Most people think of Supply Chain and Operations Management as a purely manufacturing discipline. In actual fact, many of the concepts we use can be applied to non-manufacturing areas such as a service organization or even peoples personal lives. It is just a matter of how you look at things. As an example, let’s look at the concept of Repetitive Manufacturing with a cellular layout. In this type of process the manufacturing facility is organized in such a way as to minimize the cost and work involved in producing large quantities of the same product through a fixed route and with minimal changes. This is a very common methodology and probably the first type that comes to most people’s minds when they think of a manufacturing facility. So how could we apply this type of process to a service industry? Let’s use as an example something that we are all familiar with and most if not all of us have suffered through – the airport passenger inflow process.
In this process you are the material being process through the system, starting as raw material and ending up as a finished good ready to be shipped out on the next scheduled flight to your destination. Let’s follow this process step by step and compare it to a classic repetitive manufacturing process. The first step is your cab arriving at the airport with you ready to jet off to some exotic (?) destination. This is the equivalent of raw material being delivered to the manufacturing line by tow motor. Your first step upon arriving is to get in queue in order to get your boarding pass, the same as a material in queue for the first manufacturing station. In this case, and regularly through the various processes, in order to process material (you) at the required rate they have organized the process centers such that one queue feeds multiple work stations that are all identical. These multiples work centers are required to be able to process within the required takt time. Eventually you work your way through the queue and arrive at a work station where information is taken, buttons are pushed, various things happen and you leave the work station as WIP material (raw material plus a boarding pass). (If you printed your boarding pass before you arrived at the airport that is just an example of outsourcing a process to a third party contractor.) So now that you are finished at the work station you are free to move on… to the next queue… to wait until your turn comes up at the next group of work stations where they check your baggage, make sure everything passes inspection and to confirm you are ready for your flight. Having finished this step (and assuming you are flying to the US) you now get to … join another queue. Again, you move forward in queue until you arrive at the workstation where the customs department will take more information, more buttons are pushed, various things happen, paper is stamped and finally you exit the work station as finished goods. You are now ready to … transport yourself to a holding area where you will wait while the rest of the load arrives (additional passengers) and for your truck (sorry, plane) to arrive. Once the plane arrives the previous load is offloaded, the vehicle swept out and then the new load is processed through the shipping process to ensure all the correct finished goods (and only the correct finished goods) are moved onto the plane, paperwork is handed to the driver (pilot or designee), the doors are closed and off you go to your destination.
As I have shown, there is a direct, one to one correlation between a manufacturing concept (repetitive manufacturing with a cellular layout) and a service industry (airline). But by taking this correlation to the next level, would it not be possible that when trying to find ways to improve the process through the airport that lessons could be learned by looking at all the many, many ways that different companies have improved their manufacturing processes and then looking for potential equivalent improvements in the airport process. It’s a high security process? So are many manufacturing sites. High volume? Ditto. What lessons can be learned by just changing the way we look at things?
Having issues with your processes?
A basic tenant of Continuous Improvement is that any process can be improved. With the proper understanding of alternatives and the possible tools to analyze your current processes you can deconstruct and reconstruct both your manufacturing and service oriented processes in order to reduce waste, reduce costs, reduce lead times, speed up the process and improve your customer service. These tools can include such things as Process Mapping (6 sigma), 5S (Lean), Kaizen (Lean), Constraint analysis (TOC), Failure Mode & Effects Analysis (TQM) and many more. Most organizations cannot afford to maintain staff with a wide assortment of tool training which means they tend to end up using the same tool to address all problems. This is neither effective nor desirable in most cases. By bringing in a consultant that is an expert on many tools and in training and education they can take advantage of these other methodologies in a cost effective manner.
Do you need help understanding and getting control of your processes? Contact Ed White at Jade Trillium Consulting to discuss whether we can help your organization and how best to proceed.
Hope you enjoyed this posting. Talk to your friends and co-workers about their experience and thoughts on this topic, especially what it means for your organization. As always, I would love to hear back on your (and their) thoughts. Just fill in the comment box below along with your contact information to let me know what you think.