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Flow Simulation (The power of Single-Piece-Flow)

Batch Vs. Single-Piece-Flow Simulation AKA: The “Paper Airplane” Exercise This is a simple, but powerful, teaching tool that allows the demonstration of nearly every JIT principle and gives an opportunity to discuss the rest. The power is in the flexibility of the exercise to be adapted and modified to nearly any circumstance. These instructions are not intended to be in any way prescriptive. They are, however, an effective and proven baseline from which to operate. Required Number of Participants Operators 4 Expediter/Material Handler 1 Factory Manager 1 Customer 1 Timers 2

Basic Exercise (45 - 60 minutes)


60 sheets plain paper

20 sheets 3 punch paper

10 sheets colored paper

2 stopwatches

1 calculator

flip chart

two contrasting color markers


Pre-build four production station sets:

1. Two sheets plain (unfolded paper), one w/ fold #1.

2. Two sheets w/ fold #1; one with folds #1, #2.

3. Two sheets w/ fold #1, #2; one with folds #1, #2, #3.

4. Two with folds #1, #2, #3; one completed airplane.

The Process

Fold #1 (Op #1)

“Fold” #2 (Op #2) (two folds)

“Fold” #3 (Op #2) (two folds)

“Fold” #4 (Op #4) (two folds each side, four folds total)

Finished Plane

Note: As silly as it seems, there is a reason for the folds illustrated. Using this design ensures that there is a big enough work imbalance to make some important teaching points, especially in the “advanced variation” at the end of this document.

On a flip chart, draw the following matrix to capture your process

Key Performance Indicators (KPI):

Set up the exercise. This should be fun, not dry.

Run #1

Announce that we are going to demonstrate the differences between various production systems by setting up a factory that makes airplanes. Ad lib something about the airplanes we are making. (they don’t fly, etc.)

Ask for a volunteer for operator #1. Point out that this job requires some skill and precision. When someone volunteers, give them production station set #1. Make a flourish out of demonstrating how to fold the paper, ask if they understand, then ask them to practice on the remaining sheet. They should now have three completed sheets for Op #1.

Repeat the process for operators #2, #3, and #4. Be sure to solicit volunteers from different tables, preferably criss-crossing the room several times.

Solicit a volunteer to be the materials handler. A good technique if no one is forthcoming is to see if anyone is wearing athletic shoes and “volunteer” them. Explain to the material handler that his job is to move material “from operation 1 to operation 2; from operation 2 to operation 3, from operation 3 to operation 4 and from operation 4 to our customer.”

The customer can either be another student volunteer or a co-instructor. There is some advantage to using a co-instructor as customer. There is less briefing involved and co-instructors are gen