Cutting Tool Engineering
October 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 10

Don't let perfect trump better

By Michael Deren

The same scenario plays out at work. Say you’re programming a rush part that’s going to repeat. You run your preferred sequence of operations through the CAM software. You create good but not optimal toolpaths. Should you start tweaking to get the best possible toolpath or accept that the job will run at an acceptable level of performance for now? You have time to tweak and start to, but when searching your tool list you realize you don’t have the latest and greatest cutters to optimize cycle time.

Rather than hold up the job, you should run the program with the tools on hand. Before the job runs again, obtain the correct tools. In other words, don’t let perfect get in the way of better. In this case, “better” is an improvement over disappointing the customer.

As I described in my September column, the company I work for successfully rearranged a work cell to be more efficient during a recent Kaizen event. During the 5-day event, we suggested several perfects solutions. However, those solutions had issues that restricted them. Everyone has constraints they must work with, Kaizen events notwithstanding.

For example, one idea required investing tens of thousands of dollars, with a multiple-year payback. Another suggestion would have taken months to implement, mostly from waiting for materials to arrive. Instead, we found low-cost and timely solutions in-house. We also located off-the-shelf hand tools at a local vendor. These actions realized immediate cost savings. The savings were 4 or 5 percent less than if we waited months for the perfect solution—but 25 percent more than doing nothing. We can always make “perfect” improvements at a later time.

How many times does a project break down from trying to achieve perfection? Sometimes, incremental improvements are better. Sometimes, you must break down the whole into manageable pieces to achieve steady, incremental progress.

I recently participated in a 1-day rapid-improvement event—a mini-Kaizen event—to evaluate and change the plant layout to accommodate a value-stream cell. A half dozen of us were locked up in a conference room all day. We looked at the current layout and projected how it would look in a year. We kicked around numerous ideas, finding that if we moved “this” equipment, it negatively impacted a work cell but if we moved “that” equipment, it affected an assembly cell.

After a few hours, we still weren’t any closer to a solution because we were looking for the perfect one. We decided to narrow our focus. We first determined we needed a couple of aisles, so we removed some partially filled racks by putting the material somewhere else and positioned the assembly cell in place of those racks. We also made room by moving the fast-turning supplies to another location. Before long, we had a new layout on the drawing board. Then, we went to the plant and decided the new layout was better than the current one and to go with it. Had we strived for perfection, we could still be in that conference room!

Trying to make something perfect can be stressful and frustrating. You’ll feel better about yourself and whatever project you’re working on by just making it better.

Basic management has four principle parts: plan, execute, monitor and adjust. If you have most of a project figured out, start acting on it. Then, observe how the process is going and improve it. CTE

About the Author: Mike Deren is a manufacturing engineer/project manager and a regular CTE contributor. He can be e-mailed at
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