Sunday, May 10, 2020

Optimizing Sandwich-making to feed the Hungry

Over the past two months, my family made 200 sandwiches each week for the hungry who were impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside of the New York/New Jersey area in the US, the Boston area is the next hardest hit by the coronavirus.  Many people in the underserved community lost their jobs and their ability to earn income. As the US doesn’t provide the same level of support as most European countries, there are many lacking food security. This is where my family wanted to help. The idea of helping the hungry was really the brainchild of my wife, through one of her friends. I am merely a cog to ensure the manufacturing of the sandwiches are optimized. 

When we started to make sandwiches, I immediately wanted a manufacturing line with the least number of bottlenecks to optimize the speed of making sandwiches. Sounds a bit geeky?  Yeah, that's who I am, that's what I do.  Per the illustration, we created 5 stations.
  • Station 1 is where multiple bags of bread was opened up. 
  • Station 2 is where scoops of egg salad are placed into pieces of bread. 
  • Station 3 is where the scoop of egg salad is spread across the bread and a top piece is added to form a sandwich.
  • Station 4 is where the sandwich is cut. 
  • Station 5 is where the sandwiches are stacked into trays.

In the first increment of the process, I opened the bags of bread in station 1 and put the scoop of egg salad on the bread in station 2.  In station 3, my younger daughter spread the egg salad and pieced the sandwich together. In station 4, my older daughter cut the sandwich and in station 5, my wife put the sandwiches in the tray, sealed the trays when they were filled, and staged the next tray.

After reflecting on how we did in the first increment, I realized that I may be the bottleneck as I had to open bags of bread in station 1, scoop egg salad in station 2, and pass that to station 3 where my daughter would sometimes be waiting.  For the next increment (i.e., the next week), we adapted a little bit for better flow.  This time my wife opened up the bags of bread in station 1, and I then could focus my effort in station 2.  This improvement helped reduce the overall time by 10% to create the 200 sandwiches. 

Upon approaching the third increment (i.e., the third week), I recognized with the adaption during the second increment, the bottleneck moved to station 3 where the spreading occurred which left the sandwich cutter in station 4 occasionally waiting.  For the third increment, not only would I scoop the egg salad onto the bread in station 2, I would occasionally spread it when I saw station 4 low on sandwiches to cut.  This helped us optimize flow and reduce the overall delivery time by another 8% by identifying bottlenecks and addressing wait states.

While it is an exercise in optimizing flow which gets my geeky side excited, overall it is really about feeding the underserved community during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud of my wife and family for having the motivation and charitable spirit of making sandwiches that helps feed the many hungry families.  

To learn more about optimizing flow for faster delivery, visit Value Flow Quality at:


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