College basketball and cross-training

March 22, 2013
By: Dan Davis

'Tis the time of year when people might be secretly paying more attention to NCAA basketball tournament games than work and, in some cases, actually leaving work early to watch the afternoon first-round games. Even though March Madness might sap worker productivity, it still might hold meaning for fabricating management.

How could that be? Well, recent research suggests that sports teams with players who can play more than one position can field a better lineup on a more regular basis than teams without those types of players. Those teams also show more resiliency when it comes to player injuries.

More specifically, "The value of flexibility in baseball roster construction," a report prepared by Timothy Chan of the University of Toronto and Douglas Fearing of the Harvard Business School, examined statistics from the 2012 Major League Baseball season and found that players with the ability to play multiple positions were responsible for up to 15 percent of the teams' runs. The researchers then compared this flexibility to that of automotive supply chains that can adapt quickly to changes in supply and demand, helping production remain as efficient as possible. Both baseball teams and automotive manufacturers want to stay at their top performance level even in the face of obstacles—which might be a major injury for a baseball team or a material shortage for a supply chain.

If metal fabricators haven't realized the importance of that type of flexibility on their own shop floors, they likely haven't seen profits rise with the uptick in the metal manufacturing sector. They probably have a problem getting products through the shop, which prevents them from getting paid as soon as possible.

Cross-training of employees has been a big reason that A&E Custom Manufacturing, Kansas City, Kan., has been able to expand its business even as it struggles to find the right skilled workers. That flexibility is also one of the reasons that the Editorial Advisory Board of The FABRICATOR awarded the company the publication's 2013 Industry Award.

"If they are capable [of operating multiple pieces of equipment], we can move them to that bottleneck in the value stream, and it helps to balance everything out. Keeps things moving forward," said General Manager John Jaixen.

"We also use it for employees that want to step up in the company and prove that they want to learn how to run more difficult pieces of equipment."

Now, I didn't need university researchers to notify me that roster flexibility is important for both sports teams and manufacturers. In fact, one of my favorite sports memories actually proves that theory out. It just happened to involve the NCAA basketball tournament.

In 1986 Louisiana State University's basketball team earned an 11th seed into the tournament with a 22-11 record. The season had begun with a tall, incoming freshman being kicked off the team and ended with the two other tall players unable to play due to an injury and academic ineligibility. That left head coach Dale Brown in the position where he had to play a 6-ft. 6-in. shooting guard at center.

A combination of home court advantage in the first two rounds (a practice not allowed shortly after the 1986 tournament), master motivating, and a practice of changing defenses several times a game (labeled the "Freak Defense") helped to propel the Tigers on an unbelievable run. The team with a shooting guard doing a center's job beat the three top seeds on their way to the Final Four, where they eventually lost to national champion Louisville.

So tune in and watch some of the games this weekend. Just call it research for work.
Dan Davis

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281