Impressive takt time

Departments - Editor’s page

Subscribe
May 31, 2019

First off, a caveat. The publishers of Today’s Motor Vehicles, its parent company GIE Media, and its editor do not support theft or other criminal activity against automotive dealers. With that out of the way, investigators in Louisiana need to track down the criminals who stole 124 car wheels from a Chevrolet dealership in late April to figure out their astonishing efficiency.

In less than 45 minutes, thieves removed all four wheels from 31 vehicles, concentrating mainly on trucks and crossovers with valuable 20" tire and wheel assemblies. That works out to 21 seconds per wheel to remove the lug nuts and wheel and put it in the U-Haul van brought along for the 3 a.m. heist. Formula 1 race teams can hit those speeds – with 20 people surrounding the car instead of two.

While police focus on how the criminals defeated security systems and scour the site for physical evidence that may identify the perpetrators, I want to know the hows. How did two people move nearly 3,500 lb of material in less than an hour? How did they know how to load their rental truck so expertly while moving at such a torrid pace? Did they use 3D visualization and simulation software to optimize their efficiency? Given how tightly cars were crammed together on the lot in police photos and videos, how did the thieves get their jacks and tools in those narrow rows without damaging the vehicles?

While most of my interest is morbid curiosity, there could be some real lessons in logistics and efficiency. For an industry that prides itself on manpower optimization, I can’t imagine I’m the only one thinking that these criminals missed their calling as clipboard-carrying industrial engineers.

Matt Bowers, owner of the Matt Bowers Slidell Chevrolet dealership, estimates the thieves stole $120,000 in wheels and tires in 45 minutes. He’s offering a $25,000 reward for their capture. Due to the efficiency and professionalism (altering lighting to hide what was going on, moving security cameras), police suspect experienced, organized crime involvement. Police also identified two similarly brazen thefts in Oklahoma and Texas, raising the specter of an organized crew working in a tri-state area.

So, despite the somewhat flippant response above, this is a serious crime, and police are investigating. However, I’m not entirely joking when I ask how these criminals developed and honed their methods. Industries often learn from criminals. Frank Abagnale Jr., the forger played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Steven Spielberg’s “Catch Me if You Can,” consulted with law enforcement, banks, and other businesses after serving his sentence. Some of the best cybersecurity advisers in the world are former hackers who learned about protection from breaking other peoples’ protections.

Years from now, this wheel theft could be the opening sequence in a movie about the people who revolutionized material handling in manufacturing plants. But clearly, we won’t know what we can learn until police catch them, putting an end to the crime spree.