Day 6: Little Purple Pills and My Next Vacuum

Today was the first site visit after the ferry from Stockholm. 5:45 dawned bright and early but after my last oversleeping I wasn’t taking any chances. We were on the bus to promptly at 7:15 to go see how the little purple pill, aka Nexium, was made.

The trip to AstraZeneca’s (AZ) plant took about 45 minutes and I was able to catch another couple of zzz’s before we got them. Being a big fan of their products (Prilosec has been a God-send on more than one occasion) I was really curious to see how they implement lean systems while still maintaining the quality that is needed for the drugs that the produce. After my visit I have one word to say: Bravo!

Of all the companies I’ve visited so far, this is the one that I’d like to work for. They have work to do – and they admit it – but they are making great strides. If you were to look up “Lean Production” in the dictionary you would see their corporate log. One thing that really struck me was that the first thing that they said was a key to their success was the engagement of employees. Coming from an HR perspective, this was music to my ears. So much of my MBA course has been a bunch of buzz words, TAKT, B-to-C, B-to-B, Kaizen, etc. but at the end of the day it’s the people who can implement these changes. AZ seems to realize this and really are engaging their employees. They admit that there is some work to still be done but, on one line alone, they have seen more than 100% improvement by introducing some of the lean concepts that we are learning in class. I admit that I have been a little skeptical of these concepts in class, thinking “this sounds great on paper but how does it actually apply in the real world?” I now have my answer. However, I’ve gottan a little ahead of myself in terms of the order. We first went on a plant tour of the production unit and the packaging unit where we got to look like Smurfs.

All suited up at AZ

All suited up at AZ (pic courtesy of Prashanth)

I was with the group that first got to see the production unit. I am still amazed at the ingredients used (they passed around samples in jars) thrown into the machines I saw create something that I consume. And there was data everywhere! Every batch has accompanying data. Of interest to me, since I’m inundated with data all day long of varying kinds, is that this data is still produced on paper – stacks and stacks of paper. Though they did say that a new software system had been bought that would allow all that documentation to become digital. A great benefit of this is, should an operator of one of the machines forget to sign off on something, they would not be able to move onto the next batch. Again, from an operational standpoint, this was fascinating to me because I find that it is so hard to convince management on occasion of the cost-saving measures of these programs. Again, I saw this as a win-win for AZ: better documentation for regulatory authorities while also providing value to employees by getting them out from under reams and reams of paper.

Speaking of paper: I have yet to see Stora Enso packaging anywhere in the plants we are visiting (AZ used Eson Pac for their packaging). I keep hoping to see a glimpse of my company before I actually get there.

Moving on to packaging: This was where Lean was really shown. Line 18, a specific production line, was having problems. The amount of time it was in production was tiny compared to the time that it was sitting idle (I did not have my notebook with me for the exact numbers but trust me….these numbers are impressive). By implementing a lean system, reducing production times, and eliminating waste, AZ was able to see amazing results. As described by our guide (and reproduced in the lovely drawing I just did below based on his discussion), when you’re going along and not using lean measures, with say a production cycle of 180 days, you can think of it like a boat: you see that there are rocks in the water below you but they really don’t affect you because hey, you really have no deviations/issues with how things are going along. You make your numbers, everyone is happy. However, imagine that you drain the water, i.e., lean down to a 90 day production cycle, and now all of a sudden those rocks that weren’t an issue are now a huge issue because they are standing in the way of you meeting your goal. I admit that I had never thought of it from that perspective and it blew my mind! I left AZ trying to think of ways that there were waste at my company and how could I “lean” it up!

Lean Process Analogy

Lean Process Analogy

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ROBOTS! It was our first siting of the robotic machines that will move things around from place to place. And to make it more awesome, they were all named after Norse gods – Tor, Loke, and Balder were the three that I remember off the top of my heads. Since I was not able to take a picture (no pictures in the plants) I will instead leave you with this image – almost as awesome as robots.

Non-Robotic Tor and Loke

Non-Robotic Tor and Loke

After AZ we were off to Electrolux. Since I recently outfitted my new kitchen in Frigidaire products (an Electrolux brand) I felt I had a connection to the brand.

I  cannot speak for others but I really enjoyed the Electrolux presentation. Again, I think coming from an area where the office-operations aspect to the supply chain are most interesting personally, this presentation really resonated for me. With such a globally fragmented market, it was interesting to see how Electrolux was trying to differentiate itself from its competitors and, more importantly, how the teams who were tasked with that job went about their day-to-day business. The discussion of Talent Review was very resonating because so often in my MBA classes everything has been about the business side – how to you make money while cutting costs. Electrolux on the other hand spoke to my HR-loving heart – it’s Business AND People equally important. As great as it was to see the Lean processes in action at AZ, I found it equally enlightening to see the monthly cycles and meeting requirements that are needed to actually implement such decision processes. What we didn’t get from AZ was how hard it must have been to implement the Lean process – the way that it was presented made it seem as if they simply said one day “let’s do this” and it was magically done overnight. At Electrolux, they showed us the drudgery of how that actually happens and the planning, meetings, etc. that are required to make it work. During the discussion of the Matrix system that they use I even found myself going back to Dr. French’s International Management class and all the pros and cons to that system and having an internal conversation with myself as to why they might choose that system over another. For me, this was probably the first company that, listening to their presentation, I “got” what a variety of my classes had been trying to teach. So, at the end of the day, these two presentations back-to-back I think worked out really well. Again, part of that feeling I’m sure is because I’m an HR/Org Management person at heart and these both were able to showcase the best of that area.

Very 1st Electrolux Vacuum

Very 1st Electrolux Vacuum

After a long day I came back to the hotel, changed, and headed back out to the Old City with Prapti. We strolled the streets, I bought some souvenir horses that I am pretty sure I paid too much for (though they said that they were made in Sweden as opposed to the cheaper ones made in China – I wonder what that supply chain looks like??), and had a lovely dinner. Afterwards we met up with Thang, Hans, and Prashanth. As someone said later in the evening, Thang and Hans (who happen to be roommates) should have their own variety hour on TV – complete opposites who completely are perfect together and have everyone laughing in stitches. Thanks to Han’s generous offer of ice-cream, I can say that I got my sugar quota of the day. We then met up with more people and had a great drink down by the water. As happens in Scandinavia, it started to rain and we headed out. However, the most amazing double rainbow came out (my pictures do not do it justice) and Sean, Wayne, and I took off in another direction in the hopes of catching a better view.

Double Rainbow

Double Rainbow

Alas, we really didn’t but along the way the guys continued to rave about this meatball place that they had tried for dinner – it convinced me that I needed a meatball appetizer before I went to sleep. Sean was nice enough to buddy up with me (which was good since I had no clue where I was going) and got me to the correct place. We siddled up to the bar and tried to place an order only to be told that the kitchen was closed. I commented to the owner that I guess I had something to come back to Stockholm for and, upon hearing that I was leaving at 6:45 am the next morning, he opened the kitchen and made me a full meatball dinner. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d planned on ordering just an appetizer so at 10pm I was sitting there eating my second meal of the evening but I have to admit – so far they were the best meatballs in Scandinavia! So, if ever in Stockholm, you MUST go to Meatballs – For the People!

Best Meatballs in Scandinavia

Best Meatballs in Scandinavia

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