Line up all of your tasks appropriately to lead to better efficiency.
In a recent phone conversation with a custom fabrication client I was hit with an age-old fabrication strategy that made me reflect on the differences in how we all do business. This particular job was one in which parts were being drop-shipped and wouldn’t arrive for a few days. When I informed the customer of the parts status without even thinking, he said, “Well you can go ahead and get started.” I informed him we do not start working on a job until we have all of the parts to do so. At this point it became clear that this made absolutely no sense to him. After a little more discussion we reached a delivery date and parted ways but it left me thinking.
In the course of one year we can have as many as 20 groups tour our facility and we have the chance to tour 20 or more other labs ourselves. It is a rare exception in the course of touring these other companies that we find a shop that has less than five jobs in progress per fabrication employee. The normal level appears to be more around 10 jobs per person in various stages of assembly all scattered throughout their shops. The stock answer we normally receive when we ask about this fact is that the people are efficient and are multi-tasking. So instead of standing around waiting, they keep moving forward and “getting things done.” Inversely people touring our company regularly comment on the clean and organized fashion in which we operate. When I explain our quality deviation is also under 1% they want our secret recipe for pulling this off.
The lab we run operates under principles of lean manufacturing. Under these principles we have a few primary operating philosophies; one of which is one job per person from start to finish.
With all of that said it might be of benefit to expound upon why we do it this way.
The main reason we assign one person to one job start to finish is quality and attention to details. This is the most important thing in our business and hopefully all other businesses as well. By scheduling in this fashion our technicians have the ability to concentrate on every aspect of the process and return the best product they are capable of producing.
A common sentiment when explaining this strategy is that, during periods of waiting, something else should be getting done. I completely agree. As a job is being staged we evaluate the order in which we do the fabrication to move as many of the tasks as possible to points where waiting may occur. We use techniques that minimize the amount of necessary waiting time. To acknowledge the skeptics, there are still steps that require waiting time when nothing else in the fabrication process fits into the space.
So now what? The answer to this question was one I was taught since childhood. The job is not done until you have cleaned up. During these few moments in a job when you feel you are at a standstill and that you should go get something done, look around. Is the area you are working in cleaned, stocked and organized? Are the tools you were using put away and ready for the next job? Have you collected all the parts for your current job and prepared them for assembly?
Each of these questions is another part of the job and contributes to the quality of the device and the business. It is hard to lose parts in clean, uncluttered areas. In this environment where tools are available and organized, consistency thrives. Problems with mixed up instructions, skipped steps and lost parts magically disappear when one job is completed at a time. Even if you produce absolutely flawless work in record time, following this process will make it better.