Have an inefficient shop? There's hope

DOYLE SUMRALL, the NTEA's director of business development, said he was “overwhelmed” by the turnout for his session, “Simple Steps to Maximizing Shop Efficiency.”

Either Sumrall is a dynamic speaker or there are a lot of NTEA members who feel compelled to take steps toward becoming process-oriented. Perhaps both.

In any case, Sumrall used his 75 minutes to maximum effect, painting a picture of waste and then laying out the steps to increase productivity, get the workplace organized, and inspire employees to buy into the process.

He said that according to the NTEA's 2004 Distributor Profit Survey, a typical $5-million company has 28 employees, 13 of whom work in the shop. Those 13 employees represent 27,000 standard work hours each year. By improving their productivity just 10%, the company would save 2700 hours a year — a little over a man-year of labor.

Another way to look at it: The average distributor, according to that survey, spends 7.2% of sales dollars in shop labor. So a 10% improvement would move $7000 to the bottom line for every $1 million in sales.

Sumrall said there are Eight Deadly Wastes: overproduction, inventory, motion, waiting, transportation, underutilized people, defects, and extra processing. He suggested putting a poster of those Eight Deadly Wastes on a wall in a prominent spot.

He said there is highly regarded documentation proving that you can experience a 20% gain in productivity simply by eliminating waste. He said most waste comes from: lack of or unclear communication; unnecessary steps in process; waiting on parts; lack of organization; and lack of training.

He said some simple waste eliminators are a work order system; a clean, organized shop; ongoing training and education; formal change order system; and process-oriented approach in the operation.

Five examples

Sumrall gave five examples of companies that had made changes that he personally witnessed, and he offered his observations:

  • Warner Bodies, flow process in product finishing: “They had done a process analysis, bringing in an outside supplier and getting them involved. With their painting process, they wanted to get to a much higher level. They set their objective: ‘Here's where I am at today. I have some issues in the field. Here are the things the customers are not satisfied about.’ So they defined some clear attributes and said, ‘Here are the things we want to be. We want the paint job to last so long. We don't want any rust.’

    “They sat down as a group. The outside supplier said, ‘Here's the process you need to go through.’ They had a defined budget. They weren't going to go out and spend $5 million on a powder-coating system.’ They identified the flow pattern in the shop and ended up putting in another booth because they needed that to get the flow process and the volume they needed to support it. They put in a Hotsy washing system that gave them a phosphate finish.

    “They spent 25% or less than what it'd cost for a sophisticated system. And in the end analysis, the supplier said, ‘We're going to continue to work with you and grade you.’ If the process had fallen off, the supplier would come in and say, ‘We have to come in and re-train the employees and fix the chemistry in this thing.’”

  • Precision Truck Equipment, frame hole jigs: “Precision took an old diamond plate they had laying around and said, ‘We're going to do a wet-line kit for a company four or five times this year.’ On the first one, they marked out all of their measurements on the jig. In black marker, they identified and marked all the holes. So when they bring that chassis in for the second time, they'll walk over to the chassis, slap that on the side, get a couple of gauge points so they clamp it down with some C-clamps. Real simple process. And they'll poke in each one of the holes and then start drilling the chassis. It's a very productive thing, and it takes hours out of prepping the truck.”

  • Auto Truck, visual, point-of-use wire stocking rack: “If you take certain kinds of inventories — bolts, wires, wire ties, connectors — and set up a central stocking area, it does a lot for you. It's a visual clue. You can walk by and see what's there, and everybody knows where they're at in the shop. You can work with the suppliers and do the restocking for you. When you're running out, you can walk by and see, ‘Geez, I'm running out. We'd better get some more in so we're not waiting on that product.’”

  • Fallsway Equipment Company, corrected breakdowns and speed-up changeovers: “They have a drill with a chain on the frame, raised up, with a bogey hanging over sideways so they can get in there with a long-reach drill. They took one of those drill motors and made a toggle-action deal that bolts into the side of the drill motor. They dropped it inside the frame, turned the drill motor on and used the toggle level to drill from the inside. There were always two holes in a frame they had to drill, so rather than taking the wheels off or lifting it up in the air, they looked at the process and saw what was burning up time.”

  • Paramount Truck Equipment, tie work orders to visual shop notes: “On a big cork board, they have the orders for the next few days in different colors — purple, yellow, blue. They took a work order and took the customer's specs and made sure they got everything over onto the work orders so they weren't going to get in the shop and be short on something. And then once they had that color-coded and they knew the lengths, they went down to the shop and marked different colors in paint. Instead of just going by and talking to the foreman, they went to the shop with the foreman and went to the truck, carrying the work order and color notes. Where they had a special note where something had to be tweaked, they wrote it on the side rail. It's a visual clue and it ties all the way through.”

Other improvements

Sumrall listed these other common improvements:

  • Assemble kits of needed materials and tools.

  • Leverage suppliers to do shop reviews and training.

  • Use jigs with plasma and other tools.

  • Have suppliers inventory and do in-house stocking.

    “Some friends of mine in a body shop created a board so that when they had a big job coming in that would require custom parts, they'd write the custom order number on there and go and stick it on the rack. They trained everybody in the shop that everything coming in would have a job number on it. So if it comes into the shop as a special component — it's not normal stock going in a wire rack or bolt bin — everybody knows that UPS or FedEx put it in that rack. So everybody can be a receiver and help put the product where it's supposed to go. Where it's a custom job and they don't want to start the job in the shop until they have the parts, the person responsible for making sure can go to that rack and look in and say, ‘OK, I've got this special thing; I have a box of stainless bolts we need for this job, or decals. We're ready to launch this job.’ So the system allows everybody to be a part of getting it there, and there's a designated spot so we minimize hunting for parts.”

  • Use visual schedule boards.

  • Use safety teams.

Sumrall said that according to Paul Petrella of Praxair, immediate areas for improvement are easily noticeable on the first visit during a review of shop welding and cutting processes:

  • Proper equipment for the task at hand, including machines, consumables, etc.

  • Proper setting on equipment, wire feeds, volts, amps, etc.

  • Proper gas and filler metal selection for materials being welded.

    “If you don't weld the really deep, heavy penetration into the metal but you want to run a long weld and make it look good, you can make some tweaks and adjustments in gas and filler material, move into a spray-arc condition and immediately take the productivity up significantly. But that takes some retraining of the people working with you. One of the great places to get that is your welding or gas supplier.”

  • Training for operators; basic training is typically recommended.

    “It's almost always simple things. It's those visual keys. For a process or an application, make up a sheet that has welder settings, gas flow, filler material, and laminate it and attach it to the side of the machine.”

  • Safety is most important.

Work-order process

Sumrall said the work-order process is the same regardless of the system's complexity. The benefits: it's a simple checklist of customer requirements; puts requirements into internal language; provides for internal communications and feedback; and provides a permanent record of product configuration.

Sumrall presented his steps to effectively making changes in a company's operation:

  • Select the change you want to make based on collecting data and prioritizing the data into information.

  • Document your current state of the area or process to be changed. “One of the fastest and easiest ways is to take a digital camera, walk through the process and take a series of digital pictures.

  • Set a target for what you what to accomplish with the change.

  • Use visual tools to communicate the change plan and desired results.

    Post measurement or visual prompts to assure changes stay in place.

    “Measurement could be increased productivity, reduction of damage, whatever,” he said. “The goals are defined. Once we get it done, we go back with the digital camera: ‘Here's what it's supposed to look like.”

  • Follow up.

He suggested hanging a process diagram on the wall, with these categories: create a plan (collect and organize data with a flow chart or string diagrams); communicate and act (deployment plan, deployment analysis, story board, and action); measure results (analyze whether the results meet the plan, use graphs, photos, and customer reports); and celebrate and follow up.

“You want to make sure that what you did will remain,” he said. “Change for the sake of change is not great. If it was a creative idea but made no difference and you had to retrain everybody, that's not good.”

Sumrall said everyone needs to know that there is a plan in place to make improvements. The focus will be on issues, the approach will be open to everyone, and the benefits will be shared by all.

“People ultimately are the key,” he said. “Having people buy into it and understand what you want to do is critical. I found that in shops and factories, one of the interesting ways to do that is with a storyboard. You have your digital pictures. You have done some sort of deployment analysis. You have in some cases a diagram or layout of what you've done. Put it on a poster board where everybody coming through can see: the vendors, salesmen, another peer. By the natural process of seeing it and developing interest, it's going to get people involved in the project. If you're open, they're all going to give feedback. And in the end, we all win.”

He said there are barriers to change: overwhelming people with too much; failure to build understanding and ownership; appropriate resources were not available; and the desire for instant success.

“It takes time,” he said. “You have to be patient. You have to go back and tweak it and energize it. It has to be a daily process. Every day you have to take time to walk through, talk about it, get the feedback, have people participate, celebrate the change.”

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