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Engineering Study

Engineering Study
A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes without the tube inside.
People with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timing so precise that every unit is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations mean you must have quality assurance checks distributed along the line so that the customers in the supermarket don’t get pissed off and buy another product.
Understanding how important this was, the CEO of the toothpaste division got his top people together. Since their engineering department already was too stretched to take on the project, they advised him to hire an external engineering company to solve the empty boxes problem. He did. The project followed the usual process: budget, project sponsor allocated, RFP, selection, etc. Six months and $8 million later they had a practical solution on time and on budget.
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 would walk over, yank the defective box off the line and press a button to restart the line.

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

But three weeks later, his Chief Engineer for product quality mentioned that the number of defects picked up by the scales had fallen to zero. He said that the scales should have been picking up at least a dozen a day, so the CEO asked the Chief Engineer to check whether there was something wrong with the report. The Chief Engineer filed a bug against it; and after some investigation, the engineers in his department came back, confirming the report was correct. The scales really weren’t picking up any defects; all boxes that got to that point on the conveyor belt were good.

Puzzled, the CEO traveled to the factory. The General Manager lead him to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. But a few feet before the scales, someone had placed a $20 desk fan on a table and pointed it at the conveyor belt. As they watched an empty box came down the line and the fan blew it off the belt and into a bin.

“Oh that,” replied one of the workers when queried. “One of the guys put it there because he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang.

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