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Transportation Muda

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 12th, 2011

wing1.jpgWe spent the last few weeks in Canada visiting family.  We had an awesome trip.  As we were driving from Texas (yes driving with 3 kids more than 2400 miles) I had my eyes peeled for some good lean or six sigma topics. 

While driving in North Dakota I noticed something big approaching.  I couldn’t tell what it was initially.  As I approached the large object I realized I was looking at the essence of transportation muda (waste). What was it you may ask? 

An airplane wing.  I am not sure where this wing was headed as we were about 60 miles from Fargo… but rest assured no value was being added to this airplane wing or the airplane it was going to be attached to.Curious where the second wing was in this “value stream” I continued to drive only to approach wing #2 in about 30 minutes. 

My photographer (wife) was busy with the kids so we didn’t get a picture of it but rest assured it was just as wasteful looking.  More to come on my trip and the state I absolutely fell in love with.

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  1. John Hunter

    August 4, 2007 - 12:12 pm

    Ha, I thought the post would be on airlines (once the plane was put together) based on the title. The huge waste that fliers have to put up with (built in delays – because more planes want to take off than the system can handle, weather delays, lack of pilot delays, lost baggage…) would drive me crazy if I flew much more often.

    I suppose there is plenty of transportation muda to choose from – I, and lots of other people, were delayed for over an hour due to a disable subway car) on Thursday… Shorter delays (of 15-30 minutes) have been getting much more common the last couple of years and the over an hour delays have also increased quite a bit. This is a huge cost when you look at multiplying the “cost” to hundreds of thousands of people.

  2. Bill Ruhsam

    August 5, 2007 - 11:30 am

    Why do you consider this waste? The wing needs to get to the assembly plant somehow. Would you consider it less wasteful if it were flown there? By the fact that it is being constructed and assembled in different locations, I’m assuming that the profit-driven managers of the airplane construction firm most decidedly do not consider this wasteful.

  3. Ron Pereira

    August 5, 2007 - 11:51 am

    Hi Bill, thanks for the comment and great question.

    When I define “value add” I consider 3 things… and all 3 things must be present or the step or process cannot be value added. These 3 are:

    1) The customer must ask for it and be willing to pay for it.

    2) The “thing” must change. In this case this would mean the wing itself was physically changed in some manner.

    3) It must be done right the first time.

    So in this example I highly doubt the end customer would be willing to pay for the wing to be driven across North Dakota. Also, the wing most definitely was not transformed physically. So even if we argue over the first point the second point fails without a doubt.

    The optimal solution would be to produce the wing close to the airplane assembly plant. That way once it was complete it could be quickly assembled to the rest of the plane eliminating the waste (and time) of transport.

    Taiichi Ohno (chief architect of the Toyota Production System) used to despise conveyors. Why? Because all they did, in his opinion, was move things about when in fact the only thing he cared about was building a car as fast as humanly possible.

    Sadly, you are probably correct that the managers probably don’t see this transport as wasteful. This is a big issue for those of us fighting to keep manufacturing in America.

    You see, we must attack waste in all its form and eliminate it… lest our kids grow up and ask us to tell them stories about those “factory things” that their Great Grandpa used to work at.

    What do you think?

  4. Bill Ruhsam

    August 5, 2007 - 12:05 pm

    Well, my first thought is, “Was it more efficient and economical to produce that wing in a plany not cohabiting the same space as the assembly area?” It may be difficult to get all the required expertise in one location for a cradle-to-grave manufactory. There may be cost and efficiency savings that are not eaten up by the time and expense in transporting the wing from place to place.

    It’s hard to generalize without knowing the details of the specific company. I’m all for condensing manufacturing where it makes sense, but to cite item #1, does the customer really “ask” for anything besides the final product? If the company can deliver the product at the same cost or cheaper using non-value-added methods, doesn’t that by default add value?

  5. Ron Pereira

    August 5, 2007 - 12:32 pm

    This is Ron’s wife Genni. I have to argue that this transportation was in fact value add since it was probably on its way to The Fargo Air Museum (I saw a sign less than 5 minutes after we saw the wings).

    I would dare to say that the museum would have probably been paying for this move which cancels out number 1 in your list of 3.

    I don’t know a lot about Lean but I might also argue that although the physical make up of the wing/plane did not change, its usage or purpose has changed – if in fact it was on its way to the museum. This might cancel out #2 in your list.

  6. Ron Pereira

    August 5, 2007 - 12:36 pm

    Jeesh… what kind of world has this become? My own wife challenging me on my own blog logged in as me no less!

  7. Mark Graban

    August 5, 2007 - 2:33 pm

    If this part were indeed headed for a factory, say in the Seattle area, there wouldn’t be an easy answer to the “leanness” of building the wing such a long distance from the factory.

    Ideally, the wing would be built co-located to the assembly factory. But, as the other commenter suggested, there are many balancing factors to take into account. If putting the wing factory next door to the final assembly was NOT the total cost minimizing solution, then we might not want to do that.

    The problem is that it can be hard to quantify all of those factors. Companies, while profit-maximizing (in theory), we often underestimate the supply chain costs in that equation. It’s easy to calculate that the labor cost is lower someplace and many companies have regretted decisions they made based on labor cost or even unit cost. You have to factor in transportation costs, the added inventory costs, the cost of slower response to demand changes, and the risks of damaged items in transport.

    You also have to consider the potential loss in collaboration in improving the extended value stream or in solving quality problems. This is probably easier to do when the supplier factory is right next door, but how do you quantify that?

    If putting the factory next door (or nearby) was even *slightly* more expensive (through the quantifiable factors), I’d err on the side of co-location. No easy answers.

  8. Jon Miller

    August 5, 2007 - 9:17 pm

    Transportation is always a waste. No value is added. There is a Lean rule of thumb that says the consuming plant (assembly) should have it’s suppliers within 90 miles. It’s a high target, but a good one. Not unlike only eating things grown within 100 miles. Just because we can eat Chilean grapes in mid-winter, does it mean we should?

  9. Pete Abilla

    August 5, 2007 - 9:37 pm

    Typically, I would agree with my other lean-evangelizing bretheren. But, I have to say that my operations research background sometimes gets the best of me — here’s why:

    Yes, Jon is absolutely correct that — seemingly — transportation in all its faces is muda. But, just as not all batches are equal, we can’t rush to judgment so quickly on this one. Often, the question isn’t about “should we do batches at all”, but rather “if we have to do batches, what is the right batch size?” If an operation can’t do single-piece flow, then the right question is about the batch size.

    Similarly, if a firm has chosen — for some reason or other — not to operate a cradle-to-grave operation for planes at a single-footprint facility, then the question becomes a fascinating one for queuing theorist: this falls into the area called “transhipments”, which approaches logistics from a “shortest-path” perspective, where the firm attempts to minimize costs and optimize on speed. Firms that opt for this approach typically have to due space constraints.

    My opinion: for me, the transportation, speed, costs, or shortest-path are not the most important pieces, though to an operations research they are germane. My main concern is really safety. Traveling down the highway with a huge wing just isn’t safe, nor is it really responsible, in my opinion.

    There’s my long-winded answer. Cheers.

  10. Ron Pereira

    August 5, 2007 - 10:03 pm

    Thanks to all for the excellent discussion.

    Perhaps we will get some more hot sports opinions tomorrow when traffic picks up a bit more.

    Special thanks to Bill for checking in and offering some excellent insight. I hope you stop by again soon.

  11. Mark Graban

    August 7, 2007 - 5:07 am

    Transportation is always waste, but sometimes waste is “required waste” (given the current system).

  12. Ron Pereira

    August 7, 2007 - 6:52 am

    Good point Mark. So in the case when we are dealing with so called “essential non value added” activity shouldn’t our aim be to minimize it as much as possible?

  13. Mark Graban

    August 7, 2007 - 4:52 pm

    Minimizing it as much as possible, sure.

    Where does this “essential” phrase come from? I don’t agree with that terminology or view at all. “Required” is much different than “essential.” “Required” shouldn’t be an excuse to not investigate or tackle the waste. But, it’s often used that way. “Required waste” is not “excused waste” or “rationalized waste.”

  14. Ron Pereira

    August 7, 2007 - 5:49 pm

    I have heard essential used for things like Sarbanes Oxley. One could argue no “value” is being added to your product or service by following SOX guidelines (according to the 3 criteria I offered in the post) but if you don’t follow SOX (and are publicly traded) your officers could be in big trouble.

    I think we are really saying the same thing here with required and essential.

    We could always revert to type 1 and type 2 muda if people get too worked up about the terms used.

  15. Matt

    August 18, 2007 - 4:14 pm

    Sorry for being late to the party.

    1) Are you sure that that object is not a windmill blade? I’ve seen a number of those on that exact type of trailer going from the Gulf Coast (around Lake Jackson) headed out to west Texas, where hundreds are being installed. I think they’re all made in northern Europe.

    2) Does that change the waste?

  16. Ron Pereira

    August 18, 2007 - 6:38 pm

    Hmmm… well I can’t rule anything out but it did look line an airplane wing to me.

    What are your thoughts as to whether that would change the waste?

  17. Rick

    October 4, 2007 - 2:35 pm

    Windmill blade it is. Saw many of them heading off to be installed in South Dakota and Minnesota on our 2400 mile round trip drive from Illinois to Montana.

  18. Anonymous

    February 25, 2008 - 7:57 am

    It’s a windmill blade, they are made in the Dakotas, and they are not going very far.

  19. Anonymous

    March 13, 2008 - 11:07 am

    Here’s a thought about waste=something customer not asking for and willing to pay. I’d say it depends. There’s a balance between global vs local optima.

    Cost to build the wing in Everett = 10
    Transportation to assembly plant = 0
    Total cost = 10

    Cost to build the wing in XYZ = 7
    Transportation to assembly plant = 2
    Total cost = 9

    What would the customer be willing to pay for the transportation in the latter case?

    If you ask the customer: It will cost 10x (x being some constant multiple), to build the wing in Everett, WA, or 7x to build the wing

  20. Rick Ehrsam

    October 21, 2008 - 3:08 pm

    As I was reading this thread, I was wondering, hey Boeing doesn’t generally ship in airframe parts on trucks. It’s usually train. Then I looked back at the picture. Dang, those “are” wind turbine blades. I’ve seen them many times on their way to a wind farm near the Columbia River off I-90 in Washington state.

    I had thought about the great idea of manufacturing these in Moses Lake, WA where there is an ample pool of labor, cheap electricity and inexpensive land for manufacturing plants. Produce the product close to its final installation point.

    Perhaps there is less muda in producing the blades close to the material source. Another thing, the blades are probably too long to ship by train.

    my two bits

  21. Dennis Robinson

    July 17, 2010 - 1:10 pm

    After looking at your wife’s fine photography I am fairly sure that it’s a wind mill blade. I am a heavy haul driver and have pulled those types of specialized trailers before. In Texas, most of those blades along with the other components are hauled from either Galveston, Houston or Beaumont to the “wind farm”.

  22. Anonymous

    September 10, 2010 - 10:29 am

    (Plane wing or windmill blade) Either way, let’s not continue thinking on a small scale. In Mr. Pereira’s comment on how we loose factory position due to outsourcing, even in interstate locations, and thus the requirement of transportation, let’s not forgot a great response that most business have within their pillars, which is community involvements. By reducing factory positions in one place, they are creating similar or more positions at the “other” locations where are they are being created. Additionally, they are creating more positions for those involved in the transportation industry. This is, essentially, all added value to the customer, who may very well be the new factory or transportation employee. Business are here to reduce cost, which can mean reduction of people, but ultimately, business is business and in the end, they are here to benefit the people as customers and consumers because without us, the can cease to exist (including their bottom line).

  23. Mikkel Smith

    February 22, 2011 - 2:15 pm

    Hi All,

    Yes it is a windmill blade. Here in Denmark (Europe) we often see this kind of waste as we have Siemens Wind Power, Vestas Wind Systems and LM Wind Power in a very small area.

    I find the discussion about airplane wing transportation quite interesting. I have heard that Boeing is doing all right when it comes to Lean. Airbus in Europe is very bad seen from a Lean perspective. Mark introduced the “required waste”. I would like to introduce “political waste”. Because of political decisions within the EU.
    The production of the new Airbus 380 is a nightmare seen from a Lean perspective.
    Parts are produced in nearly all European countries and the four major parts are produced in England, Spain and Germany – and the final assembly is in France.
    Please see an overview of the Airbus 380 Supply Chain here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A380

    Enjoy reading about the Lean Supply Chain at Airbus 🙂

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