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.

Luton Station

The joys of contracting take me to Peterborough for a project at Luton.
 
I am now doing some work for Jarvis, planning an S&C renewal at Luton North Junction and the permanent way works necessary to remodel the platforms.
This is quite a complicated project, with our p-way works comprising a part of it.

Looking towards the station.
Looking towards the station.

Yes I am behind the barrier!
Yes I am behind the barrier!

These photos are from a fenced green zone set up by the civils guys to build the new foundations for the new OLE masts.
The track is to be realigned over the bridge to allow the platforms to be lengthened to the north.
Luton North Junction is to the north of here, but access is not good due to the curves through the bridges and into the station.
 
The areas shown in these photos are due to be relaid in Week 1 with the works on the Junction spread over Week 4 and Week 6.

Getting the Metrolink trams running again

As we near the planned restart of tram operations on the Altrincham line the pressure is building in the delivery team. The guys replacing the overhead line equipment on the old British Rail infrastructure are pulling out all the stops trying to get everything finished on time, whilst in the city centre what feels like hundreds of orange clad bodies are feverishly trying to get the tracks and road surfaces in position ready for the trams to run.
 
To add to the stress, it is Manchester Pride this weekend and there are expected to be thousands of extra people in the city making moving materials and guys around even more torturous than usual.
 
There is a real will to get the work complete and it will not be for a lack of trying if it is not quite ready. I am sure trams will be running again on Tues 1st September.
 
Update 2nd Sept
Well I wasn’t quite right, but St Peters Station was back up and running as planned. Unfortunaley there have been a few problems down at the Altrincham end.

East Midlands IMT comes to an end

Today is the end of the East Midlands Integrated Management Team delivering track renewals for Network Rail.
 
Back in April 2004 GrantRail took over the contract to deliver track renewals as part of Network Rail’s new IMT renewals strategy. GrantRail lost the contract to Jarvis back in September/October 2007.
This IMT has now come to an end with Jarvis relocating some of the staff from Derby, whilst others have been made redundant. The relocations have been to Doncaster and Peterborough.
It appears that Network Rail have endorsed this move as they are reorganising their people to reflect this new Jarvis structure.
 
One cannot help but wonder if Derby and the East Midlands are once again going to become the forgotten back waters of the UK rail network, with energy focused on the East and West Coast lines. (Plus the Great Western Electrification.)
 
The redundancies have added to the already significant numbers of railway staff out of work. However, with major projects about to start or ramping up in London, news of the Electrification of the Great Western Main Line and a few tram projects looking likely to get going soon, I am sure there will be an up turn in six to eight months.
I also wonder how Network Rail will be able to meet the commitments they have made for Control Period 4.
 
Control Period 4 Delivery Plan 2009
 
Is High Output and Modular S&C really going to deliver the benefits and cost savings they are expecting, I am very sceptical.

Clay Cross North installation by Derby IMT
Clay Cross North installation by Derby IMT

I can foresee that the demand for Platelayers, Technical and Management staff will rise dramatically when Network Rail realises it will have to use conventional methods to meet the renewal and improvement commitments it has signed up to.

Bedford South Junction, crossover installed by Derby IMT
Bedford South Junction, crossover installed by Derby IMT

How many of our key staff will have left for Australia, China, India, US or the Middle East by then. Rail investment is booming internationally and our experienced staff will be highly sought after. Does any of this have a sense of deja vu for anyone???