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The ‘zen’ of Kaizen

Awakening today in a rather satori-al mood – the title of this blog post is what popped into my mind. Don’t ask me why or how but that’s what happened. I’m a stickler for etymological cleanliness – not in the sense that I’m always cleaning up my words after myself but that I like clear and clean concepts.

However, as I alluded previously about my satori-al disposition at waking time, I find myself essentially in the midst of a paradox – the paradox of Clean Play. There is no such thing as ‘Clean Play’ except perhaps in the mind. And it is to that mindful playfulness that I invite you.

If anything Kaizen is the putting on of a mindful attitude to one’s surroundings and systematically and continually improving specific streams of work and information flow all around you. And therein is the rub – It all sounds so booooring!!!

Clean Play…, remember Clean Play. A curious thing happens when one is attuned to the systematic tick tock – discontinuities begin to appear.

The way I see it, the truth of the matter is quite different – like true false. Or false true if you insist. One would think that – Systematics brings order out of chaos. It does no such thing. I think of Systematics as laying a thin sheet of knowing on a rippling chaotic ocean of unknowing. The knowing is only maintained by expending energy.

This thin sheet – the Systematic, is for us – a map through the unknowing, a steadying hand in the Chaotic. But my intuition tells me that we have the basic ingredients to be Chaotic riders rather than Systematic riders. That is if we learn the ropes of the Systematic correctly, you’d do much better setting it aside and riding the Chaotic. As you may well surmise, this transition is also vectored i.e. you can go from the Systematic to the Chaotic but there’s little of value in going from Chaotic to Systematic.

Clean Play folks… you’ve got to get to Clean Play.

Enjoy!!!

Robots lift China’s factories to new heights : Can you eat your free lunch?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you evidence #1 that it is well nigh impossible to eat your free lunch. Now, I’m of the opinion that there is only 1 free lunch in the world : “Learning from the mistakes of others.” But just because there is such a free lunch, please don’t assume that you can even eat it.

Why did we outsource/offshore everything to China? Labor cost? Heck, the chinese think that the true cost of labor is still too expensive. By true cost, I mean not just the hourly pay. From the article: Robots lift China’s factories to new heights,

From car plants to microchip foundries, China’s industrial sector increasingly runs by machine.

According to Nomura, 28 percent of factory machines in China use numerical controls – one measure of automation. That may be far lower than Japan’s 83 percent, but China is growing far faster than Japan did at a comparable stage of development, says Ge Wenjie, a machinery analyst with Nomura.

The supposed reason is quite stunning as well,

"You don’t have to be an expert see the (quality) gap between Chinese cars and those made by companies like Audi and Volkswagen," said Li Shaohui, who oversees automatic control engineering for the company. "To beat those competitors we have no choice but to use a higher level of equipment and technology."

But you do sir, you do have to be an expert to know that the quality gap is not just the lack of high tech robots.

However, the whole game of international trade is coming full circle now – stunning in the sense that it took only about 15 odd years to rapidly industrialize (the benefit of the free lunch) to start feeling the need for advanced machinery and consultants from developed nations.

However, the lingering question is going to be whether they will just buy the robot because of its supposed supra-human like qualities or pause to chew on the mistakes of their forebears when they went the route of the robotic revolution.

Process, People, Process – Robots should go to management and join the other robots there…

General Motors suspends Volt production

As widely expected, GM is suspending the production of the Volt for five weeks as reported here : General Motors suspends Volt production.

General Motors Co. is suspending production of its Chevrolet Volt electric car for five weeks amid disappointing sales.

A GM spokesman said Friday that the company will shut down production of the Volt from March 19 until April 23, idling 1,300 workers at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant.

The Volt was rolled out with great fanfare in late 2010 but has since hit bumps in the road.

and

GM sold 7,671 Volts last year, below its original goal of 10,000 cars. The company stopped publicly announcing sales targets last year. It sold 1,023 Volts in February and 603 in January.

"The fact that GM is now facing an oversupply of Volts suggests that consumer demand is just not that strong for these vehicles," said Lacey Plache, chief economist for auto information site Edmunds.com.

GM spokesman Chris Lee said the company was "taking a temporary shutdown" of the assembly line.

"We’re doing it to maintain our proper inventory levels as we align production with demand," he said.

Yup, align production with demand.

Now, here’s my good ol’ post about GM’s woes : Will GM go bankrupt again?

Gnosis: Diagnosis vs Solgnosis

Diagnosis is a word that you and I are probably quite familiar with – the words come together from two words: “Dia” which means through/across and “gnosis” which means knowledge. In my daily work life, I depend on carrying out diagnosis as defined,

thorough analysis of facts or problems in order to gain understanding and aid future planning

However for me, diagnosis is implemented in a curious form that I often call dialogue-gnosis which simply means that a great deal of my knowledge and understanding is gained through dialogue with others. Now, nowhere in my education or work life was I ever taught how to carry out diagnosis or dialogue-gnosis; I just picked it up along the way. And I have no way of knowing whether my method of gnosis generation is any good (Except perhaps that it seems to work…sometimes?). And the critical aspect of dialogue-gnosis is that it is essentially about:

1) Asking the correct (or almost always somewhat-correct) and more importantly timely question

2) Taking the answers and filing it away as reportage to be verified independently

Some make dialogue-gnosis and diagnosis out into a process but my intuition suggests that it is not about the process but the processor – the processor is the key. While a well thought out process aids the processor (i.e. the investigator) and in that sense it is useful, an enthusiastic and curious processor is a must and there is a subset of people who are good at this. And there is a majority that are not. These processors actually want to engage in dialogue-gnosis over the appearance of diagnosis. The distinction is important because the majority that are not interested in dialogue-gnosis, they are interested in something else. Dialogue-gnosis is processor heavy and process-aided.

There is another class of gnosis operation which I’d like to call Solgnosis (Solution-Gnosis) which can be best described as bending reality to fit the existing solution. Solgnosis is like the phrase – “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail…” Bang away. Solngnosis is process heavy but processor lite, the process dwarves the processor and the processor is not expected to bring much to the process – “Just follow the instructions and that is all that is required.”

Solngnosis is essentially about using what has already been figured out repeatedly because it has worked before or is setup by those who have some success on their hands.

I am involved in a lot of modeling (Er – no, not the shirtless kind) – optimization modeling and there is an incredible degree of engineering that is required to get it right. Well, to be honest – somewhat right is more apt. Solgnosis is quite useless to me because even in the same industry, things can be radically different especially in the way that human beings interact with the model of their world. Some call it culture or whatever. In reality, it is the continuous spectrum between Dialogue-gnosis and Solngnosis that exists within the firm and where some of the key drivers (people) are along that spectrum.

Of course, to reduce the firm to this single dimension is rather foolish but over time the precipitate of repeated actions tends to dictate what kind of results can be expected from a firm. Or from a  nation. And from the world.

Take a look around you – what do you see? Do you see the imprints and effects of dialogue-gnosis or solution-gnosis?

Runaway Prius hits 90 mph before stopping with aid of CHP

This has all the makings of a disaster and from the looks of it Toyota Corp has the deer in the headlights look. This has all the makings of a PR disaster minus the PR.

The driver of a Toyota Prius who called 911 on Monday to report his accelerator was stuck finally got the car stopped after about 20 minutes with the help of the California Highway Patrol, officers said.

"He was reaching speeds over 90 miles per hour," CHP Officer Larry Landeros said of the driver, James Sikes.
A Toyota spokesman said Monday evening that the company, which has recalled millions of vehicles because of reports of unintended acceleration, was sending a representative to investigate the cause of the incident.

Here’s the video of the story:

I think the situation is reaching the point of breaking and if Toyota designers cannot find the root cause quickly and/or implement a safe workaround until creating a final fix – It does look like Toyota’s reputation notwithstanding TPS is about to careen off a cliff.

But the company was unsure whether Sikes took his car into a Toyota dealer to comply with the recall, Lyons said.

Why? The driver may not have but the company is unsure?

The New Economics of Semiconductor Manufacturing – Part 3 (Final)

In this final part of my review of The New Economics of Semiconductor Manufacturing, an article that you can find at the IEEE Spectrum site, I mean to go over the capabilities of Fab PowerOps (FPO) and contrast it with the essence/framework that Toyota Production System (TPS) offers. In the earlier two parts, The New Economics of Semiconductor Manufacturing – Part 1: I looked at the core outline of the consulting experience that the researchers (Clayton M. Christensen, Steven King, Matt Verlinden, and Woodward Yang) and in The New Economics of Semiconductor Manufacturing – Part 2: I delved further into the essence of earlier research that identified a few rules distilled from TPS that those researchers (Spear and H. Kent Bowen) claimed describe essential parts of the system that is internalized within the organization primarily as an outcome of iterative growth over the last five decades.
A brief about FPO – What is FPO? FPO is a scheduler for a wafer fab (but it can be extended to other industries as well) – pure and simple. It is a first generation scheduler in its class – the class being (near-)real time optimization (MIP: Mixed Integer Programming) based scheduling. It is rapidly customizable (aren’t they all? No, Seriously!) – it is so customizable that you can swing from one extreme of weighing it down by the whims of those who don’t know any better to direct it to the other extreme of it being light and flexible for those who mean to get certain scheduling behaviors realized and every other point in between. Fast! Now, while some solutions can achieve this as well, for example: "Do activity A if condition B for tool-space C", there are two immediate problems with this approach:
  1. It doesn’t scale very well – multiple statements and overlapping tool-spaces lead to conflicts that must be resolved and accounted for. Otherwise, you’d default to FIFO (First in, first out) or some other simple rule.
  2. Is it the best solution available? Is it a really good solution, good solution, solution, workable solution, bad solution, very bad solution?
It is also highly extensible in the sense that while there is a product architecture, layered on top of it is an customizable interface that a client can write pretty much whatever he wants (i.e in Java) and since the bulk of the product is in Java, it is cross platform compatible as well.

For some of us who might be aware of an SAP or like system that plans out a day in advance, week in advance or maybe even a month in advance, FPO is a breath of fresh air, it generates schedules every five minutes. No, that is not a typo. Every five minutes, FPO accesses the state of the wafer fab (from an MES (Manufacturing Execution System) – it is flexible enough to be hooked up to several MES-es) and computes a schedule for all tools that it is in charge of scheduling. What type of tools? Batch tools, single chamber tools, multi-chamber tools, parallel chamber tools and so on. When things change on the floor within a five minute interval, it becomes a state change that figures into the next computation run or iteration (five minutes later) and the schedules update accordingly taking the event(s) into account – however many events there are. The last piece of this powerful scheduler is access to the data it uses in several transformational states and forms for monitoring, information, review, investigation and continuous improvement.
Now, back to the TPS story, the connection between the consultants and the earlier researchers (Spear and Kent) is that the four rules distilled by Spear and Kent informs some of the questions that are used in the exercise. From, the examples listed in the article:
The first rule, on activities, states that

A useful Lean and Six Sigma Resource

Manufacturing-Trends is making available a host of free resources (free signup may be required) for your consumption. They are in the form of powerpoint presentations that delve into a myriad set of issues surrounding Lean and Six Sigma. They’ll be well worth your while.

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About me

I am Chris Jacob Abraham and I live, work and blog from Newburgh, New York. I work for IBM as a Senior consultant in the Fab PowerOps group that works around the issue of detailed Fab (semiconductor fab) level scheduling on a continual basis. My erstwhile company ILOG was recently acquired by IBM and I've joined the Industry Solutions Group there.

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