A few posts ago, I talked about my plan to streamline our baby sippy cup situation by cutting down to just two cups that we would wash by hand. This replaces our array of more than half a dozen cups that would get washed each night by our dishwasher. This switch makes our sippy cup system consistent with several lean production principles:
- Smaller batches – With only two cups ever being dirty, there’s no need for the dishwasher’s help.
- Less inventory – We don’t need a whole cabinet to store just two cups.
- Better quality control – We can tell right away whether the cups are getting clean or not, rather than waiting overnight.
- Lower costs – Two cups are cheaper than a half dozen.
- “Pull” (on-demand) production – Cups are only washed when they are needed, not washed and then stored for up to a day at a time before being used.
So far, the new system is working well. I don’t even notice the few seconds it takes to clean two cups before they are used. I do notice that the dishwasher has a lot more space available for other things, and that I don’t need to set aside time for disassembling and loading six cups before the load starts, or reassembling and storing them when the load finishes. I’m also pondering possible uses for the now-unnecessary cup shelf in the cabinet.
Only two hitches have come up:
1. I have to really keep an eye on the two cups. Toddlers have a tendency to drop sippy cups behind furniture, and with no extras, I can’t afford to lose track of them for long.
As I talked about in a previous post, this limitation of resources is actually an advantage. There’s nothing worse than finding a several day-old cup of milk going sour under a couch. With no extra cups to turn to when one of them goes missing, I have no freedom to make this sort of mistake and endure the ickiness and extra labor it would lead to. Running lean takes away the margins that lead to wastefulness.
2. Wear and tear might become an issue. Sippy cups have rubber gaskets that repeated washing may tend to wear down. By washing each cup three or four times a day rather than just once daily, it’s possible the cups will wear down three times as fast. I don’t see this as a major issue since the kids are developing so fast that they’ll be graduating to a more mature style of cup soon anyway.
Even if that was not the case, I feel that the leanest solution would be to totally use up two cups at a time and then replace them with two new cups rather than buy six or eight bottles at the beginning. I’m not getting any special deal on cups, and the lean approach argues that inventory is really a cost, not an asset. Best to let the retailer store our replacement cups until we need them rather than store them ourselves.
Okay, enough about sippy cups for now. I’m working on a series of posts about the fundamental wastes identified by lean production, and will be getting to those ideas soon.