March 22, 2013

Applied TOC to Handspinning a Little

On someone's recommendation I read The Goal, a novel that discusses the theory of constraints (TOC) in business.  I like a good makeover story and the theory, applied, looks like a good way to tackle problems of production.  Part of it I've known all my life because whenever things stopped, my father would ask, "what's the holdup?"  That's the main thing you do with the theory of constraints, you ask what is constraining production.

I have a large quantity of Hampshire wool and Romney wool with more grease left on it than I like; therefore, I want to produce washed wool for handspinning.  I washed a few batches but it was patchy progress.  The basin went back in its place and I didn't bring it out again to resume the task.  The work in progress stalled.  My reason wanted clean wool, my will wanted clean wool, but the hands were not grabbing the wool and filling the basin.

The limiting factor turned out to be space to dry wet wool.  Specifically, when I dug deep and asked myself what was wrong, the answer was this: I wanted to wash a lot of wool at a time, more than can fit arranged in a thin layer on top of the washing machine and clothes dryer, the spot with the most warmth and air circulation.  The solution was to clear off wire shelves over the machines and dry wool there too.  I got a third of the Hampshire done.

Another TOC tactic in the book is to subordinate inventory and operations to throughput.  For example, if you cannot make anything good with a certain material, don't stockpile it.  If you have to use an inefficient machine to make a small batch so you can get on with production, do it.  If you need to outsource some tasks, do it.  If you test a finished object for quality and it fails, figure out a way to test earlier before you put in so much effort.  Pay attention to the stages where works-in-progress stop and pile up.  Prioritize work, do many small batches, limit the amount in progress, and focus on completing items people want.  It sounds more compelling when you read the novel.

Right after I read the book I looked at these considerations in regard to my handspinning and thought about making some changes.  I put the list aside at the time: I am cautious about overhauls and outlays and it was easier just to go on as usual.  However, my throughput is less than what I'd like to have and less than my capacity.  I do want to change somewhat.  Now I can't remember what some of the changes were supposed to be, which is annoying, but if I go back and look it over I'll probably recapture my thoughts.

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