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Valuing the people closest to the action, an Energizer tale

Scene: Eveready Energizer plant, Maryville, Missouri
Background: The machines that put labels on batteries have three gears working side by side. Originally two gears were made of fiber and one of metal. The teeth on the fiber gears wore out and had to be replaced fairly often.

The labeling machines had been looked at by several people over time. One person had switched the fiber gears to nylon gears. Then the keyhole in the gears tore. Someone added a second keyhole to balance the tension.

Assignment: Redesign the assembly line label machines from three gears to two gears to increase run time

Action: The mechanical engineering coop student who had been given the assignment called the mechanic to set up a time to talk. The two looked at the machines when a line was down for maintenance. The mechanic thought the problem had been solved with the fixes already made. Others on the floor echoed his assessment.

Calculation: The parts and labor to change labeling machines would cost about $8,000. The four production lines would be shut down four days. A calculation was made of how many million batteries wouldn’t get labeled if the lines were shut down to change the labeling machines. And finally, a calculation could be done of how long it would take to recoup the costs incurred for a problem that apparently was no longer a problem.

Recommendation: Do not change the gears on the labeling machines.

“How did you know all this?” I asked the engineering coop student given the task. I wondered what course at Iowa State had taught him this.
“Mom, it’s just common sense”, he said.

It is common sense
Common sense based on communication. Based on involving the people affected. Based on a company culture that is collaborative and respectful.

How often does someone sit in an office in isolation designing when there’s no need to design? Or designs something needed but doesn’t involve those who will be affected? Or doesn’t ask the most civil questions, What are the problems you see? What should our next project be?
And then those designers wonder why there is no commitment, no passion, no buy-in.

May we all work towards the common sense culture of Eveready. I don’t know that culture statements get any better than this.
Our Culture
• Team culture of colleagues who communicate well, problem solve together and respect each other
• Participatory culture where decisions are made by colleagues closest to the action. Management will provide direction, resources, training and honest feedback
• Ethical culture that is open, honest, and respects the laws and regulations of the societies we operate within
• Passionate cultures that cares deeply about winning in the marketplace

(This post was reviewed by appropriate folks at the Energizer plant. I was asked to not include the number of batteries that wouldn’t get labeled in four days. It’s a competitive market.)


I feel "energized" after reading this post! Could it also be said, about the story above, that "if it ain't broke, don't try and fix it."