A placeholder for now until I get some time to compose my parting thoughts and observations on the trip. I have to get the Carlsberg paper done first though, so don’t look for anything until after July 12th.
So if you have been doing the math from my blog posts, you would realize that there were in fact more than 40 days in my “40 Days” blog. So before I get into what I did on day 41 of my 40 day adventure, I should explain my math. The 40 day figure refers from the start of the classroom portion of the study abroad to the end of the trip. Not specifically the day we leave (which for me was Sunday, July 5th) but the end of the ‘school’ portion of the trip, which was day 40: July 3rd.
We had the option to stay an extra day and about six of us ‘leftovers’ decided to do so. It seemed like a good idea back in December when we made the decision, but after two weeks on the road, several of us were eager to get back home to family and dare I say it, even work. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our extra day. We did, as you’ll see. But we’re a little homesick too.
For our last day, Wayne and I hit the road (well, rails actually) and took a train to Kronberg castle, a 16th century castle that was immortalized as Elsinore in Hamlet.
I’m certainly not going to take the Best Photographer crown from Wayne, but I like this shot of the tower. (Which, like the churches of Denmark, was closed to tourists)
There were times on the trip I looked about this happy too.
At the risk of being anti-climatic, there isn’t too much to say about Kronberg. I didn’t take anywhere near enough pictures to capture the experience. But if you’ve been to the Tower of London, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Kronberg is like. If you haven’t been in a 15th or 16th century castle, Kronberg is a good place to start. It’s easy to get to from Copenhagen, and trust me, you won’t be missing much in Copenhagen but skipping town and going to Kronberg.
So it’s our last day of the trip and we have the afternoon free to explore Copenhagen. If you’ve been a faithful reader of the blog, you should have an idea what I did. Yup, Laura and I, (now with her finance Ben who flew in) wandered the streets of Copenhagen looking for sites to see, including various closed churches.
Admittedly, it was late in the afternoon, but Laura, Ben and I went 0 for 3 on churches, bringing our trip average down to well under 50%.
I can’t tell if Laura is sad over the church being closed, or is already missing her now former classmates.
Maybe it was trip fatigue setting in, or maybe it was the heat, but I didn’t find Copenhagen to be that exciting of a city. We visited Nyhavn, and saw a few other sites, but Copenhagen just didn’t impress me as a European capital city. It had all the bustle of Rome or London, but didn’t have the offsetting cultural activities. Maybe I would have thought different if some of th cathedrals had been open, or if we would have time to visit an art museum, but I was underwhelmed with Copenhagen, and I don’t expect to be going back for a while.
So we have made it to day 40 of our 40 day adventure, a little the worse for wear, but with only two company visits to go. Today we visit Maersk, the global shipping company and Carlsberg, the 4th largest brewer of beer in the world. Both companies have a particular interest for me, albeit for different reasons.
If you have any interest in the global supply chain or shipping industry you have to have some interest in Maersk. More than any other company we visited, Maersk is the global supply chain. During a break in our preentations I talked with Carol briefly about the idea that with the possible exception of the sports pages, every article in the newspaper was some impact on Maersk’s operations. Revolution in an obscure country? Maersk needs to respond. Change in economic conditions? Maersk needs to respond. Political issue impacting trade? Maersk will be impacted. More than any other company we’ve looked at, Maersk truly is a global company.
We had a pair of presentations from Maersk. The first was on their internal consulting group that was recently established to improve efficiencies among Maersk’s component organizations. Their primary objectives are to build a pipeline of talent across Maersk, enable superior project execution, provide Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in specific technical industries and to be cost competitive with external consultants. They presented on a recent project they had worked on to increase collaboration between the Maersk shipping line and one of their terminal operations (APM Terminals) By increasing collaboration and the use of shared analysis they were able to move from a transaction based relationship to a true parnership model, reducing costs for Maersk as a whole.
Because of our backgrounds, many of the people in our group understood the consulting business well, and there was a lively question and answer period.
The second presentation was regarding Maersk’s “key client” group. Key clients in this case are those most profitable for Maersk. The presentor spent most of her talk however going into more detail about how Maersk conducts business in general, which is good because we needed more education on the basics of their operations before we could understand th specifics of the key client group. Her presentation was very engaging and information, and I left feeling like not only did I understand where Maersk fit into the global supply chain, but more importantly (at least from Maersk’s perspective) how and when I would hire Maersk for cargo shipment. This may not seem important, but actually understanding enough about the shipping market to do this is no small feat.
After Maersk, and a very brief lunch stop we hustled over to visit Carlsberg.
My interest in Carlsberg is purely academic, as it is the subject of our paper. Going into the visit, we knew that we would not be seeing a production Carlsberg brewrey, as the facility in Copenhagen is a small craft brewing facility, not a meanstream production brewrey. But we at expected to see some of the company history and some production, albeit not as Carlsberg operates at large. Unfortunately, however there was some miscommunication, and Carlsberg expected us to arrive at 1:00 PM, instead of our 1:30 scheduled arrival. As a result, there was a 2:00 PM tour scheduled as well, so we recieved a mini-tour that focused mostly on the history of the Jacobson family and the early years of Carlsberg and did not cover the brewing process or histor in much detail. (There was a self guided museum that you could go through, and I did, but it would have been better with the experience of a guide.)
And so, we finished our last company visit of the trip, essentially (except for the paper) ending the course. Conveniently at a brewrey that included two free drinks with the price of admission. For six lucky membrs of our group, this was a particularly auspicious ending as it also marked their final class in the MBA progra and their graduation. (Laura even brought a morterboard) For the other twenty of us who were rather envious of our graduating classmates, we at least had beer to drown our jealousy in.
After an interesting and informative company visit at Lego, we had an afternoon free in Billund. If only there was somewhere to go for the group to relax and have some fun. Oh wait, there is…Legoland.
I have to confess that as a child, I never was that interested in going to Disney. But a Lego catalog had a couple of pages showing the model village in Legoland (back when the only Legoland was at Billund.) That was my kind of place.
So in a way, you could say that going to Legoland was a childhood dream come true. But in another more accurate way, you could say that I outgrew that particular childhood dream. But it was still fun to visit.
The weather was nice, albeit a bit warm. The group quickly fragmented and as it ended up, I was in the aforementioned model village as was Laura. So many jokes were made about us looking for more churches, which where naturally closed. Thus began the third chapter in Laura and my adventures, now in miniature. Neither of us was that into rides, although we took a ride on the Observation Tower to see the entire park. We also stumbled into a ride that was vaguely like It’s a Small World at Disney World combined with a very small roller coaster at the end. (Virtually all of the rides at Legoland are designed primarily for kids. )
We did have one group event, on a “ride” (sorry, but it’s not a real ride if it’s human powered!) that was a competition between four cars of VT MBA students and a couple of cars of other park visitors. Sadly, without the brave leadership of our Ramoa captain Anna, we did not win (we came in third among the VT teams, but we mopped the floor with the two cars of Danish children.)
Laura, Dr. Hoopes and a few others had dinner at a Tex-Mex place inside the park, but since we were still in Denmark, I guess it would be more accurate to call it a Tex-Mex-Dan place. The food was OK, but it at least satisfied Laura’s craving for Taco Bell. (One of the few times that “OK” Mexican food is better is when you have a craving for Taco Bell.)
We wandered the park a little more, did a small amount of shopping, but we were already pretty well equipped with Lego swag by then. We assembled for a group picture and hit the road for Copenhagen.
So Legoland was nice and it was fun to wanted the park for a few hours. I probably wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t been with the group, but I’m glad we went. I mean where else are you going to find a funicular made out of Legos?
So I’ve made it through two blog posts about Lego without mentioning the Lego Movie and a certain song. I’ve also been trying to up my blogging game but incorporating video. So posted without comment is a very short video of my initial arrival at the entrance to Legoland…
I am challenging myself not to make a refence to the “Everything is Awesome” song from the Lego movie. We’ll see if I can make it through the the entire day’s blog posts without referring to it.
On our penultimate day, we had just one site visit, but it was a big one. We visited Lego. (The same rule applies as with IKEA. If you don’t know who Lego is and what they do, your license to read this blog is hereby revoked. Go find a kid and ask them.)
Anyway, our visit to Lego began with a tour of their production facility in Billund, Denmark. Lego was founded in Billund during the Depression and has been located here ever since. (Lego is 3rd generation family owned, which probably has something to do with their ties to the local community Today, their facility in Billund only does molding of pieces (it used to do packaging as well) But saying the facility only does modling, while accurate, gives a bit of a misleading impression. The facility in Billund has 760 injection molding machines running 24/7 for 361 production days a year production 4.5 million Lego bricks per hour. They use 80-100 tons of plastic (mostly ABS plastic but a few other types for specialized parts)
What was interesting about Lego was that technically there was nothing in the production facility we haven’t seen already on this tour, Lego had so many of the elements combined and on such a scale it was almost as if we were seeing them for the first time.
- Highly automated production: Check. Lego typically has two employees to monitor 64 injection molding machines, which are fed raw materials (granulized plastic resin and dyes) through feeder lines.
- Robotic delivery of materials: Check. The typical Lego brick is never touched by a human in any way during production. When a molding machine fills a bin with bricks, it signals a delivery robot to automatically take the bin and feed in into the injection ingestion system.
- Lights Out Automated Inventory storage: Check. The Lego facility we visited only had inventory ranks maybe 50 feet tall. But the new facility Lego is building in China will have inventory ranks 37 meters high (a little over 100 ft) Their inventory system was controlled with LabView. I know some developers that would kill to see the source code for that. Heck, I’d love to see it and I haven’t used LabView in close to 20 years.
- Lean Systems/Continuous Improvement Process: Check. Lego has daily huddle meetings, one of which we walked by. It was in English, but unfortunately we didn’t get to stop and listen in on it.
One other thing that was interesting about Lego was the efforts they put into reducing their waste steam. The plastic runners (extra plastic used in the mold to connect each individual brick in the mold) are ground back up and fed back into the supply stream for that molder, resulting in Lego recycling 99.4% of their waste plastic.
After the factory tour, where we got a cool “I was here” Lego brick, we headed over to Lego’s headquarters for a pair of presentations about Lego.
The first presentation had a corporate overview and a detailed discussion about Lego and their values. First and foremost of those values is quality. And they really mean it. During one of the breaks, our host showed me a few malformed bricks. I mentioned that some manfacturers such as Jelly Belly actually sell their factory rejects in special packaging as ‘belly flops’. and asked if Lego had ever considered something like that. Short answer: No. Long answer: Absolutely not, as selling rejects, even clearly sold as such, would undermine the quality of Lego’s brand.
Our host had a couple of exercises for us, both involving Lego’s naturally. The first was to give each person a small six piece Lego kit without instructions and instructed us to create a duck. We were only given a minute or so and all 28 of us produced a different style of duck, despite there only being six Lego bricks to work with. (Some of the ducks were, shall we say, arather abstract. But the point of how creative you can be with Lego bricks was made.) The second exercise was more straight-forward, assembling a small truck from a kit.
Hey, I’d like to see you come up with a better duck in a minute
After a lunch break, we settled in for a presentation on risk management and frank discussion of some of the challenges Lego faced in the 2000s. (and today) The presented was very lkely and walked us through Porter’s four forces as they applied to Lego.
Lego has many strengths as a brand but they are in a very difficult industry with a product that has very short lifespans and is easy to duplicate. How easy to duplicate? The counterfiet package on the right in the picture below started appearing on shelves five weeks after the genuine Lego version was released.
A couple of other points of note was the intense seasonalty of Lego’s demand. 50% of their sales occur in the 10 weeks leading up to Christmas and 20% in the first three weeks in December. That makes demand forecasting, in an industry dictated by the fickle tastes of kids, crucial. But Lego has an ace up its sleeve. By delaying packaging as late as possible, and locating manufacturing facilities near the markets they serve, Lego can get product from factory floor to store shelves in as little as four days. This allows them tremendous flexibility in responding to changing demand
The presenter talked in detail about the seven primary processes Lego uses to run their operations. I will spare you listing all seven, but the key takeaway for me was this line: “Lego is run by processes not people.” I think that’s a great question to ask about our own companies. There were many additional insights (like how Lego creates a value proposition for retailers without lowering price) but the processes vs. people is a good thought to end on.
Lego was kind enough to let us keep the duck and truck Lego sets as well as a parting gift of another set. But while the corporate swag was appreciated, the real gift was the opportunity to see Lego’s production up close and hear an unvarished account of their strengths and weaknesses.
With that, I’ll close out this post as I need to get ready for our Carlsberg presentation today. At some pont, I’l add a supplimental post about our visit to Legoland.
Today was a travel day. We got up fairly early to catch the morning ferry to Denmark. They ferry itself, while not as posh as the overnight ferry to Stockhold, was comfortable and the ride was smoother than I expected. Wayne and I worked on our Carlsberg presentation (spoiler alert: It’s all about beer) I banged out a blog post and then was invited to play an unnamed card game by Jen. We later discovered from Dr. Hoopes that this game might be called Palace, although I’m sticking with my original description of it, which is its basically CalvinBall played with cards. The rules are very creative (polite blog euphanism for maddeningly complex and arbitrary. Seriously, this game would make a Byzantine say “This game is too complicated.”) But learning this card game would come in handy later today.
We arrived in Demark, more or less without problems other than having to round up a few travellers that got separated from the group and made a wrong turn. Thanks to the magic of SMS texts, Dr. Hoopes was able to round them up and we picked them up in the bus. Looks like we had our glitch for the day. Now just a couple hours drive to Kolding, and we’ll have a little downtime.
Bang. Thump. Thump. Thump.
So we blew out a tire and pulled into a rest area called Skanderborg. We confirmed that yes, one of the inner tires of the bus was blown out. The bus has a spare, but did not have any mechanism to jack the bus up, so our driver called for help.
I think I found the problem. I don’t think there’s supposed to be a big flap in the sidewall of the tire.
Meanwhile, the gang came up with various amusements, including stickball (complete with authentic Danish stick) Head’s Up (a trivia app) and the aforementioned Byzantine card game. The weather was nice and the group was in good spirits, for what turned out to be about a three and a half hour pitstop. (There were bad traffic problems on the highway that delayed our rescue. Had this happened earlier in the trip, or on the way to a company visit, this could have been a bad situation. But thankfully, it was on a travel day, and the group has bonded pretty well, so we took it all in stride. I even got to play that infernal card game with Dr. Hoopes, who naturally won a disproportionate share of the games. (After about 15-20 hands I finally managed to win one. So I’m better at cards than throwing axes.)
Dr. Hoopes discovered that their was a trial nearby that lead to a bog. Apparently in the Iron Age, this bog was used to sacrifice weapons to appease pagan gods. Always up for a history detour, I went down to investigate. Sadly, the Iron Age weapons recovered from the bog are apparently somewhere else, and all that was there was a bog standard bog. I took some pictures, but if you do a Google Image search on bog, you’ll get the idea. About the only other thing there were cows.
I have been known to take a literal intepretation of things on occasion, so technically speaking, when I motioned to the cows to move in a certain direction, and they did, that would be hearding cattle. And you know who herds cattle? A cowboy. And who who herds Danish cattle, like me? A Danish cowboy. File that in the “things I didn’t expect to be part of my MBA experience” folder
Eventually, our repair truck arrived. Some of the guys, including me, assisted with the tire swap and before too long (ok, 3.5 hours was “too long”) we were on our way. The driver called ahead to the hotel, so dinner was waiting for us. The rest of the evening was uneventful, so I got some sleep, caught up on my blog post (or will be as soon as I finished this paragraph) and got ready for today’s visit to Lego. Which will be Awesome.
Today was a busy day, but surprisingly restful. Either we’ve finally started to get used to the pace of the trip, or the fact that both our site visits had small car trains had something to do with it. (Although I still logged close to 8.5 miles walking even without walking through the plants.)
Today’s visits were both to Volvo, first to Volvo trucks in the morning, followed by a trip to Volvo cars in the afternoon. (Despite a common lineage, Volov’s cars and trucks are now owned separately and their manufacturing operations are significantly different.)
Volvo trucks was one the most interesting stops on our trip to date. To begin with, the place was busy. (I don’t know if it’s just been bad luck on our part on scheduling, but we’ve seen more than our fair share of shift changes, preventive maintenance and production lines that weren’t well, producing.) Not so at Volvo trucks. They were (if you’ll execuse another bad pun) running on all cylinders.
Volvo trucks was our first example of a moving production line. The trucks move alone the line at a constant pace, never entirely stopping with approximately 7 minutes at each of 56 stations. (The line moves at 1.37 m/min, or about 4 feet per minute) If you do the math, that works out to about 60 trucks per day.
And when they say 60 trucks, they mean 60 complete, customized (more on that later) trucks per day. Rolled steel goes in one end of the plant, trucks come out the other end. Starting from rolled steel, a chassis is stamped out in a press shop, eventually mated to axles and then slowly outfitted to each customer’s specifications. About the only major assembly that is prebuilt and delivered in one piece are the engine and cabs, but both of these still require signifcant integration work.
A couple of miscellaneous takeaways that I found interesting:
- The Volvo facility manufactures trucks for “knock down” production facilties located in other countries. Essentially these are truck-in-a-box kits that are assembled elsewhere, primarily for customs and tax reasons.
- The plant contains a small ‘green area’ complete with palm trees and fish pond. We didn’t get too close to it, but it was very incongruitious among the assembly line.
- Volvo uses a just in time delivery system. And by just in time, they mean within 15 minutes of scheduled delivery time or you miss your window. (our guide implied that there may be penalties for repeat offenders)
But back to the customization issue. Each truck is built to customer specifications on a single assembly line. So one truck may be a FM model with left side drive while the one behind it is an FH with right side drive. This variability naturally requires a high degree of flexibility among the workers, especially given the constant rate of the production line. When a particular vehicle requires more work at a given station, the workers from that station will follow the truck along the line to finish their task. The guide stated that the trucks are scheduled for production with an eye towards thes variability so that a particularly complex model may be followed by a simpler model to allow workers to reset. Although our guide didn’t state it, I would expect that similarly that some of the stations may be ordered in such a way to allow workers from a previous station not to interfere with the work at the next station. (ie. work in the engine block area is followed by work long the side of the truck.)
Following our visit to Volvo trucks, we had lunch at a so-so cafe and visited the Volvo museum. I will update this post on the Volvo museum after I resolve some technical difficulties preventing me from importing a picture of the only vehicle Volvo has ever produced that has a sense of style. Don’t get me wrong Volvo fans: they are great cars and have a distinctive style. That’s not my style. Except for the C70 convertable.
Anyway, after our trip to Volvo trucks, we decided to really mix things up in the afternoon and visit Volvo cars. But there were more differences than you would expect from two facilities located a few minutes away that shared a common corporate parent for much of their history. But before we get into the differences, we’ll start with the similaries.
Both plants begin with a press shop, but in the case of Volvo cars, this is a massive operation that presses parts for many of Volvo’s other facilties. (Because the press shop rovides parts to other plants, it is the only part of the plant that runs three shifts. The rest of the plant runs on two shifts.) There were more than a hundred large (40-50 sq ft.) dies stacked around the four main press lines. Clearly Single Minute Exchange of Dies (SMED) is not implemented at Volvo. (At least based on my impression; we didn’t explicitly talk about SMED on our tour as we had limited ability to ask questions.)
From there, the the major body pieces are welded together. We stopped by the “marriage point” where the four main body parts (roof, floor and sides) are joined by ten welding robots in a single operation. Next, the body and doors are off to the paint shop, which is not open to visitors due to the risk of contaminants. The paint shop is the longest stage in the production process, taking 20 of the 40 working hours it takes to build a car.
Once painted, the frame and doors are off to the assembly line, where the frame is outfitted with an engine, interior, transmission, tires and all the other parts needed. Pretty early in the process the dors are separated from the frame to make work on the rest of the vehcile easier. Don’t worry, they are tracked and will be reunited with the correct frame later in the assembly process. Which brings up another similarity between Volvo trucks and cars: both produce a wide range of customized configurations on the same line. (Although the truck line has a greater range of customization) But the car line still produces a wide range of vehicles. One might be a sedan while the next one an SUV. Because the car operation is higher volume with less customization, it is not a surpirse that it is more heavily automated than the truck operation. It also shouldn’t be a surprise that the paper tracking sheets used at Volvo trucks won’t cut it at Volvo cars. Instead they use a RFID tag embedded in a green card attached to the front bumper of the vehicle. This RFD tag is read at each station and identifies what actions the robots at each station need to perform for that particular vehicle. (There are a total of about 760 robots on the car line, compared with about 200 humans)
The production rate of the car line is about 50 cars per hour, with 75 seconds at each station. The total assembly phase takes about 10 hours, so there are roughly 400 cars in prodcution at any given time.
As with the truck line, we were on a tour train, so there was limited opportunities for questions. Our guide did talk about their use of scorecards and continuous improement, but as it was geered for tourists and not as detailed as some of our other tours. But nonetheless, both tours offered great insight into highly complex, high volume and high variable manufacturing.
We finished our tours fairly early in the day, so we had a little free time to explore Gothenburg. But that’s a subject for another blog post.
It’s a beautiful day out, you are done with plant tours early in the day, and your proposal is submitted, so what do you do? Paint the town red, of course. Or in my case, maybe a pinkish beige.
Anyway, we had a free afternoon and evening in Gothenburg, so we got to do a little sightseeing. Based on Dr. Hoopes’ recommendation, a majority of the group went to ride the Paddenboats, a wide bottomed canal boat that takes you through the canals of Gothenburg and out into the harbor. The tour was nice, and the guide did a good job of explaining the history of Gothenburg, but I don’t think Venice is too worried about Gothenburg cornering the lucrative Canal Tour market. The tour promised that we would pass under more than 60 bridges, and while I didn’t keep a count, we went under a lot of bridges. Including this rather impressively low one:
After the padden boat, we still had some time so I was trying to decide between the botanical gardens and a trek to the old town of Gothenburg, known as Haga. I ended up going for Haga. So who else on this trip might be interested in a long trek through random streets of the city to find a historical building. Hmmm. Could it be, Laura? (Obscure SNL Church Lady reference that is probably lost on most of the people in the group.) But this time we had company. About 8 or so of us walking along the canal, meandering our way to old town. Our ultimate destination was Skansen Kronan, a 17th century fortress used to defend Gothenburg.
Needless to say, they don’t build fortresses in the lowlands of the city, so there we a few steps to climb. But our group took them in good stride (yes, I made that pun.) without any complaining at all. (Of course our morale wasn’t helped by the athlete who was training there at made at least three runs up the stairs in teh time it took us to go up and down.)
The fortress itself was closed, but the view from the hilltop was wonderful. There’s a group picture somewhere (with Hans kneeling in front naturally) But I’m behind on my blog posts, so you’ll have to hunt it down yourself. (or wait another week or so when I have time to go back and make edits and corrections to this first draft of history)
As I said, there was quit a view from the hilltop. The white building with the red top on the left is near our hotel. I guess we’ll have worked up an appetite for fish by the time we get back for dinner. Of course, we probably could have just taken the tram back, especially since our hotel was directly above the train station, but again it was a beautiful day, and we had time for the walk.
When we got back to the hotel for dinner, we learned that our trip was featured by Virginia Tech. As Dr. Hoopes said “The PR person perused the blogs and SmugMug site for quotes & pictures. Shout out to Liz for being quoted (and pictured)!” Although the picture in the article looked a little familiar. Hmmm. Who took that wonderful, perfectly composed picture of Allison, Wayne, Jason and Liz?
For better or worse, the proposal is done. It’ll be nice to only have to worry about school work for the remainer of the trip.