Warning!  There is a Thief in Your Shop!

Warning! There is a Thief in Your Shop! - Marshall Atkinson

Don’t look now, but you are being robbed blind and you don’t even know it.  This particular thief is sneaky, devious, and is virtually invisible.

If you could somehow make out the face of this culprit, would you recognize it?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Here’s a tip: the thief has hands, but no arms.  He lacks a head but has a face without eyes.  He can run but never walks.  Sound familiar yet?

The thief is time and looks like a clock.

Every day in your shop, regardless of size, time is against you.  The better you manage your time, the more profitable the company will be.  Have you ever stopped to think about how your shop manages time or squeezes more into the day?

Probably.  Does this happen continuously?  Probably not.

If you kept better track of hidden time wasters though, maybe you could see the correlation between time and money.  This is worth training your staff to recognize it too.

Here are some thoughts on managing and saving time in your shop.  After all, time’s a wastin’…let’s get to it!

Accelerate – you can accelerate how jobs move throughout your shop in just how you write your work orders, layout your inventory, or make production decisions.  

Think about your work orders.  Every time a machine has to stop so the operator can ask “Hey, what’s this mean?”; it means that you are losing money on that job because the work order wasn’t filled out with enough information for the production staff to make good decisions.

Salespeople are notorious for not getting all the information into the system, and just handing off an incomplete order for someone else to figure out or follow up on.  Don’t let that happen.  An order isn’t a complete order until EVERYTHING is filled out.  Make work order instructions idiot proof and your shop will move faster.

Work orders should have complete instructions on what to do, mockups printed in color with exact dimensions of key landmarks (center image on pocket, for example), exact Pantone colors for ink or thread colors for embroidery, screen mesh to use, the print order on press including flashes and cool down stations, and all production steps needed to fulfill the order including post-production notes such as to ship with another order or polybag the shirts, even specific shipping instructions.

It’s a lot of work to cobble that together, but this has to happen in the front office.  If your staff isn’t trained to write your work orders so they are production friendly, get them the training.  This will also have a doubling effect, as sales and customer service will have a deeper understanding of what it takes to produce that order, so they will charge correctly for the jobs you are running.

That’s the goal, right?  To make money?

Automate – you can automate tasks in your shop and save labor by investing in some updated equipment.  Most smaller shops just look at a big price tag on newer equipment, such as an automated screen-coater, computer to screen system, using barcodes on work orders, or even a better shop operating system.  When tasks throughout the shop are automated, the labor that is deployed to complete that task can be either eliminated or reassigned for another purpose.

For example, let’s review the return on investment in using a computer to screen system.  Using a simple pad of paper, track the time you are spending on imaging your screens for each order for a week or two.  Throw that information on a spreadsheet, and use your labor rate per hour for that worker that’s imaging and exposing the screens.  Assume that the results are a weekly average, and multiply that out by 52 weeks.  That’s roughly what you are spending per year on that one step.

Now, let’s take the new M&R STE computer to screen system into our calculation on the spreadsheet.  It can image and expose a screen in under a minute.  Use that information for the same number of jobs, and multiply the labor on the spreadsheet the same way.  You’ll see that your cost is dramatically less.  Multiply that out by 52 as well.  What you’ll find is that you’ll have more hours in a day to image and expose more screens, or your screen room worker could be redeployed in your shop to do something else.  For some shops automating a step like this makes tremendous sense, as they will reduce their labor costs while completing more work.  If you are burning 50-100+ screens a day it might be worth it to you.

Another factor here is that the screens are now registered completely to each other, and can be set up faster on press using the Tri-Loc jig.  This saves even more time and money.  Using one automated device can have a multiplying effect on how fast your shop can get jobs set up and running.

Calibratehow well are you dialed in?  Do you actively measure how long it takes to do each step?  How accurate is your production schedule?  Can you predict when a job will be ready to ship?  If not, why?  Keep track of time or at the very least, understand how long each step in your core processes will take from start to finish.

If you are behind, what are you doing to get caught up?  If you are working ahead, do you feel your shop slowing down or getting on cruise control?  You should know your averages per machine and per crew, so you can understand what’s happening on the floor.  Think of it like a speedometer of your car.

By measuring and benchmarking your processes throughout the shop, you can establish a baseline for improvement.

How will you know if something is better unless you understand the present state?  Sure, it’s a lot of mundane and boring work.  You might even get some dirty looks from your crew if you are standing there with a stopwatch.  However, this data is gold for using it for a continuous improvement project or process change initiative.  Without the data, you are just guessing.

Also, I’ll bet if you haven’t been keeping track of production numbers with a log, or timing people for a task…when you start doing it you’ll see that people are suddenly moving faster.

Consolidate – Another great tip is to standardize your shop language on often used terms.  For example, what does “left sleeve print” mean to your company?  If you did this exercise, everyone would know it means a 3.5” wide image, printed 1” up from the bottom of the hem, centered on the left sleeve.  Consolidating the language this way moves everyone towards the goal faster.  Salespeople, customer service reps, artists, production crews…everyone can be on the same page.

This takes some time to do.  First, you have to get everyone to agree on what terms should be used and what they mean.  Then you have to train everyone, and hold them accountable for using them.

Your list of company terms could be a few pages long.  It’s ok.  You use these terms every day, so use them to organize your shop towards a common language.  This could affect multiple departments.  “Pull From Stock” could mean use a Gildan G-2000 if that’s your main go-to shirt on hand.  “Shop Red” could mean PMS 186.  “Ship With” could mean hold this job, place it on a skid in the corner, add a label to it, and wait until another order is complete until both orders ship together.

Delegate – Need a bunch of stuff done today?  Why are you doing it all?  Delegate the items that you can and have everything finish at once!  Who cares who does this stuff as long as it gets completed correctly?

Just make sure you give good instructions and expectations on what you want.  Warning: some people may do it differently than you.  That’s ok.  As long as the final result is correct, nobody will really care in the long run.

Delegation is also the perfect opportunity to test your staff for leadership opportunities.  Let your lead printer handle the Saturday shift by himself.  Hand off all the walk-in traffic quotes to a customer service rep.  Put that millennial hire in charge of your social media marketing.  Delegation is how you grow your company in skill, experience and be set for scaling in the future.

DesignateWant a smoother workflow out in the shop?  Designate where things should be.  Remember that mental picture of how craftsman used to paint the silhouette of a tool on a pegboard so they could tell if something was missing?  When everything was there, it was the neatest, cleanest, most organized space around.  

Do the same thing with your shop.  Use industrial strength colored floor tape and mark off where boxes and skids should go next to the press.  Have areas where ink, thread or other supplies should be.  If you keep the shop clean and neat, finding that bucket of PMS 4508 or the missing cone of Lipstick Red won’t be such a chore next time.

Have shelving next to the screen room, and designate space and organize by how many screens are needed for orders.  Label burned screens with masking tape with the Work Order number, Job Name and Due Date written on them.  Jobs that only have one screen are here.  Jobs with two screens are here, and so forth.  Rush orders are closest to the floor.  When it comes time to pull the screens for staging, locating the screens is simple and you don’t waste time searching.

Eliminate – excuses.  “We didn’t know what to do next…”  Keep about a day and a half’s worth of work staged next to any equipment at all times.  Make sure the work order, shirts, screens, ink or thread is staged together in what I call a “kit pack”.  This is everything the crew needs to run the job.  Just how much money do you think you are losing when you have a press operator hunting around the screen room for that missing PMS 375 screen for ten minutes?  At 400 shirts an hour, the crew could have printed 66 shirts.  How many orders a day in production are you losing because your floor management isn’t staging jobs to push more through the pipe a day?

Always make it easy for your crew to do the right thing, and hard to do it wrong.

When a problem comes up, and they always do, use it as an opportunity to create a plan to eliminate the issue from occurring again.  Discuss your new idea with everyone and get feedback.  Try it out.  Remember, shoot bullets not cannonballs.  Before you have global change, make sure it works first with a few test cases.  Tweak anything that isn’t working perfectly and then roll it out for everyone.

Fabricate – the things you need or the tools that can help you.  Build your own work tables that are at the right dimensions and height for easy work.  If you use plastic applicators to apply the waterbased glue to the press platens, use a magnet and tape it to the card so it will stick to the metallic side of the press control box so you don’t have to hunt for it every time.   

Wasting time looking for clean squeegees?  Build a squeegee rack and put it on the wall behind the cleaning station.

Lots of shops build their own work carts that are big enough and sturdy enough to hold 500+ shirts, plus screens and ink underneath.  Someone gets everything ready and this is all rolled up to the press and staged for the operator to run the job.  No time is wasted looking for the things needed for the next job, or even laying out the stock.  It’s all handled for the press crew, so they can continually get jobs produced.

Illuminate – the need for help.  Mount cheap electrical fire department type lights on tall poles next to the presses.  When an operator needs approval for a job, has a question for a manager, or needs someone to load more white in the underbase screen; that light gets turned on.  The press doesn’t stop.

You can also call attention to other things in your shop too.  Important jobs can be in a different colored job jacket or simply are printed with yellow paper.  Some shops that use automated systems just add a $ in the PO field, as that’s searchable.  Whether you use colored paper or jackets, or $ symbols in your system, they only mean one thing and that’s “work on me first”.  These jobs instantly go to the head of the line.  If your staff is trained this way, you don’t have to have a meeting to discuss that rush job that’s coming in.  Everyone will instantly know and get to work on it.

Innovate – no, you don’t have to be in an inventor…but you have to think like one.  I think a lot of shops get stuck in the daily routine.  There is the illusion of safety there.  Here’s how we’ve always done it.  That mentality can be your downfall.  

A better way to run your shop is to have the spirit that you are on a continuous improvement journey.  You should always be looking out for a better performing consumable like ink, emulsion or equipment.   Your shop should always be talking about improving the workflow and pushing more out the door today than you did yesterday.

How can we do the same thing, but do it with less steps or people?  Stand in the middle of you shop and really open your eyes and look.  Watch how people work.  Do they have to walk around something to complete a task?  Like a rock in a river, the water has to flow around it.  What if you removed that rock?  Your flow is better.

Incorporate – these ideas.  I get it.  Change is sometimes hard.  You are used to doing it a certain way.  But if that way uses more time than another way, why stick to it?

If you change something, in a few days that new normal will just be the way you do things…but it will take less time.  Which means you are more efficient and profitable.  

Remember, time always equals money.


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