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Not So Simple

Enrique Mora

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Simplicity has its limitations

Einstein once said: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I know it will make us think twice, but in our daily process of Lean Manufacturing implementation, we may be quite frequently in risk of crossing that thin line, and it can make our lives difficult or cause serious problems.
To that regard I would like to define “as simple as possible” so we can really avoid going beyond to uncharted seas, getting lost, and at some point find no way to return.
As simple as possible for me is bringing things to the minimal possible complication and at the same time make sure we are not compromising:

  • Quality
  • Functionality
  • Safety
  • Security
  • Comfort

I do not keep count of the cases where I have seen this go overboard with the best of wills to simplify.

Worst case scenario - “The Golden Rule”
Having grown in the extreme safety culture under Mr. Ernesto Cárdenas at Ford México in the 60s of the past Century has helped me see many cases where simplification was compromising that critical factor.

His constant recommendation was “always think of the worst case scenario”, “what is the worst that can happen”, or “what would be the most stupid action someone can come up with”, because it is more likely to happen than you think!

Stupidity is around the corner...

Safety is very vulnerable and sometimes can be compromised so easily!

One day in a molding machine at the Ford Foundry we discovered that one operator found it annoying that the molding press would close only when the two operators were pushing both mushroom buttons on each side, so they both would need to use both their hands to make it work. The creative operator used a fabulous universal remedy: duct tape to hold one of the buttons on each side of the press. Unfortunately these persons had not understood the safety purpose; sure enough the helper had an ugly accident in one of his hands while trying to handle the sand as the press was already closing; even if the pressure was not that great, the damage was substantial. Their creative concept of simplification went across the line.

Other creative invention I found at one of the Mexican sugar mills that I have worked at: there was a conveyor that fed the first of a tandem of squeezing mills with cane particles coming from a set of knives. The load from the knives was quite uneven, so the 1 HP motor was tripping the starter somewhat frequently. The creativity here was a broom stick permanently pressing the reset button of the starter. Of course the motor would get the overload and eventually burn. It was until 2 motors had burnt that we discovered the “simplified solution” that would have eventually made possible for the mill tandem to get the excessive volume of sugar cane particles and break altogether.

You probably have seen “jumpers” instead of fuses, wires holding levers “in place”, pieces of cardboard, cans, or other obstacles preventing a door from closing-locking, and an unlimited number of creative ways to over-run safety and security measures. All those alternatives are taken with the best will to “improve” functionality. Most of them though can lead to accidents or security breaches.

At the same time, in a Root Cause Analysis, accident investigations most of the time will point to an unsafe practice or situation and in most cases reveal the “oversimplification” of some operation or “going around” - “finding shortcuts” to some safety measure originally in place.

Talking to experts in Safety and Security I hear a common-sense concept would be to try to discover a purpose or reason for each device or accessory. Only after reading the manual of a machine, and trying to figure out what was the thinking behind its mechanisms and design, can we start “simplifying” things, and sometimes not even then do we have all the facts handy. Still make sure you try it first. Go back to the “Golden Rule.”

The world famous KISS gets here a new meaning and turns into KISSS: “Keep It Simple – Safe – Secure”


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