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Making a Football is a Contact Sport

by Lesa Nichols
February 6, 2015

Making a Football is a Contact Sport

by Lesa Nichols
February 6, 2015 | Comments (12)

This NFL season is over, but my thoughts of football are not.

I’ve let go of the fact that the New England Patriots are celebrating their 4th Super Bowl win while my much-loved Steelers didn't make it past the Wild Card round of the playoffs. And now my thoughts are focused on how footballs are made. That is a contact sport!

I have to admit I’ve only seen video (and my own replays) of the manufacturing processes involved, but I really want to have a go at making the work more people friendly. 

Not everyone would have the same response. It’s pretty amazing to watch as they: cut the leather, stamp the logo, split the leather, sew the ball together, turn the "carcass" inside out, insert a "bladder", lace the strings, add air pressure, measure/weigh/inspect the finished footballs – all before packing and shipping them out for backyard and ball field battles.

It isn't what football manufacturers do that bothers me, it's how they do it. There is a concept called muri, which means physical and/or mental overburden for the employee who actually does the value-adding work (in this case, making the football). From videos I watched of ball after ball being made, the manufacturing process appears to be FULL of muri. Check out this video below, for example. Here, the tour guide refers to the process of turning the football inside out as the most stressful in the plant. By all accounts Wilson makes a high quality product, but this is a perfect example of muri and how difficult it can be to improve.

I’m not so comfortable judging from the sidelines on this one. It’s not for me to challenge the production process; ideally, it’s for employees and shop floor management to ask for a “better way.” It’s their job to share their ideas for improving the work. And for all I know, some of this process improvement work has already been done.

As an avid football fan, I appreciate the work they do. But as a person who improves manufacturing processes and systems, I’d love to help the manufacturing team make it less of a contact sport on their end. There are a lot of possibilities. What muri jumps out to you?

Anybody interested in a game of muri vs. process improvement?

 

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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12 Comments | Post a Comment
Emmanuel Jallas February 06, 2015

Turn the "carcass" inside out is the toughest.

The kaizen thinking tools lead to "reduce efforts" and softenning the leather comes to mind, but it seems already done. You can see the worker taking the carcass out of an oven.

It remains "change the system". I would try to make the tool move instead of the carcass, and use foot for it. Because legs have more power than arms and you can amplify strength with the use of a lever arm.

Reply »

Lesa Nichols February 06, 2015

Emmanuel,

I like your comments here because they show that you took the time to look at the video and imagine some better ways to improve.  I also like that you are using your logic about how to support the body with tools. 

Thanks for taking the time to consider this and comment.

Lesa

Reply »

Jason McKinney February 09, 2015

Wow.  Very interesting, especially after we won the superbowl!!  Hahahaha. 

Looks like Wilson has a lot of opportunity:)

 

Jason

Reply »

Walt February 09, 2015

Lesa,

Thanks for sharing. Very interesting. There are several processes that can be improved on if not automated competely. Putting the ball in the box should be automated with little effort. 

Certainly the process of turning the ball inside out must be totally reengineered. Can't imagine how that employee has been doing it all those years that way.  

Reply »

kevin kobett February 09, 2015

Thanks for making me think. Can a lean leader who hasn't experienced muri lead employees suffering from muri? Should the requirements for a lean certicate include a prolonged exposure to muri?

Reply »

Lesa Nichols February 09, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Thanks for the input and ideas I have gotten here and off-line.  I am happy to see people looking "with muri eyeglasses" at the whole process.  We all live with muri, either mental or physical, but we often accept it as "the way things are".   Not if we recognize it as a kaizen opportunity-just like muda, or even more so.

Reply »

Tracey Richardson February 09, 2015

Hey Lesa, nice post!  It's always interesting to see gemba's like this.  It puts a whole new perspective on how we see the football now :).    I wonder with all that tenure in that plant if they do job rotation and "share wisdom".  Some of those folks have been there a long time.  What happens when they decide to retire and to those "knacks" those folks have created.   Thanks for sharing!  Tracey

Reply »

Eric Dickson February 16, 2015

Great video.  I just wish they made them a little stronger so they don't deflate so much during the game.

Worlds Biggest Pats Fan

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Geoff Moon February 19, 2015

Thanks Lesa. This is a very interesting video.

Turning the football inside out seems like a great example of muri. Recognizing my initial pride in thinking, "hell, I could do that," I began to ask questions like, "how many of those does one person do in a day? In a week?" and "is this an ergonomic movement for the neck, back, and shoulders?" and "how would it feel to do this over and over again?" I remembered my (minimal) experience operating a welding machine, and how over a ten hour shift even something easy-peasy and ergonomic made me feel pretty tired and ready to rest.

How does the operator feel about this job? Does his face or his body give us an clues?

Reply »

Lesa Nichols February 22, 2015

Geoff,

I am glad you are reflecting on the "workability" of the process over a longer period of time. Sometimes, it is hard to recognize the importance of this without having worked on processes for multiple hours/shifts/days.  The point you raise about getting clues to muri (or overburden) from a person's face and body is great.

There is much to learn from looking at the detail of muscles as they strain and facial expressions that transistion from blank to focused to frustrustrated (or satisfied).  The eyes are particularly important as they act as a bit of a mirror of what is going on in the mind of the employee doing the job.

Often we think asking the operator is the way to get the best ideas about how to improve the process.  I disagree because it is natural to become so conditioned to doing the job that it is unnatural to think of it as muri.  We have to first develop our own eyes to recognize muri and then collaborate with the employee doing the job to improve the process with the combined viewpoints.

 Thanks again for sharing your perspective Geoff.

 

Reply »

Steve Howell June 17, 2015

Just checking back to see the how this particular situation is going?

Reply »

Lesa Nichols June 21, 2015

Steve,

I wish I knew.  Not surprisingly, I didn't get any invitations to visit the factory so....

As far as the focus on attacking muri, I am marching on, as I always will be.  Interest grows but very slowly. 

Thank goodness I am an optimist.

Any news from your world/experience would be welcome.

Lesa

Reply »

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