Back in 2008, I blogged about how NFL footballs, including those specially made for the Super Bowl, are made in America – the Wilson football factory in Ada, Ohio. I wrote how I hope the production doesn’t get outsourced to China… well, as of 2011, it has not. And I hope it stays that way. ESPN has a new feature (including a video) by Paul Lukas from the “Uniwatch” Blog.
One reason the production hasn’t been sent offshore is that the Super Bowl footballs are produced right after the teams are determined – that’s well under a two-week lead time. I guess footballs could be sent via air the way iPads and iPhones are – but I think it’s great to see what work being done in Ohio.
From the ESPN piece, about the quick-response manufacturing:
“Wow,” I said to Molly Wallace, the Wilson publicist who was explaining all of this to me, “so I guess your football factory must be hopping on the Monday after those games.
“Oh, they don’t wait until Monday,” she said. “A work crew shows up at the factory during halftime of the second game on Sunday. They have some pizza and soda on hand and make a little TV party out of it. Then, when that game is over and we know who’ll be playing in the Super Bowl, they start making footballs.”
“Wait a second,” I said, checking the playoff schedule and doing some quick math, “that game won’t be finished until about 10 p.m.”
“That’s right,” Wallace said. “They work all night, until five or six in the morning. Then a new crew comes in to take over for them.”
Now, is this a “lean” factory? There’s no evidence that they use Lean methods at all. We could nitpick and point out inventory and inspection and maybe some manual work that’s not great from an ergonomic standpoint. If you want to draw a value stream map, have at it :-)
What stood out to me in the article and the video:
- The longevity of the employees. 29 years for the Plant Manager, 30 and 40+ years for many employees.
- The pride that people have in their job, their purpose, and their role in the games.
- I’m surprised the footballs are turned right-side out by hand, as Paul Lukas was!
- Old equipment, “but it works” as one employee said in the story. There’s a real tradition in many Lean factories of making your own equipment to meet your own specific needs and uses. If you maintain the equipment, you can keep it in working shape for a long time.
Paul Lukas also shares some additional photos on his blog post about his visit.
What struck you about the factory?
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