Our success in a world economy depends upon it.
My background includes cost control at a Fortune 200 manufacturer, materials management and Enterprise Resource Planning systems. Here in Greenville, SC we have BMW and its satellite suppliers using robotics and all the latest manufacturing and supply chain systems to produce some of the world's finest automobiles.
It is jarring to move from world-class manufacturing to the typical decorator operation.
Some are pushing the envelope--last week I visited a major uniform company where the COO has built an industry leading integrated system complete with automated warehouse picking. However, many decorators, even very large ones, operate more like the third-world than the first. But it not just the technology--it is the mind set that assumes serious improvement is beyond their reach. They regard productivity as fixed, immutable, set in concrete.
The reasons offered for this view are many, and familiar. "We've always done it this way." "My people are experienced--they know their jobs better than I do." "Screen printing is an art--there is no way a computer can figure this stuff out." "I've just got a feeling that they are doing as well as anyone can." "They have a great attitude." "As long as they produce 234 stitches per hour, I don't care how they do it." "They don't need me looking over their shoulder."
Add to this way of thinking a very real problem--much of what we do in decoration is very difficult to measure. I recently scanned the postings in a screen print forum. The posters, all managers or owners of screen print shops, were lamenting the difficulty of easily and optimally scheduling screen print. After all, how could anyone or any program take into account dwell times, ink change over, palette change time, pot life, image sizes, screen mesh, etc., etc. Embroiderers have to deal with thread changes, stitches per minute, number of stitches, number of pieces, rotation, mechanical changeovers, backing, etc., etc. -- and don't even think about rainbowing!
Can productivity be measured and improved? Yes. First, we have to accept responsibility for success. People can be managed and motivated only by managers who are willing to move beyond their comfort zone in pursuit of excellence. It isn't enough to keep doing what we did 20 years ago. Second, managers need good information upon which to act. Good information in a job shop industry like decoration can only come from computerized information systems such as EmbTrak's state-of-the-art Visual Scheduler. Armed with valid productivity data a manager can move the employee performance review from subjective "seat-of-the-pants" opinion to a fact based discussion of where and how improvements can be made.
Shouldn't a high volume screen print or embroidery operation be run as well as a high tech auto plant?