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Polishing Production for Greater Profit

(July 2003) posted on Tue Aug 12, 2003

Create a larger and more immediate impact on the bottom line by focusing on optimizing your current processes and procedures.

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By Carol Swift, Peter Kiddell

You'll repeat the walk several times. On your first trip through the facility, just look and absorb what you see. Imagine you are the most persnickety customer your company deals with and seeing the facility for the first time. Don't forget to smile and exchange pleasantries with the staff, because your people will help save you a great deal of money by the end of the day. During the first circuit, tell the supervisors or line managers that you will come around again and will talk to them and their staff. Make notes of impressions that you gain during this preparatory viewing. First impressions are very useful.

Remember the simple fact that your very presence on the production floor may alter the behavior of workers. You will have to take this into account as you assess the operation.

Your initial impressions will help you identify areas that need particular attention on your next circuit. This time as you make the walk, stop to talk to the people doing the work. Do the job descriptions of workers match the functions that they perform? If not, why? Could their job instructions and performance be improved? What prevents them from performing their functions more efficiently? It may be something simple like a tape dispenser not working or a knife being too dull. Perhaps the room is too cold or too hot. Perhaps discomfort from poor seating or lack of shock-absorbing floor mats is slowing them down. Or maybe their work area is poorly organized. Could they benefit from shelving or storage space at their work site to facilitate rapid replenishment of the production supplies they use? Is the tie up caused by paperwork that could be simplified or processed automatically? What are the simple things you can do to make everyone work easier, smarter, and more effectively?

Screen printing is best performed as a clean process. If your production area is dirty, you are essentially hemorrhaging profits. An unclean workplace leads to dirty substrates, pinholes in stencils, pinholes in prints, contaminated inks, UV-curing units with dirty reflectors, the need to use solvent-based cleaners excessively, increased waste disposal costs, a surplus of health and safety issues, high reject levels, increased downtime, and other negative side effects.

For healthy profitability in this competitive era, your business needs to adopt a zero-defect mentality. Don't kid yourself into believing a particular reject rate is acceptable because it "used to be worse." Those days are long past. Also note that we're talking about eliminating rejects in-house. Rejects that make it as far as the customer are unthinkable.

Machine downtime is another killer of profitability. Look at your machine-operating times and calculate the capacity of output they should be delivering. Ideally, the figure should match the production number your plant actually achieves. However, you'll probably find that there will be a significant difference, with far less product being generated than should be.

When you purchased the machine, you were quoted production rates of 600 parts/hr. But your own output figures show 300 parts/hr. What is stealing all this productivity? Chances are that when you consider the process carefully, you'll find the downtime results from ink drying in screen that requires cleaning of the stencil, squeegee changeovers, adjustments to substrate position, corrections to registration, ink adjustments, off-contact adjustments, and more. All these conditions create downtime. But by standardizing procedures and keeping accurate production records, the problems can be eliminated.

Just do it

Before you even consider buying new equipment, you need to put your house in order. You'll likely find that your productivity and profitability problems have very little to do with deficiencies in your current equipment. Rather, the problems will probably stem from failures in organization and technique. Improved housekeeping by itself can eliminate the vast majority of these conditions.

If you don't have the time to perform a thorough analysis of your operation, hire an outside expert to handle the investigation for you. The simple fact is that without assessing and refining the fundamental functions of your company, profitability will continue to be an elusive goal.


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