Operating a circuit-board factory

One of my favorite classes is Technology and Operation Management (TOM). It’s fun. I love this class. I have almost no experience in production, technology or operations, so everything is new to me.

Today, all HBS first year students were gathered in the gymnasium, divided into teams of 10, and each team was assigned a task in the production process of a circuit-board, much like assembly line workers in a factory. It may seem like a workshop at an elementary school, but the reality was quite different.

The product itself was not complex, but when it came to the development of the production process flow, it was, in point of fact, very difficult to develop an efficient production line.  We were also evaluated based on the team’s revenue and cash flow.

Fortunately, yesterday we had a case based on Toyota, and had just learned the essence of one of the world’s greatest production system. Utilizing what we had just learned, we carefully developed our own production line, assigned a role to each team member, and ran the first 20 minute operation.

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“Hey, this wire position is wrong!” “No, this specification is wrong!” “Stop ordering new materials! Inventories are piling up!!” Our team’s operation ended in dismal failure with negative cash flow. However, we are hugely competitive HBS students and it added fuel to feed our combative spirit.

 

Skipping lunch, we had an urgent internal meeting.

“Let’s divide the wire mounting process so that we can reduce our cycle time 3 seconds.”

“Why don’t we incorporate a self-check process so that we can reduce the defect rate 5%?”

After a largely iterative two hour conversation, we renovated our production process flow.

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The second operation was completed triumphantly with a huge positive cash flow. It was just a simulation of the manufacturing business, but a great opportunity to understand the principles of production management. Textbooks and classes teach the concepts and terminology in operations and technology, (e.g. throughput time and capacity utilization), but it’s hard to appreciate the difficulties inherent in the manufacturing business without such a simulation.

 

Since I’m getting busier and busier, I am finding that a “reengineering of my life” is called for in order to increase my productivity.


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