I once had a long-term consulting assignment with a manufacturer of large-vehicle chassis. The chassis were sold to motor-home manufacturers that would add the bodies and interior accessories. Each chassis consisted of the frame, engine, axle, transmission, brakes, electricals and anything else necessary for safe and legal driving.
Although the motor-home manufacturer’s engineers were brilliant at creating beautiful interior layouts, they did not understand steel stresses, braking to weight and horsepower ratios, how a particular interior works with the chassis that was purchased for it, or much of anything else technical that made the motor homes function properly. As a result, the assembled motor homes sometimes could not be sold until repair parts were procured and installed. It usually was a minor fix — perhaps a newly installed interior caused a sink drain pipe to interfere with the muffler — but it still would require as many as two dozen parts to resolve.
Of course, the luxurious interior was the key selling point, so our customers were not about to change those. It was up to us to modify the chassis. This process began with our engineers creating a list of parts and an instruction sheet to send to the customer. Then, the necessary items were ordered through the chassis maker’s repair parts sales operation.
Unfortunately, this is where things screeched to a halt. The repair parts sales employees could not differentiate a routine order to repair an aging motor home from a repair order that was needed to sell a new one. Furthermore, if any of the parts were unavailable, partials would be shipped, which did the motor-home manufacturer very little good — particularly when the last part finally arrived and those previously delivered had gotten lost along the way. Likewise, sometimes the customer would fail to include a part on the order, so the chassis maker would show the entire order as shipped while the motor-home manufacturer could not fix the problems.
After studying all the issues at hand, I decided to design a new process. Instead of sending the newly developed list of repair parts to the customer, it would be sent to me. Meanwhile, I taught a repair parts professional how to assign a kit part number to each group of parts. She would work with the customer to forecast how many of each kit number might be required and then enter the forecast amount into our enterprise resources planning system. She expedited the components, and the stockroom workers picked the parts, packaged the kits and stocked them in anticipation.
Now, our customer could order just one part number, and all the necessary parts would arrive in one package. Never again did the company have to deal with an unusable partial order.
Eventually, the customer would finish all the fixes and let the repair parts person know that the particular kit was no longer needed. She would inform the stockroom, and any remaining kits would be unpackaged and the individual parts restocked. In the end, the cost of this process was less than the previous picking, packaging and shipping of multiple partials — and, better yet, the chassis and motor-home manufacturers loved it.
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Randall Schaefer, CPIM, is an industrial philosopher and retired consultant. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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