Alt Title: When lowest cost, isn't really.
In 1976, I joined Kodak’s camera film division, which was the heart and soul of the company.
Kodak had roughly 500 unique film products that were produced on a dozen or so film sensitizing (coating) machines. Each product (Kodacolor, Ektachrome, B&W, X-ray, etc.) had different run sizes and coating speeds that could last for an hour, several hours or even days.
Some products could only run on one particular machine, but most could run on two or three different machines.
So the scheduling challenge was to take the weekly demand for all film products and arrange them on a daily coating schedule that would optimize the machines’ utilization and, thus, reduce the total cost of making film.
Years before my time, a brilliant industrial engineer developed a mathematical model and computer program to automate the creation of the schedule, and that program became the indispensable tool to load the scheduling board every morning.
I took an early interest in this model, but found a fundamental problem: It was running on really, really old data!
Film products are very complicated, often involving more than a dozen layers of gel-based materials with sophisticated chemistries. Well, gathering and updating the required cost data on every material — literally hundreds of pieces of data for each product — was so overwhelming and time consuming that it simply wasn’t done. And even if we had refreshed it, there was virtually no hope of being able to do so regularly.
Film chemistries and complexities had simply outrun the ability to manage this computer program using detailed cost parameters.
But I had an idea, and I ran it by “Bill,” who was then the division vice president. I explained the problem, and he got pretty red in the face and animated. He yelled at me. My knees were shaking.
But I stood my ground. I could simplify the model by focusing on the time, not cost per se, to run all products and minimize total production runtime. Armed with proof from several simulations, I convinced Bill that “time” was a perfectly acceptable substitute for “cost.”
And, updating the model on “time” parameters — how many feet of each film could be produced per minute — would be easy to accomplish. It worked, and that revised model became the standard scheduling tool for years to come.
Bill rose to lofty heights in the company, but never forgot about my courage to challenge the status quo, to believe there was a better way, to withstand non-agreement, and to develop a superior process. He sponsored me for the next 18 years of my career at Kodak and moved me where I could be most helpful.
My final move was to procurement and supply chain management, both at Kodak and later at other Fortune 500 companies. This lesson that time was an equivalent measure to money has stuck with me as a principle throughout my career, and it’s really the bedrock of CoLane.
CoLane is a modern logistics business built around saving shippers’ and drivers’ time. There’s value in that because time equals money.