A trip to Japan

I was very fortunate recently to enjoy a trip to Japan.
It was a short trip as I was only in the country for three days with a red-eye in and a red-eye out.

Track Machines
Some guys from an Australian company had asked me if it was possible to arrange a visit to see some of MATISA’s machines that are being operated in Japan. They were visiting on a business trip and thought it would be good to see some of the machines up close.

I was able to make the arrangements with the help of colleagues from Japan and I think the guys enjoyed the visit and appreciated being able to see some of the machines.

The most notable thing about the machines was their condition. Both the machines we visited were immaculate. They were 8-10 years old but looked as if they were only a year or two old. A testament to the Japanese maintenance approach.

The big thing that I noticed in Japan was the difference in culture from the West. There is sense of thoroughness and order about everything, from the way they queue to the cleanliness of streets.

Immediately on my arrival in Tokyo, whilst waiting for a flight down to Osaka I noticed things were different. The guys driving the luggage tugs at the airport were checking the vehicles before they got in them at the start of the day.
Check the lights
Check the brakes
Check the water
Check the fuel
Check the first aid kit
Check the safety gear.
And then when they approached a road junction, they would point in the direction they are looking, this is their physical reminder of the need to check that the road is clear. They do this every time.
I saw this habit again later on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) where the platform attendant pointed to every pantograph on the train as it passed him. This pointing has two functions it acts as an indicator to everyone else that you are checking and also a reminder to yourself that you have checked. I like it….
Now how do I integrate this into my own work?

Presentation at AusRAIL 2012 – Modular Switches and Crossings

AusRAIL is one of the main rail conferences held in Australia each year. In November 2012 I presented a paper discussing Network Rail’s Modular S&C Project. The conference was in Canberra, which worked out well as I had not been to Canberra at that time.
I also presented the paper at the RISSB National Turnouts Conference, also in November.

A copy of the paper can be found here Modular Switches and Crossings.

I hope you find the paper interesting and I would welcome any comments or feedback.

It’s quicker for me, but is it right for the customer?

I was recently having a discussion with a friend who was explaining some Theory of Constraints training he had experienced some time back.

The training had involved showing that it was faster to do something if a person concentrated on one thing at once. The example given was an exercise involving giving people a pile of mixed up different coloured objects and asking them to sort them in to groups of the same colour.
The exercise showed that it was quicker to work thorough the items methodically picking out the different colours in order rather than picking up any colour and putting it with like coloured pieces.

This is a great learning tool, it helps to teach people to do things one thing at a time, rather than doing lots of different tasks and finishing none of them. This is a good lesson to learn especially in the industry this training was related to.

However, I have a bit of problem with this, as it sounds a lot like ‘batching’ to me.

To continue the example above a little further I wonder what the customer would have wanted? Would they want all the blue pieces followed by all the red pieces followed by…….? Or is it actually more likely they wanted a red, followed by two blues, followed by a green then …… you get the idea.
The solution above may have made sorting the pieces quicker for the people doing the task (lets call them the supplier) but not necessarily enabling them to deliver the items in the order the customer wanted them.

This line of thinking is very common in manufacturing and reasons such as machine change overs and tooling changes are reasons given as to why all one part must be made first, then another part, and so on until all the components are ready and the final product can be assembled.

It is always difficult to translate these theoretical ideas into real examples but I will try.

On a railway project, works are usually split into works occurring in sequential weeks. If I need to book some trains for a project extending over several weeks the usual temptation would be to work out all the trains then send them all through in one go. This is easier for the people planing the work as they can think about the trains all in one go and submit them together.
However the guys that process these trains into train orders may prefer that each week came through as soon as it is prepared rather than waiting for them all then having to rush to get through a big heap of work.

The same also applies to the planning of speed restrictions in association with the work. It may take some time to determine exactly when each speed restriction is to be removed, owing to planning tamping, welding and stressing works. However, again the speed restrictions are often all submitted together after all the speeds have been worked out, this can take some time, maybe weeks, waiting for possession confirmations, tamper bookings to be made etc. All the while some of the speeds will not change as they are fixed for various reasons, however the planning teams are not aware as they are all on the same spread sheet and the whole thing must be finished before it is submitted.

These may not be the best examples, but I hope they illustrate a couple of points.

Firstly, think about the recipient of the information you are preparing as being a customer. Therefore, treat them like a customer, and ask them what they want and in what order.
Secondly, making something quicker for yourself does not necessarily mean it will provide the quickest result for the process.

Please leave a comment below, maybe you disagree!

What is needed to apply Lean to the rail industry?

During my time with VolkerRail they were one of the first companies to look at how LEAN can be applied to the rail industry.
This meant starting from scratch, there is no one to copy.
Below I have tried to help you understand what type of issues come to light when looking through ‘LEAN Goggles’ at the track renewals process.

Excavation of spent ballast

When excavating the old ballast we start at one end (usually) and work through to the other. We may use one or two machines to do a rough dig, then use one machine with a dozer to trim to the finished level.
This causes waste, waste in the Lean sense rather than the more conventional sense, i.e. those activities in the process not adding value. For the example described above the following wastes exist:

Reworks as a result of a defect – using the dozer and another machine to complete the dig means we are effectively doing the dig twice.
Unnecessary motion – each time the machine working with the dozer lifts a bucket of spoil to the train it is unnecessary if the first dig had been done properly.
Inventory – the area of the dig between the first rough dig and the trim can be considered to be inventory, this area is not having any value added to it.
Defects – associated with the above point we don’t know if the rough dig is right until the dozer gets to it, perhaps the area has been over dug and is now too deep?
Inventory again – the area behind the dozer does not get any ballast dropped on it until the dozer has gone all the way through.
Transport – the dozer now needs to travel all the way back to the beginning, this is waste as is the fact the first area to be dozed has been waiting to be worked on again.

You are probably reading this thinking, ‘Yeah but the train needs to move.’, or ‘We cannot afford to have two dozers’, or ‘It would be too slow to do the whole dig in one go.’ Well yes, that is how it is now, but how could it be in the future?
Could there be a machine that can complete the dig in one pass? Could we have new trains that can take away old ballast and bring in new ballast at the same time?
This is what is meant by the term ‘LEAN Goggles’ when one learns to use these one sees things in a completely new way. It can be quite frightening.

LEAN in action

One example of attempting to improve how the track renewal process works can be seen in the experiments using a Road Planer to excavate spent ballast.

Very good cut following excavation with planer
Very good cut following excavation with planer

The trial was used to understand if the machine could improve the speed and quality of the excavation phase of a track renewal project. Excavation had, for a long time, been a process which took a large proportion of the renewal possession, and the quality was variable at best.
The planer produced a very good quality cut but with only one machine the work rate was not perceived to be great, especially considering that several passes were required to achieve the correct excavation depth and width.
Planer loading to wagons
Planer loading to wagons

So why has this idea not been taken further? Perhaps there exists a reluctance to change, perhaps without constant pushing people do what they have always done. But perhaps there is no real data to prove which technique is best. We need to have real data to compare outputs and quality.

We also need to have the vision to enhance the existing equipment to make it do what we want to do more precisely. The next steps for the planer were quite obvious, work them in multiple, or use a wider drum and some changes to the chute to stop it betting clogged in very poor ballast conditions.
Link the laser levelling equipment to the hydraulics, so the idea is not dead, just waiting to be taken forward again.

This solution does not provide a solution to all the wastes listed above, but perhaps it forms part of the new solution, however that may look.

A little rant about ticket barriers, again!

Are ticket barrier really necessary?

Yesterday I was travelling back from London on the 15:30 train from St Pancras. A ticket barrier is now in operation at St Pancras and so I begrudgingly got my ticket out of my wallet, holding my coat, bag and a file in the other. Successfully through the barrier I found a seat, got out my laptop and settle down to prepare some notes from the meeting I had attended.

Seconds after we departed we were advised that a fully ticket inspection would now take place. Hang on a minute, I had just passed the challenge of getting my ticket in the machine whilst juggling the rest of my gear, now my ticket was to be inspected again. What is going on!

I decided to ask.

The Train Manager/Ticket Inspector came to our carriage and I raised my concern that my ticket had been checked by the barrier and now she was checking it again.

She explained that the machines are a bit useless for the following reasons:

  • They cannot check the validity of a Railcard,
  • They cannot check the validity of a Railcard,
  • They are a bit crap at letting the correct advance purchase tickets on to the correct train,
  • They cannot deal with self print tickets,
  • And the staff don’t have a lot of faith in them.
  • The introduction of the barriers at St Pancras has meant that staff have stopped checking all tickets at the end of the platform and now check them on board, actually occupying a member of staff that was previously free to look after customers rather than inconvenience them further. It was clear she was not very impressed with the installation of the barriers.

    I have stated in a previous blog that I hate ticket barriers they are an expensive, and if this is to be believed, an ineffective way of protecting revenue for the TOC. They offer virtually no benefit to the customer and are a hindrance to anyone carrying more than an umbrella.

    I do not however have the same hatred of the Oyster Card system on the underground. Perhaps this is because it seems to be simpler to operate with hands full of baggage and I don’t have to queue to by a ticket before hand. Or maybe it is just that checking tickets on a metro system is very difficult and so the barriers make more sense.

    Either way my dislike of ticket barriers grows.

    I wish the industry would look at the whole journey experience and stop putting barriers (literally) in the way to people using trains.

    An email I thought I would share

    The below is a response I sent to an email I recieved from a friend of mine. He pointed out an article from The Times which he thought I may find interesting, follow the link to read it.
    Let me introduce Silly Doorsqueak Theory
    This is a sign of the malaise that has crept into the industry over the last 18 months to a year. The industry has worked very hard to improve both the service it offers and the image it portrays over the last five years or so. However, just as soon as the industry starts to spread a good message, HS1, St Pancras, Punctuality figures in the 90% (even if they are measured in an operator friendly manner) the industry seems to have seen the recession as a reason for taking its foot of the gas and letting things slip very quickly.
    The problem is the industry is not putting the customer first. One sign of this is the appearance of bloody ticket barriers everywhere. How am I supposed to carry my suitcase, my computer bag and my coffee through the ticket barrier whilst also putting a ticket in the stupid machine. The ticket barrier is there purely to help the train operator, it has nothing to do with helping the customer enjoy their journey.
    The same goes for the attitude of selling tickets on trains, the very fact that you can run into the station and jump on a train then buy a ticket is what makes it attractive to some people. But to be treated like a criminal for not buying a ticket when the bus is late and only one ticket window is open and five people are in the queue is disgusting (the reason one is at the station is to travel not to buy a ticket).
    Most people travel by train because they have no alternative, it is not through choice. The more the railway puts barriers in the way (quite literally) the less inclined people will be to use them.
    Yes barriers may reduce vandalism and protect revenue but how much is this a problem on the 06.40 Derby to Crewe?
    I hear commentators saying that ‘you wouldn’t expect to turn up at the airport and just get on a plane’ well, I am sorry but that is because they are not customer focused either. Personally I do not see another industries failing as a excuse to follow suit.
    I could go on:
    Broken air con on Voyages and no explanation from staff when asked to increase the temp in the carriage.
    No displays or announcements at Sheffield because ‘the power has gone off’, and staff hiding out of the way instead of manning every passenger movement point to help them get to the correct train, I’m just glad I knew which platform I needed.
    No access across Derby Station footbridge when the ticket barriers come into use.
    Proposal to close access to the tram from the city at Sheffield when the ticket barriers come in to use.
    My message, look at the situation from the perspective of the customer and address the things that annoy them first.
    Well that is a little rant from me.
    Hope you are both well.
    Steve Johnson

    Is my future Lean?

    I have decided to take a punt and make a bit more out of my understanding of Lean.
    It is time I take advantage of one of the things which makes me different from most other people, my ability to see waste!
    I have been mulling this over for some time and feel that I need to make my future my own and a key part of that for me is learning more about Lean, learning more of the techniques, but fundamentally taking some of the principles that I take for granted and applying them to other businesses and organisations.
    My ‘Lean’ epiphany occurred about three years ago whilst being introduced to the theory of constraints and reading The Goal, by Eliyahu Goldratt. However looking back I was already showing signs of what I now term Lean. Developing standard work, processing paper work as it arrived, trying to deliver what the customer wanted not just what my company wanted to produce.
    From my current vantage point I can see that my first exposure to Lean was whilst working at McDonalds from 1997 -1999 as a student. Standard work, continuous improvement, continuous assessment, pull and ‘clean as you go’ are all very easy to see now, but at the time it was just how they did it.
    I feel very strongly that this gave me an unconscious understanding of how work can be done and many of my colleagues have heard me utter the phrase, ‘at McDonalds they do it like this….’.
    I am not an expert at applying the tools that have developed to allow the concept of Lean to be implemented. However I am very confident that I have a good grasp of Lean, the core values and the state of mind needed to help others understand it too.
    The road to understanding the fundamentals of Lean is long and can be hard work, but when the moment comes and one gets it, it is quite amazing, the world changes in quite a significant way. (My journey took place over a total of 8-9 years if include my experience at McDonalds.)
    This may all sound a bit over the top, but this is how it feels to me, and others that I have spoken to that have gone through the same learning experience.

    What can happen when the audience doesn’t get the message!

    This is something that a colleague passed to me a while back. It was following a Lean training day and we had tried to use the Sticklebrick Game to show some of the fundamental concepts of Lean.
    He had seen the training day as a team building event, well OK that was a factor but we had failed to get over the key message of understanding the needs of the customer, working at the pace of demand and organising your business to achieve this.
    I was quite disappointed that we had failed to get this across, but with my Lean goggles I could see that we needed to learn from this and make the game more applicable to their experiences. Every set back is an opportunity to change and improve.
    Click on the article to view it.

    When attendees miss the point!
    When attendees miss the point!