Engineering my Life – Poka-Yoke

engineeringContributed by Pam Schumacher, Mechanical Engineering Technology Instructor – Globe University

My husband and I are both engineers.  I think we have a pretty ordinary household, 3 children, a dog and a copy of every episode of Firefly, Babylon Five and Star Trek (Next Generation of course) ever made.  My children on the other hand, think Mom and Dad are weird. 

I teach at NTI School of Technology – Globe University, in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program.  I often search out and use real life examples to explain engineering concepts.  I thought I would write a couple of blogs about how engineering can creep into our everyday lives without us even knowing it.  I am titling this series “Engineering my Life”.

Lean Manufacturing Principle – Poka-Yoke the Sock Drawer

Before “THE CHANGE”, we had an assembly process problem at our house every morning which caused much frustration and missed sleep.  See, my husband would wake up while it was still dark to get ready to go to work early.  At least twice a week he would mumble and complain while trying to find the right color of socks to wear in our semi-dark bedroom, often waking me out of my slumber.

Also before “THE CHANGE” we had a horrible time finding matches to his socks, wasting precious time out of our day.  To me, matching socks is the most horrific job in the house.  It has gotten better since “THE CHANGE”, but would be better if we applied “THE CHANGE” to all members of the household.

Rules of “THE CHANGE

1.  Throw away (or donate) all current pairs and non-pairs of my husband’s socks.

This was hard for me to do, I am frugal and don’t like to throw away usable items, and I am always certain the match to the one sock I throw away will show up as soon as I toss it!

*This is an absolute requirement in order for “THE CHANGE” to be effective.

2.  Decide on the minimum number of sock colors you can live with.

For my husband, he decided that every outfit he wears can be worn with black, navy blue or athletic white socks.

The smaller the number of sock colors the easier and more effective “THE CHANGE” will be.

3.  Purchase multiple pairs of identical socks for one

How many depends on how often you do laundry.

4.  Purchase multiple pairs of identical socks of another color, but have a very significant difference from the other color socks just purchased.

In our case, I purchased 6 pairs of identical white athletic socks, 6 pairs of identical navy blue socks, then 6 pairs of identical black socks WITH a gold toe.  Very important that only the black socks have the gold toe!

5.  Enjoy your new found freedom, time and general good will!

Now when we are sorting socks, we have minimized assembly time by standardizing the color of socks to be identical.  We have also extended the life of the pair of socks.  If we lose one sock, there are many others to match it still around!  In addition, we have minimized assembly time and product selection time by having a distinct difference in the color of socks.  It is much quicker to see the difference of a gold toe, than try to detect the difference in navy blue and black – especially in the wee hours of the morning.

These are basic lean manufacturing principles, part standardization and mistake-proofing (sometimes called by the Japanese term Poka Yoke).  These principles can be used for any process in life to make things simpler, quicker and more enjoyable.

“THE CHANGE” has helped our marriage – hope it can help you too!