My family will often make reference to my pointy ears. Not literally (thank goodness) but in the figurative sense because of my Mr. Spock like analysis of just about everything in my life. Yes, I went to school and came out with a degree in Mechanical Engineering (ME for short).
I was on an airplane sitting next to a gal who works as a demand planning guru for a large hard goods manufacturer. We started talking about the differences and similarities between our respective businesses and how we forecast demand and attempt to insure a consistent supply. It really came down to information systems. She told me “You can’t spell geek without a Double E.” (Electrical Engineers are referred to as ‘Double E’s). I had never heard that one and I laughed out loud.
As I thought about this I realized just how much life has changed in our world thanks to technology. My father literally had a dull pencil to write a sales order in a book with carbon paper. When I came along we upgraded to carbonless sales books (I thought he was going to kill me as they were more expensive). In 1987 we put in our first computer system which replaced my aunt’s abacus-like adding machine. Now every new piece of machinery comes with a touch screen and an internet connection, so the manufacturer can monitor its performance and we can see real-time output to fulfill current customer demand (you know – orders in the system).
All of this gives us a tremendous amount of data. The trick is finding ways to use what makes a meaningful positive impact on the value we add and to discard the rest. Just because we have the data doesn’t mean that we need to look at it. The principles of lean manufacturing guide us to use only what is necessary to efficiently produce what our customer is willing to pay for.