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William A. Levinson


The Value-Adding Twang

A bang beats a twang hands down

Published: Monday, July 25, 2016 - 08:54

Masaaki Imai, author of Gemba Kaizen (McGraw-Hill Education, 1997), introduced the concept of the value-adding “bang,” the exact moment at which a process adds value for the customer. He meant the moment at which an official stamped a document, but the same concept applies when a stamping or punching machine transforms the work. Cycle time before and after the bang is nonvalue-adding, and this includes setup and handling as well as waiting and transportation. Speed archery demonstrations that minimize the setup times between the value-adding “twangs” similarly demonstrate the concept of motion efficiency.

Frank Gilbreth, author of Motion Study (D. Van Nostrand Company, 1911), recognized that the previous century’s military drills were designed to minimize the setup and handling time between the literal value-adding bangs from muskets and then rifles, and that the same principles could be applied to bricklaying and other civilian occupations. Gilbreth’s nonstooping scaffold proved, in fact, that contemporary bricklaying practices wasted 64-percent of the worker’s labor by requiring him to pick up each brick from the ground (see video), much as standard archery practices require the archer to draw each arrow from the quiver. Note, by the way, how Gilbreth used the relatively new motion picture technology to make the waste motion in traditional bricklaying clearly visible.

The video “Reinventing the Fastest Forgotten Archery” shows Danish archer Lars Anderson shooting a bow more rapidly than Orlando Bloom as Legolas in Lord of the Rings, or Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, and without the aid of computer animation to help him. He achieves this by holding the arrows in his draw hand to eliminate the nonvalue-adding motion of taking each subsequent arrow from the quiver, much as Gilbreth’s nonstooping scaffold eliminated the need to pick up each brick from the ground. The video compares his technique to that of Russian archer Iza Privezenceva; her speed is impressive, but only in comparison to other archers who draw each successive arrow from the quiver.

Another archer, Bo, holds the arrows in his bow hand. This apparently requires an extra nonvalue-adding motion, which is clearly visible in Lajos Kassai’s demonstration of Hunnish mounted archery. It is nonetheless superior to reloading from the quiver. If we apply these observations to our workplaces, we can similarly remove wasted motion to allow higher wages, higher profits, and lower prices simultaneously.

The Anderson video also includes a medieval illustration of an archer who is holding several arrows in his bow hand, and other medieval illustrations show arrows lined up point first in the ground to allow more rapid reloading than would be possible from a quiver. This reinforces the fact that being shot at is a powerful incentive to invent ways to shoot back more quickly, and this was the entire point of subsequent musket-loading drills. Anderson’s demonstration shows, however, that a regiment of archers (had any contemporary army been willing to invest the time and money necessary to train them) would have made very short work of Napoleonic-era musketeers. One wonders, in fact, how mid-19th century cavalry with revolvers and carbines would have fared against Hunnish-mounted archers.

Anderson can achieve, at least for a short time, a rate of 120 aimed shots per minute, which exceeds that of a semiautomatic rifle. He must of course replace the arrows in his hand after every 10 or so shots, but the rifleman must similarly change magazines. Both these actions exemplify necessary but nonvalue-adding setup.

The takeaway is that the concept of the value-adding twang, as well as Imai’s value-adding bang, can easily be taught to an entire workforce in less than an hour. Examples such as traditional archery vs. speed archery, and bricklaying before and after Gilbreth, can show workers what to look for. When people see how easily wasted motion can hide in plain view, they will never take the design of their jobs for granted again. The instant somebody has to bend over as a routine part of the job (as bricklayers once did), or take more than one step in any direction on a routine basis, he will recognize the presence of wasted motion and initiate action to remove it. The elimination of all nonvalue-adding motions or actions, including not only waiting and transportation but also setup and handling, conveys a decisive and overwhelming competitive advantage, and more value for all supply chain stakeholders.


About The Author

William A. Levinson’s picture

William A. Levinson

William A. Levinson, P.E., FASQ, CQE, CMQOE, is the principal of Levinson Productivity Systems P.C. and the author of the book The Expanded and Annotated My Life and Work: Henry Ford’s Universal Code for World-Class Success (Productivity Press, 2013).