Pancake Sunday: Lessons from Shigeo Shingo

Pancake Sunday: Lessons from Shigeo Shingo

ingredients in action.jpg

On the first Sunday after the start of the school year, the Quaker Meeting I attend in Madison, WI has a pancake breakfast. The event marks the start of the new year’s First Day School for the Meeting’s children (Quakers traditionally use numbers for days of the weeks and months of the year—First Day is Sunday).

The aim of the pancake breakfast is actually to provide an experience for children and adults to work together to produce and share the meal. Children and a teenager or two pour dollops of batter onto the griddles, monitor the cooking, flip and serve. The adults are in the kitchen, mostly in support. 

To cook and serve a few hundred pancakes in the 100 minutes between the end of first Meeting for Worship at 9:30 a.m. and the start of late Meeting for Worship at 11:15 a.m. takes organization and planning. 

Bob Newbery, adult leader of the pancake team for 15 years, has implemented a key idea: convert internal set-up to external set-up. 

Let me explain. 

In pancake production, you assemble and combine a variety of dry and liquid ingredients. 

Bob’s standard recipe says to start by combining the eggs and buttermilk, then add the sifted dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. In most home settings, it is perfectly all right to proceed by combining the five dry ingredients, measuring out and sifting and then working through the recipe. This takes 10 minutes or more just to work with the dry ingredients, not counting the gathering and opening of containers, cleaning up inevitable spills, and putting things away. 

So Bob converted the set-up of dry ingredients to make it"external" to our Quaker pancake cooking process. That is, the only set-up that needs to happen right before cooking on pancake breakfast Sunday is the combining of the wet and dry ingredients. That combining remains as "internal" set-up in our current production system. 

Here's the external set-up:  All of the dry ingredients are premixed and assembled in plastic containers of the correct volume to correspond to the recipe. You can see a container of premixed and sifted dry ingredients ready to go in the blue topped container at the start of this blog. 

To prepare the batter takes less than four minutes, even less if the butter has been melted before mixing of ingredients begins. As the production bottleneck is the actual cooking of the batter on the griddles, people like me who are batter makers then can help the kids or wash dishes so that the kitchen is productive and cleaned up by noon. Given our production system, there’s no point of converting more internal set-up to external but as an exercise for the reader, what other set-up now internal could be converted to external? 


Shigeo Shingo first distinguished the notion of internal and external set-up. He discussed this concept at length, along with many other insights, in his book A Revolution in Manufacturing: The SMED System, Productivity Press, 1985, Cambridge, MA. SMED stands for “single minute exchange of die”, which enshrines the breakthroughs Shingo developed, culminating in the reduction in set-up time for a press at the Toyota Motor main plant in 1969 from hours to under 10 minutes--to "single" minutes needed change out the die set in the press. 

Clinic Application:  The week before Pancake Breakfast, I observed young patients in a dental clinic receiving services. Good dental practice calls for application of sealants to permanent molars, a process which takes several minutes. If the dental staff can provide this service while the patient is in the exam room (rather than needing to make a special additional appointment), that’s good for the patient and good for managing the clinic appointment schedule. To find the time for sealants during a standard exam appointment, applying the change concept "convert internal set-up to external set-up" can yield the minutes required.

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