Home > Economics, Funneh > Never underestimate the cost effectiveness of lazy

Never underestimate the cost effectiveness of lazy

From an email, and various sites throughout the intertubes:

A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without the tube inside. This was due to the way the production line was set up, and people with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timing so precise that every single unit coming out of it is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which can’t be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) mean you must have quality assurance checks smartly distributed across the line so that customers all the way down to the supermarket don’t get pissed off and buy another product instead.

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 high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box would weigh 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 to re-start the line.

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 the scale, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin.

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

At least I hope it’s a joke. Otherwise they need better engineers. Promote that lazy guy!

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Categories: Economics, Funneh
  1. December 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Oh good Lord, I hope it’s not true. But it is truthy.

  2. December 14, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Actually, not out of the realm of possibility, as any open-minded engineer will tell you.

    After all – penicillin started out its life as simple mold on bread; it just took an unlikely observation to revolutionize the medical world.

    (You’d be surprised at how many things are improved upon by a “Huh! Who’d uv thunk it?” moment….)

  3. December 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Oh, and I will make the observation that the money spent to “fix” the problem wasn’t wasted at all, as if it hadn’t been for the agreed-upon solution (loud bell, etc.), the “lazy” guy wouldn’t have put the fan there in the first place.

    I guarantee that “fan” pointed the engineers in a completely new direction (which they would not have gone in before) for future design on other projects as well.

    Probably – if the story is, indeed, true – ended up/will end up saving a LOT more than the initial outlay of those research costs (the $8 Mil) across the entire industry….

    • December 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm

      Half of everybody’s ability to solve problems is related to their ability to both think “in” and “out” of the box. The fan (out of the box( should have been recognized as a solution, rather than the scales (inside the box). Both teams did their job, but I have a feeling that if this were a real world situation, somebody on the engineering team did not consult with the end user (the one in charge of the button).

      I myself am guilty of this. I try to ask all involved, as that seems to solve problems, as well as uncover other problems that you weren’t aware of.

  4. December 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    So, no one thought to place a QC guy to actually LOOK at the toothpaste tubes being placed in the boxes…..

  5. December 23, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    an interesting story… air is used in a number of high thru put apps to ensure quality compliance (potato chips are one)….
    machine vision is relatively cheap now a days…. they should have read Goldratt.

    Lazy can be the mother of invention….

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