Yesterday I had the opportunity to take several bags of used clothing to a local charity. Many of us (I hope) do this, as often our discarded clothes and other household items are still in fairly good shape and would be a very welcome help to someone who has less. Generally I just hand the bags to someone at the drop-off point, occasionally picking up a receipt that I then misplace, not that I really care about the rather miniscule tax deduction. It’s the action and thought that counts.
However yesterday’s trip ended up a bit differently. This time there was no volunteer standing outside at the drop-off location, so I lugged the bags inside. There I saw… a manufacturing operation.
Not your typical manufacturing operation, but still a process. A series of tables where several people were sorting the incoming clothing and reusable items into piles, then sorting them yet again, and again. The first sort moved clothing to one side and basically anything else to the other. Following the clothing process, the second sort determined if the clothes were clean with the dirty clothes presumably going to a wash process. The clean clothes were then separated by quality, with the best quality clothes designated for local use and decreasing quality going to other organizations and even a container to be shipped overseas. The high quality clothes were then sorted by gender, type, and size. A similar series of sorts occurred for non-clothing items.
Although the operation was busy, the sorts fairly well defined, and the fundamental cause admirable, the lean manufacturing guy in me could find all kinds of low hanging fruit. Sort tables were not very well identified, the physical flow was chaotic and included transportation up and down steps in a converted large house, and some stations and people were idle while others had a large backlog. There were a lot of questions from the workers asking for decisions on what was acceptable, what the next step was, and occasionally a cry for help from someone buried under a backlog.
These operations have several challenges that many manufacturers do not face, at least in the same way. Funds for tables and signs is virtually nonexistent. The quality of the incoming raw material… donations… is inconsistent and somewhat seasonal. And many such operations do an admirable job of trying to employ special needs folks that require additional supervision and training.
Imagine how much better they could be with some help. Some spaghetti flow analysis, value stream mapping, visual factory methods, 5s, standard work, and cellular methods to balance flows and operations.
The manufacturing industry has been good to me, and allows me to be one of the lucky ones that can donate raw material to such an operation instead of being a customer of the final product. I’m always looking for ways to give back, be it this blog, the Superfactory website, speaking at events or directly via financial contributions to charitable organizations. This is yet another way, and later this week I’m going to see if I can help them be more efficient at providing for the needy.
Anyone want to join me?