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Have factory, will travel

New virtual model factory offers anywhere, anytime learning

We have model factories in 11 cities around the globe. These learning environments help us help our clients build skills through hands-on experience.

Now, it doesn't matter where your company is located—with 3-D game technology, our model factories can come to you.

"When we were exploring the idea of building a model factory in New Delhi, India last year, clients were skeptical, saying it would be difficult to send employees en mass for training to the north of India," recalls Anil Sikka, master expert. "Also, would our factory be related to their particular process and industry? We realized we had to find a way to extend our physical model factories to benefit a wider set of clients."

The McKinsey team partnered with Dassault Systemes, a software company that provides process simulation platforms. In 6 months, we developed a virtual model factory using 3-D imaging technology. It looks and feels like a sophisticated video game, but instead of stalking enemies you are tracking down and eliminating bottlenecks, waste, variability, and other impediments to the smooth running of a factory. The virtual model factory reproduces an automotive plant complete with moving assembly lines, vehicles, operators, and robots. It can be configured in numerous ways to illustrate the concepts of lean manufacturing.

Participants wear 3-D glasses that are 5-6 times more powerful than the 3-D glasses handed out at cinemas. A big screen displays a scene from a factory showing a particular production problem. Using a video-game controller, participants can walk down the aisle of a plant, approach a machine to closely observe inefficiencies such as a bottleneck, move the operators around on the floor, and balance the work loads of an assembly line.

When the lights go up, the group brainstorms ways to make the production line more efficient and then gets to put their ideas into practice in the virtual environment. Did rearranging the order of the tasks across a line actually increase the output? Did changing the roles of the operators accelerate the speed of a line? Which had the best results? Each learning module incorporates insights developed from thousands of McKinsey engagements.

Five countries, 10 months, 15 clients

To date, the McKinsey team has completed 600 days of virtual-model-factory training—often in very remote locations. "We were in a desert town in Saudi Arabia, miles from the nearest airport. The training center had few amenities—so we used one of the walls for the screen and black paper to cover the windows...and the show went on," laughs Anil. "The participants had never had an opportunity for this type of learning before."

Will virtual model factories ultimately replace physical facilities? No, because they complement each other. For clients implementing large-scale skills development across a distributed workforce, the combination of virtual and physical learning environments can substantially accelerate progress. Early next year, our newest lean-manufacturing facility is due to open in Salvador, Brazil.

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