In Inspectors We Trust?


    U.S. Mint goof creates ‘Godless dollars' –

    This isn't a political blog, so the intent isn't to debate if our U.S. currency *should* say “In God We Trust.” We're here to debate the best way to make sure that, given the design intent that it should say that, that each and every coin produced by the U.S. Mint does say it.

    The U.S. Mint apparently produced thousands of new dollar coins without the words on the edge, as designed.

    “We take this matter seriously. We also consider quality control a high priority. The agency is looking into the matter to determine a possible cause in the manufacturing process,” the statement said.

    Guth said it appeared from the roughly 50 smooth-edge dollars he has authenticated that the problem had to do with quality control rather than a mechanical error.

    “These coins are struck like normal coins, then they go through another machine that adds edge lettering in another process. These apparently skipped that process,” he said. “We've seen a couple of instances where the edge lettering may be weak or indistinct, but we're not talking about that here.”

    Do you think the Mint will look for a systemic cause or will they look for a person to blame? Will they blame the inspectors who missed the defects? How does a batch of coins “skip” an entire step in the process? The Mint says they want to prevent the problem from ever happening again, which better involve fixing the process rather than hiring more inspectors or assigning blame.

    USA Today had an interesting article that shared some more details about the production process (the reporter had previously practiced “genchi genbutsu,” he went and saw):

    On a tour of the Mint's sprawling factory in Philadelphia in late January, the edge-lettering machine, which processes a thousand coins a minute, stood somewhat apart from the rest of the machinery. It was physically placed past the machine that counts and bags the coins in the assembly line, forcing workers to wheel the coins past the bagger to the edge-letterer, then backward to be counted and bagged.

    Wow, when you design a process that badly, it's understandable how it might have missed a step. It's also possible (and I realize I'm speculating) that Mint workers might have been under “mass production” management pressure (get the coins out the door!) and thought they could get away with cutting corners? Who knows, but it doesn't sound like a well-designed production process.

    Coins move about the factory floor at that stage in bins that number approximately 150,000 coins each. Officials at the plant at the time said the plan was to move the machinery around to make the process more streamlined. Mint spokeswoman Becky Bailey says the Mint is studying ways to improve the process.

    We need less studying and more kaizen! Hopefully they improved the process today, rearranging machines and error proofing the process to avoid more defective coins.

    Edge lettering hadn't been used on a coin since 1932, forcing the Mint to buy new machinery.

    I think I had written about this before, where the coin designers seemed to have “thrown the design over the fence,” forcing the production folks to scramble… maybe that explains the poor production layout?

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    Mark Graban
    Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


    1. Hmmm…1000 coins per minute, with at least 2 plants in production. By my math, that’s almost a million coins in an 8 hour shift. Could customer demand really be that high for one specialty coin?

      I wonder if the mint has fallen victim to mass production thinking, and bought themselves an overly complex machine that overproduces only to justify its high capital cost. Maybe the mint should go to the Lean Accounting Summit…?

      Another clue is a batch size of 150000 coins. Why so big? Seems like that is 150 minutes of production. That’s just asking for a pile of defects to build up. Plus that’s a big heavy bin of cash to roll around. I bet they have to count it all the time, adding NVA.

      I bet a smaller, less complex machine designed for a takt that roughly matches customer demand would be able to run smaller batches,cheaper to buy, and be an easier system to operate for the operators, for which of course it should be designed.

      Maybe they should have refurbished the old machine from 1932!


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