Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Right-sizing the Vacuum – a Lean Machine

roomba time-lapse trail

Floors and carpets don’t wait to get dirty until the day you vacuum. They accumulate dirt, lint, and other debris every day at a reasonably constant rate. If you ran the vacuum daily the vacuum wouldn’t need to be as powerful or have a reservoir that holds a gallon of gunk.

But who has the time to vacuum every day? If the sweeping was automated by using a device like the Roomba, daily cleaning can become a reality.

Examples of Lean can be found in the most unusual places, like cleaning machines and processes.

5S Concepts

  • keep the most frequently used tools closest to the work
  • keep the area clean and free of slip and trip hazards – frequent sweeping and keeping wires and trip hazards off the floor
  • everything has a place – the charging station is like a shadow board

Lean Concepts

  • Quick changeover – traditional vacuums tend to be heavy and take up space so they are often put away in a closet or laundry room and require dragging out and winding/unwinding of long cords; smaller size can get in tight spaces without using optional attachments or moving furniture
  • right-sizing: enclosure, motor, debris reservoir, power source (battery) sized for the more frequent, but lighter workload
  • poka yoke – sensors to protect from injuring pets and children, tumbling off the stairs; virtual walls to restrict the cleaning area; works in the dark; dirt sensing; auto-charging of the battery
  • standardized work – Roomba follows a navigational algorithm; standard method to determine the necessity of special spot cleaning mode; some models have automatic schedulers
  • no defects passed to upstream processes – special spot cleaning mode enabled immediately when excessive dirt is detected

If the floors are vacuumed/swept daily, there is no worry about dust bunnies when a friend or neighbor stops by unannounced.

As the path highlighted in the above image shows, the Roomba might not be as efficient in the travelling path as a human operator, but the important thing is that all the surfaces are effortlessly covered at an acceptable quality within the Takt time.

Automated vacuum robots are not for everyone or everywhere, but they present a compelling argument for consideration. If nothing else, it might give you an excuse to justify buying that nifty robot you’ve had your eyes on.

Automated robots are gaining in popularity for other tasks as well:

  • mopping
  • garage sweeping
  • gutter cleaning
  • lawn mowing

Additional Benefit

They can keep the family pet company while you’re away.

Where do you see other interesting or unconventional examples of Lean concepts being applied? Comments welcome.

Disclaimer: I don’t own any iRobot products or receive any financial or other benefits from them.

Photo attribution

http://www.flickr.com/photos/13963375@N00 / CC BY-SA 2.0