We’ve all been there idling on the highway and driving in stop and go traffic for miles waiting to see the accident causing the back up when low and behold 30 minutes later (feels like an hour) we see it’s because no one saw the giant orange sign 5 miles before that traffic was about to merge. Are these drivers trying to be rude or are they just blind? Either way bring on the road rage as I just spent a half hour because I merged early and these idiots up front are racing to avoid the wait and clog up traffic. Sort of like manufacturing when we have multiple orders that always seem to want to merge into one routing at the same time.


Now it’s been called the “bottle neck”, “constraining resource”, “critical path”, call it want you want it is the biggest source of pain most schedulers and managers will have to deal with. Many scholars and manufacturing icons have addressed this through the years be it TPS, LEAN, JIT, 6 Sigma, TOC, Heijunka, Agile and the list goes on with the latest being QRM (Quick Response Manufacturing).


I am one to say that there is no silver bullet end all fix but more of an evolution of processes, technologies and ideologies and maybe it’s time we think of a zipper as something more than just a device which helps keep us warm and dry perhaps the next step in manufacturing.


The zipper method in transportation is quite simple, have both lanes merge into one without reducing speed nor creating a backlog, in other words two lanes travelling at the same speed and then each car takes it turn filling in the lane. Now in manufacturing this would mean leaving gaps in production (excess capacity) which goes against the grain of an ever so seasoned manufacturing person. “Am I not losing sales and efficiency by not running full out especially when I’m busy?” Well if we go by the statistics conducted by transportation officials it actually increases efficiency by 40% because the backlogs and congestion are eliminated. Think about it, a very valued customer calls in and has an emergency order (OK I know they all do) but having the ability to adapt rather than react to the day to day exceptions. We would be then be able to accommodate them, happily without costs of expediting and overtime, yes overtime eliminated but that’s a blog for another time. Definitely a theory worth exploring and extremely simple “I go then you go” or is it “you go then I go”, Darn it just like everything else I forgot to factor in human emotions and pride…oh well just like with every other system or theory, culture remains the biggest constraint. I don’t think I will give up on this one just yet I think it’s just starting… in the meantime “Hey Quit Cutting In Line”!