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The Shop Riddle

Here’s a riddle for your shop:

What has hands, but no arms? There isn’t a head, but there is a face without eyes. It can run, but never walks. What is it?

Answer: A clock of course!

Everyday in your shop, regardless of your size, time will always be against you. The better you manage your time, the more profitable your company will be. Have you ever stopped to think how your shop manages time in order to squeeze more into the day?

Probably. But I’ll also bet that it isn’t a continuous worry.

There is a huge correlation between time and money, and if you kept better track of the hidden time wasters you might make some changes to how your shop operates. Here are some tips to help you run your shop for better time conservation:

Accelerate
This could be the key to getting more handled today. You can accelerate how your jobs move throughout your shop with a few minor tweaks to how you write your work orders, layout your inventory or make production decisions.

For Work Orders make sure that all of the relevant information is included in the job packet. If anytime one of your crew has to stop and ask “Hey, what’s this mean?”; it is your alert that you are losing money. Instead of producing that job, they are spending ten minutes in your office trying to get the information that should have been on the order already. If someone can’t pick up your documentation and work on the job without consulting anyone, you don’t have enough info on that page.

Work Order instructions should be complete, with mock ups printed in color with exact dimension of key landmarks (center image on pocket, for example), exact Pantone colors for the ink or thread colors for embroidery, screen mesh to use, the print order on press including flashes and cool down stations, and all the production steps to fulfill the order including post production notes such as ship with another order or polybag the shirts. Even specific shipping instructions.

Sure, that’s a lot to cobble together and I’ll bet your sales and customer service reps will complain and moan about that they don’t know or understand these details. If your staff isn’t trained to write your work orders so they are production friendly, get them the training. This will have a doubling effect, as when sales and customer service have a deeper understanding of what’s involved in production, they will be able to charge correctly for the jobs you are running and also understand how much time the job should take to run.

This means less hassle in invoicing, as nobody will have to update the job to include that extra flash or get in an argument with a customer about adding an extra fee to print with the correct ink for nylon jackets. They will know upfront, like it should be. But only if you accelerate the process.

Automate
You can automate tasks in your shop and save labor dollars by investing in some updated equipment. For new production technology, such as an automated screen-coater, computer to screen system, using barcodes on work orders, or even a shop operating system…these can get scary to smaller shops. The funny thing is that you are already paying a chunk of this by doing these tasks manually. When tasks throughout the shop are automated, the labor that is deployed to complete that task can either be eliminated or reassigned for another purpose.

For example, let’s look at reclaiming screens. Arguably the worst job in the entire building. It’s like doing the dishes every day of your life. If you owned a Lotus Holland reclaiming system, you can just add the screens to the system and much like a car wash, they come out the other end ready to dry and coat. Not to mention you have better control of your reclaiming chemistry, and you can recycle and use less water in the process. If your shop goes through enough screens, the ROI on this type of system is less than three years. After that, that’s money that goes to the bottom line.

It doesn’t stop there. Any type of automation can help. It could be a program that allows your customer’s order to automatically drop into your system without any data entry. It could be a simple barcode printed at the bottom or top of your Work Order that will automatically bring up the right file for your staff to work on. It could be a timeclock system that allows your staff to use their handprint to clock in, and does your payroll for you in the cloud.

Automation can bring you to the next level as it allows you to do multiple things at once. How’s that for money savings?

Calibrate
How well is your shop dialed in? How accurate is your production schedule? Can you predict when a job will be ready to ship? If not, why?

Measuring and defining how long things should take is the key to standardizing and predicting your production. You should know these numbers so you can understand what’s happening on your floor. Think of it like a speedometer for your car.

By measuring and benchmarking your processes throughout your shop, you can establish a standard baseline for time. How long does it take a screen to be burned? How long should a job take to set up on press? How fast is the average production speed for each press? How much time does shipping need to process the orders so you can predict when the job must be completed to be shipped accurately?

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. How will you know if something is better unless you understand the present state? Sure, documenting these times and keeping production logs to compute these averages is mundane and boring work. You might even get some dirty looks from your crew if you are standing their with a stopwatch. However, this data is gold for building a continuous improvement program. Without data, you are just guessing.

Consolidate
Another great tip is to standardize the shop language used for commonly used terms. For example, what does “Full Front” mean to your company? If you did this exercise, everyone would know that it means an adult front print on a shirt that is 12” wide, printed three inches down from the bottom of the neck collar hem. 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.

I won’t kid you. This will take some time to do. First you have to get consensus on what the terms will be and what they mean. Then you have to train everyone to use them, and then hold them accountable for any mistakes made.

Your list of company terms could be a few pages long. You’ll also be constantly adding to it as you solve problems or take on new tasks. These will be every day shop terms and could affect multiple departments. “Pull From Stock” could mean use a Gildan G-2000 if that’s your go-to shirt in inventory. “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 the other order is complete so both orders can ship together.

Designate
What a smoother workflow out in the shop? Designate where things should be.

Use industrial strength floor tape and mark off where boxes and skids should line up next to the press. Have areas where ink, thread or other supplies should be placed. Line up items by their name or number, and keep it that way. If you organize and get the shop clean and neat, finding that bucket of PMS 4508 or the missing cone of Lipstick red thread won’t be such a scavenger hunt next time.

Another great tip for burned screens is to organize and rack them not by the job number, but by the amount of colors for the jobs. Screens for one color jobs are on one shelf, screens for two color jobs are on another, and so forth. Each screen group is labeled with tape with the job number, name, ship date, and total number of screens. Rush orders are placed separately closest to the floor. Segregating your screens this way minimizes the amount of time spent searching for the right ones.

Illuminate
Bring attention to problems by making it easier to solve them. Mount inexpensive fire department type bubble lights on tall poles next to the presses. When a print crew has a question, needs approval, is running out of white ink in their underbase screen, or needs a manager; that light gets turned on. The press doesn’t stop. The answers come to them.

You can also call attention to other things in your shop too. Critical jobs can be in a different colored job jacket, or simply printed on yellow paper. Some shops use an automated system that can be searchable. Just add a $ in the PO field for rush or important jobs. Either of these ideas highlights the need to “work on me first”. These jobs go instantly to the head of the line in every department. If your staff is trained on these systems, you don’t have to have a meeting to discuss that rush job that’s coming in; everyone will already know what to do.

Innovate
In closing, you don’t have to be an innovator…but you should think like one. A lot of shops get stuck in the illusion of safety in the daily routine. “It’s how we’ve always done it.” That mentality can be your downfall.

A better mindset is one of continuous improvement. You should always be searching for a better performing ink, emulsion, equipment or process. How can you improve your workflow or train your staff to be more efficient?

How can you do the same thing as yesterday, but with less steps or people? Stand in the middle of your shop and watch your crews work. What is holding them back? What simple thing could make their job easier or completed two minutes faster. Those minutes add up.

Remember, time always equals money.

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