DuPont makes a countertop product called Corian® — you may have some in your kitchen at home. It’s known for a stone-like finish and performance, but higher durability and longevity than natural countertop products.
Corian is made by robotic machines in a big factory. In one step of production, the proprietary material is rolled through two large drums that press it into the appropriate thickness before being cut to size.
Several years ago, the finished Corian countertop slabs were rolling
off the assembly line when operators noticed a BIG PROBLEM.
For no apparent reason, every now and then a batch of countertops that were supposed to be white would turn out gray! When the engineers analyzed the process and the ingredients they found that there was no difference in the batches that turned out white and those that turned out gray.
So, they turned an engineer loose to find out what the problem was. The engineer started talking to people, looking at where the supplies were stored, tracing the shipments of raw materials, examining the equipment and, so on.
That was until he got on the roof of the factory. While walking around the roof, he noticed to the northeast of the factory was an automotive manufacturing plant. With…smokestacks!
Smokestacks equal soot. Soot is black.
When the engineer checked the days when the bad batches of counter tops were produced and compared them to the weather data. He made a discovery.
On the days that the grey countertops were being produced the wind was blowing the soot from the auto plant toward their plant. Most of the time the wind blew in the opposite direction – away from the plant. When the direction of the wind changed, that’s when the grey countertops were produced.
As it turned out, the soot from the auto plant smokestacks was contaminating the batches of Corian® through air intakes of the plant ventilating system.
Problem discovered. The air ventilation system was fixed and the problem was solved.
Gathering data is imperative to clarifying a problem, and sometimes it’s the solution in itself.
Want to learn more about clarifying a problem? Check out my latest book, Solve the Real Problem.