A Simple Solution

In some cases, reliance on modern technology makes things more complicated and more expensive than a low-tech approach. The folks preparing for an election found that a short stack of paper worked as well as 30 laptop computers -and cost a lot less. That reminds us of the story of the toothpaste factory that had a problem detecting empty toothpaste boxes at the end of the assembly line.
Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory got the top people in the company together and they decided to start a new project, in which they would hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem, as their engineering department was already too stretched to take on any extra effort.

The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution — on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using some high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighing less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done.

A while later, the CEO decides to have a look at the ROI of the project: amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. Very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. “That’s some money well spent!” – he says, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report.

It turns out, the number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use. It should’ve been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers come back saying the report was actually correct. The scales really weren’t picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

Puzzled, the CEO travels down to the factory, and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before it, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin.

“Oh, that — one of the guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang”, says one of the workers.

Some have pointed out that the simple solution would not have been found if the complicated scheme hadn't been put into effect; others say a cash incentive to the line workers would have done the job. Whether the story is true or not, it illustrates the importance of thinking simple when possible. Link -via a comment at Hacker News/Metafilter

(Image credit: Flickr member Gustavo Durán)

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I remember seeing a high speed beer bottling line at a large brewery where bottles that were not full were "kicked out" from the fast moving line automatically. I can't imagine any such line having to stop and have a worker manually remove an offending container, especially after spending so much money on an alleged solution.
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it's also a good lesson for management...ask your line workers first. few things frustrated me more than having issues specific to my job 'solved' by 3rd parties who had no real idea of what my job was. the solution almost always included 3 extra steps, 2x the paperwork and still didn't help.
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Of course the story's bogus. That's not how a big factory works.

Presuming you have a company large enough to invest $8 million bucks to solve a production problem...

...what would really happen is that if empty boxes ended up in a shipping box, or whatever, then the responsibility would be pushed down to the person in charge of the line to think of a solution.

Scales, lights, bells, and stopping the line for an empty toothpaste box is a patently ridiculous solution that would have been vetoed before the person suggesting it could have finished their sentence. Anyone who's worked in a factory
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