A toothpaste factory had a problem - they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without the toothpaste tubes inside. This was due to the way the production line had originally been built and installed. Rather than completely redoing the production line, they decided to find a way to detect and stop empty boxes from getting through. So, they hired a top-notch consulting firm to do the job.
The consulting firm flew in several of their best production line engineers. Physical measurements were taken and video cameras were setup to monitor the line during normal production. Data collected was then taken back to the consulting firms headquarters for analysis. The recommendation of the engineers and designers was to build and install a custom inline scale, using strain gauges, connected to a computer that will weigh each box coming down the production line. If the box is empty, the computer will stop the line, display a warning message on a screen, sound an alarm, and turn on flashing lights to alert workers to the fact that an empty box needs to be removed from the line. One press of a large pushbutton will restart the assembly line.
Unfortunately, the consulting firms in-house prototype shop was booked about six weeks out. So, it was then decided to put the custom electronic production line scale out for bid. Plans and specifications were sent out, along with request for proposals (RFP’s), to several engineering specialty firms, to build the custom electronic scale. Bids were received, evaluated, and the primary contractor selected. Six months and $5,000,000 later, the custom scale is delivered to the toothpaste manufacturer. Now, when the scale detects an empty box, it stops the assembly line, so a worker can remove it. Pushing a button restarts the assembly line. Included with the scale and new computer is a statistics program that shows how well the scale is doing its job.
A month later the president of the company comes by and decides to check on the new scale to see if it is stopping empty boxes from being shipped. While looking at the computer screen he is amazed to find out that NO empty boxes were shipped out of the factory after the custom electronic scale was installed. Also, complaints about empty boxes have stopped. He says to himself, “The scale cost a lot, but it looks like it was worth it.” However, looking closer at the statistics, he is shocked to see that the number of empty boxes picked-up by the scale was zero, after three weeks of production.
Puzzled, the president goes down to the factory floor, and walks up to the part of the line where the new electronic scale was installed. After looking at the scale, he notices a portable electric fan blowing across the conveyor belt just before the scale, which suddenly blows an empty box off the line – without stopping the line. He turns to one of the nearby workers and asks, “who put that fan there?” “I did, sir. I got tired of having to stop what I was doing, go remove the empty box on the scale, and then restart the line. Stopping and starting the line was hurting our overall production. Now, thanks to that little $20 fan, no more empty boxes. Good idea, huh?” “Yeah, good idea....”