I said, “You should run your shop like an airport”

I Said, "You Should Run Your Shop Like An Airport"

I said to him, “You should run your shop like an airport.”

Not in the “overpriced-cardboard food-afraid to touch anything way”…but in the aspect that some airports manage over 2,500 flights in and out a day.

If you stop and think about how logistically everything fits together, despite a gazillion variables that could go wrong, an airport is really a miracle of strategic thinking. And, the perfect metaphor for a blog article!

Let’s take a look and not cancel this flight due to bad weather!

Ba bomp bump.

The Secret to Scheduling

Whether you like it or not, your seventh-grade math teacher was on to something. “A plane is leaving Atlanta and traveling west to Dallas. If the plane travels at 550 mph, and the distance between Atlanta and Dallas is 800 miles, how many hours will the trip take?”

I hated those word problems. Still do.

However, that’s the secret behind getting your production schedule on track.

How long things take.

The answer, by the way, is 1.45 hours. But, the airline won’t commit to that. They are going to add in time on the ground waiting to take-off, some time fighting the wind, maneuvering in air, landing, and getting to the next gate.

Call it 2.5 hours.

When the plane arrives at the airport, and noses up to the gate, that’s when they unload the plane of passengers and luggage, clean, refuel, and prepare for the next flight.

Which will probably start boarding in about 45 minutes or an hour. The more flights that they can turn in a day, the more money the airline can make.

Just like your shop.

Think About Your Orders

I want you to now consider the jobs in your shop and pretend they are flights.

Flight number one is the first job of the day. Is it ready to go the moment your crew walks in? Do they even know what to do?

Being unprepared is like that flight arriving at the airport, and a gate hasn’t been assigned yet. Passengers sit there on the tarmac fuming because they have a connection to hit. The airport not being organized has caused a delay.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

Just like your crew that didn’t stage jobs yesterday for today’s production. That morning scramble costs you valuable production time. Now, will everything make the UPS truck? It’s anyone’s guess.

Trust me, I’ll bet you’ve been there.

A good test to see how organized your shop is for the morning startup is to measure and chart what is the time that each press or piece of equipment completely decorates their first shirt of the day.

If your shop starts at 6:30 am, is it 6:40 am or after 7:00 am?

If you really want to freak out, annualize that amount of ineffective time.

Let’s say that’s twenty minutes daily per machine that you are losing in your start-up routine. By the way, I’m being generous. It’s probably worse.

See below to get a knot in your stomach.

Twenty Minutes Can Add Up

20 minutes x 5 days x 4 weeks x 12 months = 4,800 minutes or 80 hours.

At 400 impressions per hour for an average auto screen printing press = that’s 32,000 impressions that could have been printed.

At 60 impressions per hour for an average manual screen printing press = 4,800 impressions that could have been printed.

At an average of 8,000 stitches per logo at 800 stitches per minute, that is 480 shirts you could have embroidered.

At an average of 35 impressions per hour for a basic DTG printer = 2,800 impressions you could have printed.

At an average of 20 impressions per hour for a heat press = 1,600 shirts that you could have decorated.

Airport Organization

So what happens at an airport?

First, they try to be ready. They know when and what flights are coming in. However, there are unexpected delays. Weather. Mechanical problems. A flight crew is delayed and can’t be there on time to meet the plane for the next flight. Sometimes just bad luck.

Just like in your shop.

Garments don’t show up. Art doesn’t get approved. Your printer or embroiderer is sick. Nobody ordered gold ink or the right embroidery stabilizer. Sometimes just bad luck happens too.

Air Traffic Controller

At the airport, they have an air traffic controller. This person, or actually persons, controls and designates the action. Using the information available, they decide what has to happen and will start the chain reaction for the trained crew to implement.

If they need more information to make a judgment call, they will reach out to an airplane in the air, or someone at the airport to help them comprehend the circumstances better.

From there, they make the best, most logical decision they can…and move on.

Do You Have An Air Traffic Controller?

In your shop, who is calling the shots? What information are they using? Is it accurate?

How are their organizational skills?

Just because they were appointed manager or are a fantastic printer, doesn’t make them good a figuring out the daily scheduling puzzle.

Remember our seventh-grade math word problem? Your schedule runs just like that.

For each decoration location production event, you can determine roughly how long it should take to run any order.

  • How many?
  • What is the average for that machine?
  • How long to set up?
  • How long to break it down and get ready for the next job?

Do the math. Jot down your estimate on how long it will take to run that first order.

Then, do the math on the next order. And then the next. After you have all of your time estimates for all of the orders on your plate, simply stack them up like airplane flights arriving at a gate at the airport.

Schedule and Print This Today For Tomorrow

For each and every work group on your production floor, schedule out the work today for tomorrow.

Only schedule jobs that can be completed. Orders with missing inventory, unapproved artwork, or any other problems are pushed off to another day.

That’s like an airplane flight that was scheduled for tomorrow but failed to take off. We’ll worry about that another day. Just like the air traffic controller.

They only deal in reality, not “what ifs.” And by “what ifs” I mean, “What if the goods show up?” or “What if the art gets approved?”

Any good air traffic controller would tell you that they would deal with that scenario when it happens. But in the meantime, there are dozens of other orders that need attention.

Get those out first before you worry about any “what ifs” that aren’t even on your radar yet.

Daily Action At Your Airport

Every single day around lunchtime, push out tomorrow’s schedule for each piece of equipment. Sort these in order that you want the jobs to run.

If you are looking for a way to priorize, I always do it in this order:

Rush, Late, Today, Tomorrow.


Rush jobs always have to be completed first. Don’t argue with it, just do it. Even better is getting today’s Rush orders completed yesterday.


Late jobs can’t get later. After you knock out the Rush orders, tackle those late orders that have stacked up.


After you have produced Rush and Late jobs, then you can get busy doing jobs that are scheduled to run today.


Only after Rush, Late, and Today’s jobs are complete can you jump ahead and start on jobs that are scheduled for a future day.

“I just got back from a pleasure trip; I took my mother-in-law to the airport.” – Henny Youngman

“You are only as good as your last haircut.” – Fran Lebowitz

“No man has a good enough memory to be a successful liar.” – Abraham Lincoln

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