Football Production Process – How Much Waste Is There?

Posted on April 30, 2012 | in Defects, Employee Knowledge, Ergonomics, Error-Proofing, Football, Inventory, Lean Tools, Lean Wastes, Motion, New Ideas, Overprocessing, Overproduction, Sports, Time Savings, Transportation, Waiting | by

To continue the series of posts on how sports equipment is made (see baseballs and bats as well) here’s the video from SBNation on Wilson’s production process for NFL footballs.

(Sidebar – when situated in Ohio I wasn’t too far away from Ada, home of the production home of the NFL footballs. I wish I had the opportunity to visit the facility and see the football production process before relocating to Georgia, but it never came to pass.)

This video (and previous iterations of videos of the manufacturing process) brings me great pain. It’s great to see that the most junior of operators in this process has years of experience in the high-teens and that the process works for those long-tenured workers, but that is a LOT of stress put on one’s hands. Hard, laborious process steps are a type of overprocessing (because of the extra effort put into the process), not to mention a major ergonomics problem. Remember, lean is not just about doing things faster or with fewer defects but also about making completion of processes easier and less labor-intensive.

Here are some parts of the process that stood out to me.

During the stitching process, the leather pieces are butted up against a barrier that permits the precise stitching dimension along the football panels. Assuming the panels have been cut from the leather hide consistently, the stitching will also be completed with a consistent distance from the edge. This is a form of error-proofing, or poka-yoke – if the leather is butted up against the barrier during stitching at all times, it is essentially impossible for the stitching to be defective.

Hammering the nose of the football? That’s a lot of effort and a lot of excessive motion. What can be done to simplify this step and reduce the effort exerted? The leather has been pulled from a steam box that will make the leather more pliable, but the nose of the football still requires hammer time.

And the turning!

The turning! The operator folds, wraps, tugs, and pulls down on the leather against a vertical rod in order to turn the leather inside out. This is a process I wouldn’t want to perform day in and day out for twenty-plus years.

Lacing requires a lot of motion too and appears to be an ergonomically-challenged process.

And then we have the molding part of the process. Honestly, I don’t know what molding is, specifically. What this video tells us is that it’s a step that features a lot of waiting.

Keeping in mind the other lean process wastes, here are some additional things I spotted.

– Defects – the operators indicated that the NFL only receives footballs that are perfect, but how is perfect defined and measured? If there are perfection standards, what process steps might be culprits for producing footballs that are less than perfect?

– Overprocessing – we’ve covered most of that with the ergonomics, but the varying needs of the NFL players and teams indicates that some footballs will be treated differently than others and will require different handling processes.

– Waiting – time spent in the steam box is a waste in waiting, but maybe the turning operator tosses the leather into the box while turning another set of leather panels so there’s no downtime (the video doesn’t indicate this).

– New Ideas/Employee Knowledge – these operators have been doing this for longer than I’ve been alive, so surely they’ve introduced new ideas to the process. If that’s the case, why does it seem so physically taxing to complete the full process?

– Transportation – any batching and transferring of work-in-process from one station to another would be transportation, but this wasn’t evident in the video (but extremely likely in real time).

– Inventory – everything in this video appeared to be done in a short run so we couldn’t pick up on inventory waste.

– Excessive Motion – a lot of motion was demonstrated in the hammering of the leather noses and turning of leather.

– Excessive Production – none was evident from the video.

What else did you see as far as wasteful activity in the manufacturing process for footballs?

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