The manufacturing company at which I work on-site recently made a change that has me fired up. They didn’t cut back on parking spaces, increase lead time on parts, increase the sourcing of material from overseas suppliers, or create an unsafe work environment…
…They changed the paper towel dispenser in the bathrooms!
We used to have a motion sensing paper towel dispenser that would dispense a paper towel whenever you put your hand in front of the machine. You would gently pull on the paper towel (which would easily release into your hands so you could dry them off), toss the towels, and be on your way. The new machine is a mechanical dispenser that uses manual force from the pulling of one paper towel to set up the next one. There is a harder pull on the paper towel, which results in more tension on the paper towel. That increased tension, mixed with wet hands, results in the towel tearing off in your hands. Your are forced to reach and pull 2-3 more times in order to get the paper towel out, at which point it has hardly prepared the next one. When you decide you need another towel, you have to reach to the bottom of the machine and manipulate a plastic piece to force the machine to release another one.
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve probably spent way too much time in the last two weeks pondering paper towel dispensers, but it’s given me the opportunity to refocus on the value of critical to quality elements in decision making. Critical to quality elements are the things most important to the customer. I’m not an expert in the paper towel dispenser industry, but as a daily consumer of their product I feel like I have an idea of what elements make a good paper towel dispenser.
The failure of this setup is that it doesn’t allow easy access to a paper towel (it rips off portions in your hand). In design you should only have to touch the paper towel but once it rips off you are forced to touch the machine itself to force out another paper towel. Since everyone else is also forced to do this, it causes a communal touch point and increases the spread of germs.
Maybe they could have made the pull strength lower through a design change, reducing risk of tear. Maybe they could have required a slightly stronger paper towel that could hold up to the wet hand pull. Maybe they could have put some sort of slight wax coating on the paper towel corners to prevent the water from immediately weakening the towel (on second thought – since the goal of a paper towel is to absorb water, maybe this is a bad idea).
The key is that this could have been prevented if designers or purchasers of the machine would have put together a critical to quality checklist, and then did some testing to ensure that all of the critical to quality elements were met. Sometimes we focus too much on one critical to quality element and miss the others. In this case, maybe emphasis was placed on making it a touch-less design and reducing energy costs vs. motion sensing models. It’s very important that we clearly know the results we want, and then don’t settle until all the results are met.
What do you think? (About the CTQ checklist process, not my obsession with paper towel dispensers!)
Written by Jacob Nance, Lean Supply Chain Operations Manager at LeanCor