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Visit to a Factory

(How things are made: same expressions as mine, although chocolates were badly missing from the highly mechincal and electrical scene)

Last semester i was studying production planning and controls - useful for firms that manufacture where demand is uncertain and it has to decide how to much produce, but also useful for scheduling, sequencing of jobs, marketing, etc. So my senior told me about his friend who runs a factory and has welcomed to do course project on his company, especially in inventory management. As i had already done half the work, i had to let it down.

This semester we contacted and met, and today we finally paid first visit to the factory with the owner who is an engineering student in mechanical. The visits got cancelled due to a geniune problem. we rescheduled and then, thanks to my ability to do work at 11th hour, i had to cancel visit as i had to go to another firm... We Pakistanis are very good at it!

I'm learning how to run factories, and i haven't been into a factory before, apart from a textile mills which was very machine-intensive, but i learned production planning and saw concepts in action. We've been learning lean production tools which is about reducing waste (like, time, transport, handling, defects, wrong worker motions, etc.), achieving full worker involvement in continuous process improvements, and stuff like that. The way we're learning these things in the class room is genuinely amazing for we do things using Lego blocks, simulating factory environment here. (Here's such a class demonstration from MIT lean academy session: Lego Simulation.) That's been a very effective teaching environment. Now i feel ready to do it in friend's factory. And that's exactly what we'll do next time.

The firm produces some electrical devices on demand that means they don't make anything extra or less. And since product is big and parts or not made or assembled on a moving assembly line chance of defects, as per the friend (= owner), are almost zero. I don't know where the losses are taking place, or where the inefficiencies lie.

Nonetheless, we began the tour of the plant by switching on tv and watching a glimpse of Pakistan's cricket match (and yes we won against Australia! Yahoo! - by hook or crook, indeed by pure luck :P). i commend myself for having the sensibility to be ready to give up watching match because i understand "opportunity costs". Off the topic again. Owner took me to the floor. I couldn't see everything of the plant from one point, although i could see 75-80% of the work station. Because of small space it looks like a mess, and that's a problem they're working on, we'll talk about problems later.

He introduced me to the product by familiarizing with the machines, its process, the material machine deals with. We went through all the work centers and process step by step; i saw the product transforming from totally raw metal sheets to highly sophisticated electrical panels used in grid stations. It felt good to discover the product from scratch to finished-good. I felt manliness in that rough and tough, and noisy environment. This is what men are created for (at least partially) :P - biologically and psychologically speaking. This is where metal was crushed, bent, grind-ed, welded, polished, painted, heated, given bath of acid water, phosphate and what not. Then, taken to electrical parts assembling room where locally manufactured (in the company and else) and imported parts where being carefully assembled in a quiet fashion, although background music was generated from mechanical shop.

We sat in the room and talked about the problems, things that we could do together and i as independently. He explained the process flow by drawing a diagram of the factory, i got to make it on visio and on Flexsim, do remind me (i'm talking to the blog... :P).

This is called As-is Process Model where we show what processes are exactly happening - be it how you register for a college, or how you make a car. For illustration see the following picture - fun isn't it!?

Opportunities/Problems with the hidden factory: Spring To-do List
- Time & motion study of each process with a normal worker

-There's no documentation of bill of materials (which shows which materials are used & its details), or the process (of manufacturing, assembling, etc.)

- There are safety issues due to disorgazined work flow

- There are no visual instructions which any person, even if he's dumb and deaf can see to understand what to do without asking anyone

- Space: there's less space and more things - got to think out of box here

- Line balancing: got to organize the physical location of work centers/machines in which workers don't have to move any where

- Cycle times

- Cost accounting: would be an interesting exercise to invoke old concepts.

Doing less but quality work is the key my friend...

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