Getting Lean: Optimizing Your Processes
Below is an excerpt from my book, “Made to Make It: A Guide To Screen Printing Success.” Learn helpful tips and tricks on how to run a screen printing business.
Screen printing is a process, which means there are always opportunities to improve. At Ryonet, we follow a practice called “lean manufacturing” or “lean production,” which is loosely based on the Toyota Production System (TPS), made famous in the book “The Toyota Way.” This approach—pioneered by the founder of Toyota, Sakichi Toyoda, his son Kiichiro Toyoda, and the engineer Taiichi Ohno between 1948 and 1975—focuses on continuously eliminating waste until all that remains is whatever adds value. The objectives of the TPS are to design out overburden (Muri) and inconsistency (Mura), and to eliminate waste (Muda) of any form.
The term “lean” in reference to the concepts of the TPS was coined in the early 1990’s. Lean mostly differs from TPS in its interpretation of how the goal of eliminating waste (and, therefore, creating value) is achieved.
Lean Concept #1: Eliminate Waste
If you don’t organize your operation in the right way—a screen printing business can produce a whole lot of waste. Product waste is the most obvious: garments, inks, chemicals. But what about waste in movement? If you go into any basic screen printing shop, you will see everyone running everything like chickens with their heads cut off. How can you avoid this? By putting the tools people need to do their jobs at their fingertips, and by organizing workflows to move forward in a single, continuous direction. Ideally, all of your jobs should flow on pathways so well-defined that a new employee can quickly learn not just their own role, but get quick visibility into how the entire process works.
Lean Concept 2: Add Customer Value
One thing that I like about the lean methodology is that it is built to add value to your customer. Lean challenges you to ask yourself at every decision-making juncture—does this enhance value? Is it something a customer would want to pay for? If not, it must either be altered or eliminated as waste.
Making additional screens for a long run job, before its start, is a great example of a production decision that adds customer value. Let me explain. Although initially, it may seem wasteful to create screens that you may not need—those screens provide you with an insurance policy that will protect you from lost productivity and production delays should your screen break down. Additionally, having backup screens prevents you from pushing the boundaries of your screen, which could cause product waste or, worse, result in errors. The time it takes to make that one extra screen in advance is negligible in comparison to the value it adds by ensuring the quality, consistency, and timeliness of the final product.
Here’s another example. Your client wants a white and color print on a dark shirt. Instead of making two screens for the white, you decide to double hit the white with a second rotation. While this may work well for a small run job, or if you are limited on press space, for a long run job it takes 50% longer to produce and it creates a thicker print for your customer, which is less desirable. You may think you just saved yourself a screen, but you didn’t add value to your client.
Lean Concept 3: Continuously Improve
We hit upon this idea earlier; it’s one of our company values—“Be the Best at Being Better.” Making room for improvement isn’t just a best practice for lean production, it’s a best practice for your life. If you can make this concept part of how you run your business and your culture at large, you’re already halfway there. Imagine how much better everything can be, if your whole team is working to make it so. The best part is that it never ends, you can always improve.
So, how do you ingrain the quest for improvement within your culture? Here are a few things I’ve seen work wonders:
Lead by Example:
Be the person who doesn’t settle; who always looks for better ways to do things; who tries new ideas to create change; who asks the question “what could we do differently next time?”
Go where the work happens, aka MBWA (Management by Walking Around). Have your meetings on the floor. Walk the shop and look for improvement opportunities, and, when you see one, ask your team member about the result they are getting and what they could do better or differently.
Make Work Fun:
Give employees a reason to want to be better at what they do. Develop contests and games; form teams; keep track of points, and celebrate wins. If work is a game and the game is fun, your team will automatically look for opportunities to make (or play) the game better.
Lean Concept 4: Measure and Manage
Measure it. What gets measured gets managed. Putting metrics around something makes it more real (and important) to the people around you. Imagine watching or playing a basketball or football game without a scoreboard. If it would be hard for you to follow as a spectator, picture how hard it would be for the teams to know what they should do next! The same goes for work.
If you can find a way to measure something, do it. Your measurements should be easy to understand; visible, and current at all times. For example:
- Shirts per hour
- Shirts per day
- Shirts since the last misprint
Other Companies are Operating Lean
These are just a few examples of items that you can measure to track the success of your screen printing shop. In selecting your own Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), make sure that you can link them back to your company goals and vision.
Ryonet isn’t the only screen printing company thinking (and operating) lean. Check out what one of our partners had to say on the topic:
“When you think ‘lean,’ the first thing that might come to mind is the actual production line—eliminating garment waste, or ink, and so on. But that’s not how we think about lean. We get lean by investing in our people. Giving them the tools to continuously improve, and the time to do so. And that time doesn’t even have to be spent on screen printing activities. Take a look at the big tech companies. They create spaces for their employees to relax, and get creative. Often, those places are where the big ideas happen. We’re trying to do the same—empowering our folks to take mental breaks, to make room for that one idea that will change the game for us and add value to our customers, while also making for happier employees.”
– Kevin Corcoran, Co-founder of Forward Printing
Like what you read? Get more great business tips on running a screen printing business from my book, “Made to Make It: A Guide To Screen Printing Success.”