointed out, the 3rd S in 5S is Seiso, which translates to Clean, not Shine. As discussed in an earlier post, translating the 5Ss by five English words that begin with S is a misguided effort that results in systematic mistranslations.

For the first 4Ss, an earlier, imperfect but more accurate translation that I heard in the UK was R.I.C.K., which stood for:

  1. Remove -- take all the items that are not routinely needed out of the work space."
  2. Identify -- assign and label locations for all routinely needed items.
  3. Clean -- clean the equipment and the floors.
  4. Keep clean -- enforce the daily discipline of doing 1 through 3.

I would add Second-Nature for the 5th S, because it means practicing the first four until they are assimilated to the point that enforcement is no longer necessary. This makes the acronym R.I.C.K.S. The translation as Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain is not remotely accurate and should be abandoned rather than plumbed for intellectual depth.

What is essential about the 3rd S, "Cleaning" is not what the task is but who does it. A janitor will wipe the oil off the floor and that's it, the job is done. If the operator does the cleaning, then the hand guides the eyes and draws attention to details like frayed cables, broken dials, or puddles that weren't there before. It works as an early warning system, and a stepping stone towards autonomous maintenance.

A challenge in organizing for operators to do this is that it is not direct production work. Much of what we do in designing operator jobs is making sure that they are relieved of all tasks that do not directly move the product towards completion. That is why, for example, assemblers should not have to unpack parts but instead should have parts unpacked by others and presented to them within arm's reach, oriented for ease of assembly.

In the same logic, you might imagine that it makes sense to have others pick up after the operators, putting each tool back where it belongs and cleaning the work space. I remember a production manager in a car plant responding to the idea of setting aside the last 5 minutes of each shift to 5S by saying "that would cost us three cars."

In reality, of course, I never heard of production performance going down as a result of doing 5S, but it is not a priori obvious.

Ex-Toyota exec preaches production gospel to aspiring supplier | Automotive News

Paula Lillard is now the bright hope for nth/works. She has come to help instill the Toyota Production System -- or TPS -- for a supplier that urgently wants it.

Source: www.autonews.com

Michel Baudin's comments:

This article paints a picture of what implementing Lean is really all about. It starts from the business needs of a parts supplier to the household appliance industry that wants to move into auto parts, where tolerances are tighter.And implementation is centered around what Lillard calls giving the plant "a little TLC."

According to the article, her first task was "to ask employees to write and create step-by-step instructions on how to do their jobs."  This is a far cry from all the nonsense about starting with 5S. It does not require value-stream maps, and it cannot be done in so-called "Kaizen events."

Instead, it is patient work that requires time and perseverance.There is a TPS twist on work instructions -- using A3 sheets posted above workstations rather than 3-ring binders on shelves -- but such instructions  have been recognized as essential since the 19th century, and have been part of the industrial engineering curriculum since its inception, decades before Toyota was started.

Yet,  the article implies that  a stamping parts manufacturer in the American Midwest survived for 70 years without them. Having seen many plants with non-existent or ineffective job instructions, I believe it, and it raises many questions.

Poka-Yoke in User Interface Design | Six Revisions


"Poka-yoke is a Japanese term that means "mistake-proofing". It surfaced in the 1960s, and was first applied in the car manufacturing industry. Poka-yoke is credited to industrial engineer Shigeo Shingo."

Source: sixrevisions.com

Michel Baudin's comments:

That IT specialists should be interested in the Poka-Yoke concept is natural. There are, however, consequential inaccuracies In the way it is described in many English-language sources, including Wikipedia.

The example given as the first Poka-Yoke is a redesign of a switch assembly process that involved presenting springs on a placeholders so that the operator would not forget to insert one.

Assuming this is a true example, it has two characteristics that make it different from the other examples given in Shingo's book or in Productivity Press's big red book of Poka-Yoke.

First, having a placeholder does not physically prevent the operator from making a mistake. A classical example of a system that does is one that puts a lid on every bin except the one the operator needs to pick from.

Second, this example adds labor to the operation, which means that the preparation step of placing the springs in the placeholder is likely to be by-passed under pressure. This is why it is a requirement for a Poka-Yoke not to add labor to the process.

For the same reasons, a multi-step deletion process in a software interface does not qualify as a Poka-Yoke. If you do multiple deletes, you end up pressing the buttons in rapid succession, occasionally deleting items you didn't intend to, while cursing the inconvenience of these multiple steps.

Having different, incompatible plugs certainly made it impossible to plug the keyboard into a port for an external disk. USB, however, was an improvement over this, because, with it, the machine figures out the purpose of the connection. A connector that you can insert in any orientation is even better. It saves you time, and there is no wrong way to plug it in. This is a genuine Poka-Yoke.

There are other, useful approaches that make mistakes less likely without preventing them outright. Don Norman and Jacob Nielsen call them "usability engineering." They should certainly be used in user interface design, but not confused with Poka-Yoke.

Supplier Assessment -- It's The Gut That Counts Says Nobu Morita | Pat Moody

"Beyond Report Cards, Beyond Balance Sheets?  When Evaluating Suppliers, Why It’s Your Gut That Counts.

What’s the best way for supply management and manufacturing pros to evaluate current and potential suppliers? And is there only one “best way?”  There are hundreds of supplier assessment tools, books and checklists, but there is no single standards committee that absolutely dead nuts certifies what’s out there, especially when your supplier is located two continents and three oceans and four hand-offs away!"

Source: sites.google.com

Michel Baudin's comments:
When assessing a manufacturing organization, I always look for information from three sources:

  1.  Data, and preferably raw rather than cooked into metrics by recipes unknown to me.
  2. Direct observation of production.
  3. What people tell me, which may or may not agree with the data and what I sense on the shop floor.

I don't see Morita as disagreeing with this, but I think we must be careful about basing decision on a "gut feel," which may be no more than the expression of prejudices you didn't even know you had.

Still, when your gut feel tells you that something is not quite right, it often is. I wouldn't base my decision on it, but I would take it as a signal that further investigation is needed.

The Goals That Matter: SQDCM | Mark Graban

See on Scoop.it - lean manufacturing

Blog post at Lean Blog : "Today is the start of the 2014 World Cup, which means much of the world will be talking about goals.I’m not really a soccer, I mean football, fan but I’m all for goals. In the Lean management system, we generally have five high-level goals. These were the goals taught to us in the auto industry, where I started my career, and they apply in healthcare."


Michel Baudin's comments:

As I learned it, it was "Quality, Cost, Delivery, Safety, and Morale" -(QCDSM) rather than SQDCM. I am not sure the order matters that much. The rationale for grouping Quality, Cost, and Delivery is that they matter to customers, while Safety and Morale are internal issues of your organization, visible to customers only to the extent that they affect the other three.

They are actually dimensions of performance rather than goals. "Safety," by itself, is not a goal; operating the safest plants in your industry is a goal. In management as taught in school, if you set this goal, you have to be able to assess how far you are from it and to tell when you have reached it. It means translating this goal into objectives that are quantified in metrics.

In this spirit, you decide to track, say, the number of consecutive days without lost time accidents, and the game begins. First, minor cuts and bruises, or repetitive stress, don't count because they don't result in the victims taking time off. Then, when a sleeve snagged by a machine pulls an operator's hand into molten aluminum, the victim is blamed for hurting the plant's performance.

Similar stories can be told about Quality, Cost, Delivery and Morale, and the recent scandal in the US Veterans' Administration hospitals shows how far managers will go to fix their metrics.

To avoid this, you need to reduce metrics to their proper role of providing information an possibly generating alarms. In health care, you may measure patients' temperature to detect an outbreak of fever, but you don't measure doctors by their ability to keep the temperature of their patients under 102°F, with sanctions if they fail.

Likewise, on a production shop floor, the occurrence of incidents is a signal that you need to act. Then you improve safety by eliminating risks like oil on the floor, frayed cables, sharp corners on machines, unmarked transportation aisles, or inappropriate motions in operator jobs. You don't make the workplace safer not by just rating managers based on metrics.

In summary, I don't see anything wrong with SQDCM as a list. It covers all the dimensions of performance that you need to worry about in manufacturing operations, as well as many service operations. Mark uses it in health care, but it appears equally relevant in, say, car rental or restaurants. I don't see it as universal, in that I don't think it is sufficient in, for example, research and development.

And, in practice, focusing on SQDCM  easily degenerates into a metrics game.

See on www.leanblog.org

Pots of gold, Crutches, Mermaids, and Alligators

Kelvyn Youngman is a consultant from New Zealand, whose writings are usually easy to follow. This is why I was surprised by a post of  his in the TLS-TOC Lean & Six Sigma discussion group on LinkedIn that I found unintelligible. The following quotes omits the parts in plain English, but there were too few for me to make sense of the whole:

[...] we in TOC still confuse local/local clouds (part-to-part) and local/global clouds (whole-to-part) [...] A systemic cloud, a local/global cloud (whole-to-part) is the destination but it is not the journey. More and more I am coming to believe that the journey is a dialectic, the local/local cloud (part-to-part). The matrix is bound up in this as I hope that I can explain.

[...] When we use a change matrix, "they" will list their crocodiles (UDE's) and their pot of gold (DE's) or more correctly as I asked the other day, their interpretation of their firm's UDE's and DE's. They are indeed not personal UDE's/DE's, they are those of the organization. In fact if you do an affinity diagram with these key stakeholders and ask them each to list the UDE's most of them will be common to most of the individuals. There is a shared understanding of the UDE's. Sure there will be a small number of unique UDE's too, but on the whole everyone is in agreement. [...] The issue is our values roughly speaking, the issue is how we interpret these entities. Forget about root cause and so forth. Our side will generally recognise issues of interdependency, and they independency. Their more-of-the-same solution will display this. Their solution will go in the D of the cloud, ours will go in the D'. But right at that moment, their crocodile and their pot of gold is in conflict with our intent (and will impact upon our mermaid and crutches). [...] We do see the same UDE's/DE's for both sides but we also see different interpretations of the solution. And then we have to move with some sensitivity to help to understand the invalidity of their solution - because their whole sense of identity is built around this.

I surrendered, and confessed that I didn't have a clue what he was talking about with clouds, crocodiles, pots of gold, UDEs, DEs, and Ds, and asked for help. The first response I received was from Henry Fitzhugh Camp:

My simple explanation is that a global/local change/conflict can be understood through a blended change matrix with the global Pot-of-Gold and Alligators combined with the local Crutches and Mermaids. The latter diagonal (NE - SW) is the one most often ignored, particularly by those with authority about those who have none.

It didn't help much, but then, fortunately, he added:

For those who are left behind:

  • UDE = UnDesirable Effect (part of a Current Reality Tree CRT)
  • DE = Desirable Effect (part of a Future Reality Tree FRT)

Both CRT and FRT are sufficiency logical diagrams showing the interconnectivity of a system.

He included a link to a video about Goldratt's change matrix. Others also directed me to webinars, and debated whether there was rich knowledge embedded in the jargon, which prompted me to respond that yes, sometimes, technical terms do embed rich knowledge, for example in math or biochemistry. Often, however, the primary purpose of jargon is to exclude the uninitiated.

Some like to learn from webinars and videos. I don't mind them for cooking recipes, but I find them an excruciatingly slow way to learn vocabulary.  Clouds, crocodiles, pots of gold, UDEs, DEs, crutches and mermaids should be explained each in 25 words or less.

Lisa Scheinkopf then came to my rescue with explanations for at least some of these terms, which I summarized as follows:

  • Pot of Gold: The benefits of successfully making a change.
  • Crutches: The risks of trying to make the change.
  • Mermaids: What you would lose by making the change.
  • Alligators: The risks of not making the change.


As metaphors, Pot 0f Gold and Alligators are OK, but Crutches and Mermaids make no sense. A crutch is a device that helps you, not a risk. And I can't see what mermaids have to do with the benefits of the status quo. In many cultures, mermaids, or sirens, lure sailors to their deaths. That is not much of a benefit. In others, they fall in love with human males, which makes you wonder what kind of "mermaids" a woman employee would have.

These terms are all about what you have to do to convince members of an organization to embrace a change you are recommending or have been tasked with implementing. In my experience, words are ineffective. To drive change, I have usually focused on finding protagonists rather than persuading antagonists.

Among the first-line managers in a manufacturing plant, for example, you usually encounter about 30% of antagonists who, for whatever reasons, oppose what you are recommending, about 50% of fence-sitters who are waiting to see which way the wind blows, and 20% of protagonists, who see an opportunity and want to take it. You work with the protagonists to get pilot projects done.

Their success then wins over the fence sitters and, together, the original protagonists and the converted fence sitters overcome the objections of the antagonists. Of course, this approach requires you to take human issues into consideration when selecting projects. You may select a smaller pot of gold because the manager in charge is ready to go for it.

And I still don't know what Kelvyn meant with his "clouds."


What to Expect From a Corporate Lean Program | MIT Sloan Management Review

See on Scoop.it - lean manufacturing
"We studied the implementation of the Volvo Production System, or VPS. The Volvo Group, based outside Gothenburg, Sweden, is a leading manufacturer of heavy vehicles, such as trucks, buses and construction equipment. (The company sold its Volvo Cars unit in 1999.) The Volvo Group introduced the VPS in 2007, and since then, it has been implementing the VPS in its 67 factories, located in countries around the world. VPS is similar to lean production systems used in many other companies, and we believe the insights from this study can be usefully applied in other companies. We examined the five-year history of this program, visited 44 of the 67 plants and interviewed 200 managers."

Michel Baudin's comments:

The first author of this article, Torbjørn Netland, is among my favorite bloggers. You can rely on him for good, clear-headed writing based on research. And this article delivers, as expected, but not what its title says. It's not about corporate Lean programs in general, but all about the case of Volvo. Since I have not seen this kind of disconnect on Torbjørn's blog, I suspect the title was selected by editors at the Sloan Management Review to broaden its appeal.

A general issue that is not addressed in the article is the level of knowledge of Lean in corporate Lean programs. A company that is just starting in Lean, by definition, has no internal expertise to draw on. If it wants its Lean program to be led by experts, it has to hire them from the outside, which is problematic in two ways:

  1. It is a challenge at this point for management to recognize real expertise.
  2. Leaders brought in from the outside have no roots or network in the company.

The alternative is to appoint insiders and expect them to learn. But then it has to be understood that they are not in a position to prescribe what plants should do, and that their role should instead be one of facilitation, coordination, and cross-pollination of ideas between plants.

Often, corporate Lean groups are overeager to standardize the approach across all plants -- regardless of what they make or the business and social environment in which they operate.

If they don't want to turn the Lean program into a exercise in formal compliance, they can instead, for example, on organize periodic conferences  where representatives from different plants present their work. They can also arrange for these conferences to be hosted in turns at the different plants and include shop floor visits. And this can be supplemented by various forms of knowledge sharing on the company's intranet...

There is nothing wrong with collecting the best practices from different plants into a corporate standard, once the different plants have had the opportunity to develop these practices. But if you do it too early, all you do is stifle the creativity that you need for this purpose.

See on sloanreview.mit.edu