Avoiding bottlenecks: Managing an efficient shop

August 1, 2006
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Where are you focusing your time and energy in your business? One consideration that is often overlooked is evaluating your shop efficiency. By enhancing your shop's efficiency, you could reap literally hundreds of dollars per job, all while increasing volume and reducing fixed costs.

Where do you begin? Complete a flow chart diagram of your business efficiency. Remember, your product output capability equals the weakest point of your operations. Sometimes the weakest link is your equipment and other times the bottleneck may be in other areas of your business such as order entry or templating.

By conducting time studies on each of your areas of production, you will be able to determine the location of your bottleneck - which are limiting your operation's overall fabricating capacity. While doing a time study, there are 14 major areas of your production, as noted on the chart above.

Involve your employees

Before you conduct a time study of your operations, it is critical to get your employees involved in the process. Schedule a meeting to discuss your goals on improving the operations and how it will impact them as employees. You might be surprised how eager they are to show you what needs to be improved. If you don't involve your employees in the process, they may wonder what you are doing standing by them and clocking their every move.

After you have engaged the employees in the process and they are on board, it is time to conduct the time studies. There are many different ways to conduct time studies. One option is to have each employee write down their start and stop times of each task. This can be very tedious work. Another easy time management study is to break the day down into a series of random observations. At those random times, go out and do an observation of what the employees are doing. How much time is being spent at the bridge saw? Are slabs sitting idle at various stations? For one to two weeks, randomly observe your operations and take notes. At the end, you can compile the percentage of time spent on each of the 14 tasks. This will give you a good indication of which areas of your business you will need to do more study on.

If you are not comfortable conducting time studies of your facility, there are two options - hire an outside consultant or contact a college in the area. Many times, engineering and management students are eagerly looking for “real life” experiences where they can apply their “book knowledge” to real business situations. And they are given guidance by professionals who conduct time studies.

Evaluating where bottlenecks are between processes can allow you to shift your employees or process - thus creating a better balance of work. You can eliminate overburden in areas while creating an even flow of work. Running a “lean” fabrication business will result in greater productivity and higher efficiency. For example, let's say that a 60-square-foot countertop job had originally taken you 12 hours to fabricate and install, which includes all of the 14 points noted above. If you were able to reduce the time by just four hours, this has allowed your company to potentially sell 30% more countertops. That's money that directly goes to your bottom line.

Take the time to conduct a shop efficiency time study. It will be one of the best business evaluations that you can do to help you business grow and prosper.

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