Buckle up everyone – this is a long one! This was our earliest day so far. With a two hour drive ahead of us we had to be on the road at 6:45. Still coming off of the oversleeping debacle a few days ago, I may have set 6 different alarms on two different devices. The good news: I was early to the bus.
The two hours gave me some good nap time and scenic viewing. The nap was much needed as I’d been up the night before repacking my bag to try to be more efficient with my space. Currently I think I’ve packed OK considering that I have another 10 days of travel. By the end I may be regretting packing too much/not enough.
I’ve decided that I love Sweden. Again, part of it could be that it reminds me so much of driving through the Midwest. There are beautiful rolling hills/plains dotted with small farms, red barns, and cows. Speaking of red barns: our guide in Stockholm told us that one king had declared once that all buildings must be painted red. Someone else came later and said everything had to be yellow. I’m not sure if that original decree impacted the color of barns but so far almost every barn (and random other building) is pretty much painted red. We’re headed to another part of the country tomorrow so it will be interesting to see if the topography stays the same or if it will change at all to the big hills and mountains that I’ve always imagined Sweden having.
The first part of our drive ended at Saab Aircraft. I admit: I had no clue that Saab made aircrafts. I only knew them for the cars that are no longer produced. But they have been making aircraft for a very long time. Going into their production plant, I was expecting the layout that I’ve seen of Boeing – one huge assembly line where a plane slooooooooooowly moves along as people work on it as the behemoth passes them by. NOT the case as Saab. Saab works in production stations or cells and the aircraft is moved to the next spot once work has been completed, roughly every 28 days. We did not see it but Saab does some fabrication on site but most of the electronics and computer systems are supplied by partners. Compared to others we have seen, such as Fiskars which produces everything, the difference in priorities was interesting. Saab recognizes that they are not software developers – they know production and assembly and that is what they focus on. As with all companies, they are also implementing various Lean processing but, like all companies, in their own way. One of the biggest areas where they have leaned down their process was getting rid of quality control. I know – how the heck can an airline manufacturer get rid of quality control!!??!!?? Surprisingly, very easily. Instead of having specific individuals, Saab instead decided to invest in their personnel and empower each line worker with being in control of their own individual quality. Each line worker has to get more than 160 separate certifications and if they screw in a bolt, they must certify that they screwed in that bolt to the standards that are required by Saab and their partners. I was quite skeptical but such a system has shortened production time and now each section has a plane for a max of 28 days.
Saab was also very forthcoming in discussing the requirements – and challenges – placed upon them by their customers. As a B-to-C (business to consumer for those non-MBAs reading this) Saab has to answer to the customer for the finished produce. This has required them to source products from specific countries, open production facilities in specific countries, and even develop transportation routes to different places. Though not explicitly stated, it would appear that the customers chosen by Saab must be carefully chosen. For example, they are opening a production facility in South America. Now, they have to find staff to work there, suppliers who can supply the products while simultaneously dealing with the various import and tariff regulations, building a transportation network within that new country which means they need to know all the regulations regarding size of trucks, how much can be loaded, etc., and also develop a transportation network back to Sweden so that the finished product can be built – while having to also figure out the best way to get that product back to that country. Just writing this gave me a headache – I can’t imagine what it must be like to be boots on the ground so to speak and have to actually develop and manage that process. One final interesting nugget of information about Saab: I had asked how the final products were shipped, whether by air or sea. For China, pilots come to Sweden and fly them back. However South Africa prefers to send theirs by boat. At the end of the visit I had a much greater appreciation about how certain lean practices are more applicable to some industries and maybe not to others.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what might have been the most impressive thing we say at the Saab complex: robotic lawn mowers. That’s right – ROBOTS THAT MOW THE LAWN!! The picture below was taken from the bus so it’s not the greatest quality but you can see what it’s doing. Skylab really is getting closer and closer.
From Saab we headed off to Ikea. Along the way we stopped off at a roadside stop for lunch. My options were Burger King or a place called Dinners. I opted for Dinners which ended up being a buffet-style deli with some hot food options. Not being able to read the sign with the specials of the day (though I was able to make some educated guesses and finally asked the nice couple in front) I ended up just getting the chicken. It was actually nice after a week of meatballs to have something as “normal” as chicken and french-fries. J After this we were shortly at Ikea.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect at Ikea. I knew we were going to see their distribution center but I didn’t really know what that would be. Would it be complete orders just ready for delivery? Would it be raw materials? Well, I sure found out! The tour was at an Ikea CDC which differs from their DC in that the CDC is where all online customer orders from the Nordic countries are fulfilled. These centers are scattered around the world. After a very informative presentation giving a broad overview of Ikea distribution, efforts towards sustainability, and strides in greater gender diversity it was time to suit up! Yes dear readers, you heard right – it was time once again to put on safety gear for a tour! I know how much you missed such pictures from Saab and Electrolux. We were required to wear bright colored vests and – most problematic – rubber shoes. Now, shoes shouldn’t have been a huge problem but that was the problem – they were HUGE! No one could find a small enough pair. Initially all the women were walking around looking like they were wanna-be clowns waddling like penguins. As you can see by my yellow pair, they were quite attractive. One of the guides, realizing that 20 people unable to actually walk around the factory floor was quite unsafe, ran off and got smaller sizes. The good news: my rubber shoes now fit. The bad news: I had two right footed shoes. Oh well – on to the distribution center!
The CDC really surprised me. From above, you are able to see a LOT of automation process, use of scanning, etc. to move the products. It was extremely smooth and efficient. I couldn’t wait to get to the floor and see the efficiencies down there. Talk about eye opening! The floor was, in a word, chaotic! People were on forklifts driving like maniacs, products were all over the place, and there was a general sense of frenzy. Come to find out, the pickers (those people driving the forklifts) were six hours behind on their product pickups. Essentially, an order comes in from a customer for one set of sheets, one set of knives, a comforter, and a tea kettle and one person is responsible for driving all over the distribution center to pick up that one order. The thing, though, is that these products are ALL OVER THE PLACE. They try to put things that tend to be bought together near each other, i.e. bed rails by mattresses, but in general these pickers would have to go to four different locations to pick up the products and Ikea has a time estimate for how long that should take. Today, they were six hours behind which our guide said was better than yesterday which saw them 9 hours behind. I asked about staffing and our guide said that there were a lot of new summer help which was causing delays. I asked about the night shift and whether they would be able to make up the time and she said most definitely, though probably not all 6 hours due to that shift being a dedicated shift and usually people with long tenure who move to that shift because it’s actually highly desired – mainly because of the fact that it’s experienced people and you get extra night pay.
This visit really hit home the concept that a company can implement Lean in certain areas but completely not in others in the exact same process. The automation to move the products as they arrive was sooth, quick, made things easily trackable, and automated. But then the final part of the process was so dependent on human energy and vulnerable to human frailties. I came away with the impression that what Ikea is doing now is OK for them; it works, things for the most part get done in a timely fashion, and they are not going to change anytime soon. However, I’d love to come back 5 years to see a new, leaner operation that I think Ikea will have to implement if they actually do reach their goal of doubling their ecommerce market because I do not think that the current process can meet that demand.
Following Ikea we quickly made our way to Jonkoping (pronounced Yawn-shipping), the 10th largest city in Sweden which sits on the shores of a beautiful lake. Driving through, I got the impression that this was primarily a blue-collar area due to all the plants and facilities in the area. Image Detroit, but in Sweden, clean, and crime free. Some of us walked around the city before dinner where a bird ensured that I will have great luck and fun the rest of the trip by deciding that my arm would make a great place to leave its crap. The ladies were in H&M so Pete found a mostly clean napkin to help me wipe everything off. Luckily that was the second time I’ve worn that shirt so it’s not too much of a wardrobe loss. J Dinner was meatloaf and rhubarb crumble at the hotel followed by drinks with many of the group at a great lakeside bar. Around midnight a few of us called it a night and headed back to the hotel. Since I owed Hans an ice-cream from the night before when he got me one we grabbed some in the hotel lobby on our way up to our rooms. We get to sleep in tomorrow as we don’t need to be on the road until 9:30am. We get a free day to just be tourists as we head down to Sweden’s Kingdom of Crystal. Hopefully my credit cards can handle the trip!