April 6, 2004
Editor's Note: A version of this article previously appeared in the March 2004Lean Into It newsletter.
What do barnacles and lean manufacturing have in common? Let me explain.
Barnacles are a form of sea life that everyone's heard of but probably knows little about. Many different types exist, but let's talk about the type of barnacles that attach themselves to ships.
These crustaceans are roughly the size of a quarter, and they attach themselves to a host (ship) for life. The adhesive properties of the cement that they excrete are amazing. This small animal glues itself to a host with a compound so strong that it could hold the weight of a compact car (2,500 pounds).
Estimated costs associated with speed loss (caused by increased drag) and increased fuel consumption resulting from these marine mollusks' growth on ship hulls are an astronomical $1.4 billion per year. "Fouling," as it is referred to, can contribute to an increase in fuel consumption of up to 7 percent after only one month and 44 percent after six months (Swedish International Development Authority, 1986).
For ships, the traditional remedy has been a regular visit to the dry dock. There, barnacles and other organisms are scraped or sandblasted off the hull, which is then covered with a coat of antifouling paint designed to discourage their return. As long as 2,000 years ago, hulls were sheathed with lead and smeared with concoctions of oil laced with sulfur and arsenic. In 1625 a lethal recipe combining arsenic, copper, and gunpowder was considered worthy of an English patent as an antifouling compound.
The danger for shipping companies is that the barnacles are hidden below the water line. Out of sight, out of mind. The only indication that fouling has occurred is the vessel's reduced performance.
Could our companies be fouled—slowed down or consuming resources unnecessarily— by barnaclelike behaviors? How do we "scrape the hulls" of our organization to ensure smooth, unrestricted, and cost-efficient advancement?
Barnacles can be likened to the non-value-added activities we perform every day. During a kaizen event at a client company in Nevada, we performed a value-added, non-value added (VA-NVA) observation of a sawing process. The operator was a large man (325-plus pounds). He was working in 95-degree-F heat and wearing a shop coat over his coveralls. This poor man was sweating profusely, to the degree that I was worried about his health. The initial observation showed that he was able to spend only 19 percent of his day in a value-adding mode. Eighty-one percent of his day was spent on either necessary non-value-added tasks (things like paperwork and stacking parts), or, worse yet, unnecessary non-value-added tasks (activities like looking for a supervisor or a pallet).
After the kaizen team rearranged his work area, developed a new work standard, and set his operation up to run at takt time, this worker produced three times as many parts. He now spent well over 60 percent of his time in pure value-added activities (still room for improvement). At the time of our kaizen presentation, he was unaware that he was producing 200 percent more material through his two saws. Before we told him about the documented improvement, we asked him if the new layout and new work steps were easier or harder. He expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the new process, describing it as "so much easier than before." He was producing three times as much, with less effort. Kind of like pushing a ship through water with less effort because the barnacles had been scraped off.
Organizational barnacles can grow anywhere. Engineering, order entry, purchasing, finance, and, of course, the production departments may need to be put into "dry-dock" and examined for non-value-added activities. A fabrication team VA-NVA examination found that 25 percent of its time was spent in non-value added activities. For this $14M company, this meant $3.5 million worth of potential sales opportunity was being left on the table each year.
Interestingly, after a ship has had barnacles removed, the entire hull must be treated to inhibit barnacle regrowth. So it is with organizations; sustainment is by far the hardest part of improvement. Changing the behaviors of the individuals who comprise the organization is necessary to avoid reverting back to non-value-added activities.
So, where will you start scraping?