We’ve all experienced the occassional wrath of Mother Nature on our operations… leaky roofs, electrical outages, and the like. But what happens when a single local event can disrupt the operations for a global company?
I came across the following time-lapse radar video of FedEx planes landing at the Memphis airport… with a severe thunderstorm approaching. Click on the "play" button to start, and be sure to turn up the volume for added effect. Watch what happens as the thunderstorm gets closer and closer…
Yes this was a good excuse to play around with embedding video in a blog! But it did prompt a few relevant thoughts…
- FedEx has a lot of damn planes (the video is during the night, when Memphis is almost 100% dedicated to FedEx).
- What happened to the "absolutely, positively has to be there overnight" packages on the planes that got diverted? How did FedEx handle those exceptions from a customer service and an operational standpoint?
- What if a JIT-based factory had incoming parts on those planes? Do you look at your entire supply chain to see where your suppliers are vulnerable, thereby making you vulnerable? Think about the effect of the west coast port strike a couple years ago.
- FedEx, like UPS, uses a handful of central hubs for overnight air operations. Although some packages may have to go a thousand miles out of their way, they believe there are operational efficiencies with this method. Would a one piece flow method be more efficient if the monstrous complexity issue could be resolved? How does that cost compare to the cost of time and fuel (especially these days) to route everything to central processing hubs? Is that similar to a functional silo’d jobshop?
- Can we create an additional argument for decentralized one piece flow based on the flexibility and protection from system/process disruption? That one thunderstorm created havoc for an entire company’s operations… thereby impacting the operations at other companies. Very similar to what happens in a factory when a dedicated silo press goes down. Lean methodology argues for smaller machines matched to takt time instead of larger and larger machines that try to optimize throughput and create "efficiency".
FedEx and UPS are pretty successful. But are they lean? Could lean methods, some of which would be radical changes, make them more successful?