Manual Labor: A Short-Term Solution to Increase Production
Manual Labor: A Short-Term Solution to Increase Production
pull out and dust off all of your owner’s manuals.
This past winter was like a bad party guest. It arrived early, was loud and obnoxious, and stayed long past its welcome. Spring has finally pushed it out the door, which means all of those housing permits are finally turning into housing starts in all parts of the country. Everyone is ramping up production, but in many markets, additional labor is hard to find and new equipment is difficult to get in a timely manner.
All hope is not lost—three production equipment experts agree there is a simple solution for component manufacturers that doesn’t require additional labor, can be implemented quickly, and is relatively inexpensive. The solution: assess your current equipment by starting with a review of your owner’s manuals.
The Labor Problem
“For many manufacturers that survived the downturn through wise operational decisions, it’s reasonable they expect this is the time they reap the benefits of their good stewardship,” said Rod Wasserman, General Manager of Wasserman & Associates. “Unfortunately, many can’t find the labor they believe they need to ramp up production.”
“Back in the first half of the 2000s, it was easy to throw employees at the problem of increased capacity,” echoed Jay Halteman, President of Wood Truss Systems, Inc. “Not only will that not work in today’s market, but most manufacturers who survived the past seven years had to learn lean lessons and do more with less people on the payroll.”
Indeed, the human factor is a difficult challenge. Not only are viable workers resource-intensive to find, hire and train, they also require a great deal of constant effort to keep happy, safe and productive. But don’t misunderstand, employees are your most valuable asset. In the end, your various pieces of equipment are just tools that ultimately rely on the expertise of their operators to efficiently churn out high-quality products.
The point is that the days of throwing more employees at your production problems are gone; it’s time to throw better-informed employees at those problems.
The Current Equipment Problem
When it comes to your production equipment, component manufacturers likely face one or more of the following problems: one, due to turnover, they have less experienced employees running their equipment who have not been fully trained on its operational capacity; two, newer employees are still learning how to conduct thorough equipment maintenance; and three, due to the economic downturn, equipment is running on outdated software and/or computer hardware.
“There is always a learning curve with equipment,” said Wasserman. “Unfortunately, when you go through the personnel attrition our industry did, there is an inevitable knowledge loss that happens.” It’s easy to see how this could happen, even moreso through the prolonged nature of the downturn.
Most manufacturers went through significant stretches where they didn’t have to rely on their equipment to run at peak efficiency and capacity. Many equipment functions weren’t necessary to utilize and were either abandoned or forgotten over time. As new employees came on board, it’s likely they weren’t told of those capabilities when they were trained by their supervisors.
“Most of the individuals running your typical component saw or gantry table today were instructed by a supervisor when they were hired,” said Halteman. “As a result, they just don’t know the full capabilities of the equipment they run on a daily basis. I see it all across the country.”
Not only is the equipment not running at peak capacity, but proper preventative maintenance is likely not being done to its fullest extent either. “It’s just like owning a car; you need to regularly assess all the moving parts and repair or replace those that get worn down and reapply lubrication where needed,” said Halteman. “Preventative maintenance will cost you $200 here and there, but if you don’t take care of something before it seizes up, you can face repair costs of over $6,000, plus the lost production time.”
Finally, your production equipment is highly sophisticated, even if it’s 20 years old. “Equipment manufacturers are constantly updating the software used to run it, in response to the changing efficiency needs of their customers,” said Steve Shrader, Sales Manager for Hundegger USA, L.C. “In some cases, that software requires newer computer hardware to run correctly.”
When assessing your computer software and hardware, Shrader advises casting a larger net. “It’s important to have a handle on all your fundamentals, like electricity, Internet connectivity, compressed air, etc. The weak link in the interconnected system that runs your equipment is what ultimately will hold you back.”
All three of these experts agreed on the bottom line: pull out and dust off all of your owner’s manuals. Make sure everyone running each piece of equipment is made aware through on-the-job training of the insights found on those pages. “Pay particular attention to the safety features of the equipment and the preventative maintenance opportunities that may not be currently followed,” said Halteman. “Once you’re done with the manuals, consult with the manufacturers; they are a great resource for additional training.”
The Future Equipment Problem
So why bother with re-evaluating old equipment, going through the trouble of reading dusty manuals, and retraining staff when new equipment holds such promise for greater through-put? The reality is that new equipment, beyond being a significant financial investment, currently takes a long time to bring on line.
“Lead times for state-of-the-art equipment is very far in the future at the moment,” said Wasserman. He’s quick to point out that equipment manufacturers went through the same struggles component manufactures did during the downturn. “Once everyone stopped buying equipment in 2006, they had to lay people off and significantly scale back production. Since 2007, very little new equipment has been manufactured.”
The glut of used equipment that flooded the market as component manufacturers went out of business added to the problem. Both Wasserman and Halteman agreed it wasn’t until a little over 18 months ago that equipment makers finally saw an opportunity to sell new equipment again.
“The new equipment today holds incredible potential for increased production and quality, so it makes good sense to begin evaluating now where you want to be in the future and what kind of equipment you will need to get there,” said Shrader. “But it’s not going to solve the production capacity problems you are facing right this moment.”
Okay, so if brand new equipment can’t be an immediate answer, what about used equipment? “That market has dried up, and good used equipment is very scarce,” said Wasserman. “We used to have over 400 pieces of good equipment highlighted on our website. Today, we have less than 125.”
After assessing your current equipment, you may find that new equipment is the answer to your long-term needs. In future issues of SBC Magazine, we will talk with equipment manufacturers about their guidance on how to assess the current technology and find the best fit for your operations. In the meantime, the experts agree that your best short-term solution is to break out your manuals, contact your equipment vendor, and start training your employees on how to take full advantage of the equipment you currently have.