GxP Lifeline

A Q&A About the North Pole’s Manufacturing

It might seem like Santa Clause would live an easy life for most of the year. After all, he only has to work one night a year, right? As it turns out, that’s not exactly true. “Work for next year’s toys begins on December 26,” Mrs. Clause said. “Given how many children there are in the world and how much we deliver each year, he needs that full year to get it done.” To help with the process, Santa Clause recently purchased a manufacturing solution to complement the quality management system (QMS) he already has. We sat down with the jolly old elf to ask him a few questions about the transition and the future.

Q: Can you explain a bit about what manufacturing is like at the North Pole?

A: Certainly. Historically we’ve used a paper-based system, but that didn’t make sense as technology evolved and our demand increased. We also used to be more high volume/low variety manufacturing. Back in the day, children’s toys were much simpler. There weren’t as many options, so a lot of children would write to me asking for the same thing. Things are different now. We don’t just have increased demand, we have increased variety. So instead of high volume/low variety we’re dealing with the opposite — low volume/high variety. And with a bigger population, we have more toys to make than ever.

Q: Is that what led you to purchase MasterControl Manufacturing Excellence?

A: Not exactly. You see, we didn’t start with Manufacturing Excellence. The elves were complaining about production and one of them mentioned a manufacturing execution system (MES) might be able to solve our problem. On the surface it seemed like a great solution and I know for a lot of manufacturers it is. But in the North Pole it just didn’t make sense. We purchased a well-known solution, implemented it, and then the complaints started coming in. The elves sat through a lot of training, but the solution just wasn’t intuitive. And it was really meant more for high volume/low variety manufacturing. Fifty years ago or so it would’ve been perfect. But after go-live we realized it wasn’t a match for us. We needed something else to make it work.

Q: And that’s when you started looking for another solution?

A: Exactly. The elves had proposed the MES, so I suggested they should be the ones to find a new solution. They’re the ones actually working on the shop floor, so they needed to be committed to whatever choice we made. We were on a time crunch, too. It was already about halfway through the year when we realized the MES wasn’t helping as much as we’d hoped. I mean, we still had scrolls of paper and quills being used on the shop floor and that was the opposite of what we were going for. So, we sent a few elves out to find a solution and they came back with Manufacturing Excellence.

Q: And Manufacturing Excellence was a better fit?

A: Absolutely! And it’s really saving us this year. I was sure whatever solution the elves came up with wouldn’t be implemented in time to help us this Christmas. But I was wrong. Our implementation time was just under three months and all the elves picked up on how to use it very quickly. We try to anticipate children’s demand for certain toys, but we’re never spot on. And Manufacturing Excellence really helps us adjust our production quickly, so we don’t have a lot of waste and don’t fall behind. The elves are less stressed, I’m less stressed, it’s really been a great solution for everyone. We’re actually a little ahead of schedule this year because we don’t have to spend so much time correcting errors and reviewing each batch before release. The software automatically corrects our errors and with review by exception, I’ve already started loading up the sleigh. Normally we’re reviewing batches up until the 24th.

Q: What do you think’s in the future for the North Pole?

A: As I mentioned, we try to anticipate demand each year, but that’s not very accurate. What I’m really interested in is predictive analytics. If I could get a solution that’d tell me exactly what items are going to be most in demand next and year and how many I’ll need — that’d be perfect. Some of what you can do with manufacturing and quality data is very promising too. Really, I’m just excited for the future and how our manufacturing can become even better in the coming years.


Sarah Beale is a content marketing specialist at MasterControl in Salt Lake City, where she writes white papers, web pages, and is a frequent contributor to the company’s blog, GxP Lifeline. Beale has been writing about the life sciences and health care for over five years. Prior to joining MasterControl she worked for a nutraceutical company in Salt Lake City and before that she worked for a third-party health care administrator in Chicago. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in business administration from DeVry University.

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