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Thinking Ahead–Letter from Chaille: It’s Time for a Field Trip
Pallet Enterprise publisher, Chaille Brindley, explains how maybe the best way to boost production is to let your key employees take a field trip.

By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 10/5/2018

Everyone is looking for ways to produce more with less.

Frequently, pallet and lumber company executives focus on the equipment or lean business strategies. These are great. But there is one key that many times gets overlooked. It is the workers who run the machines. The right people can get more out of a machine because they know how the equipment works. More importantly, they understand how to make tweaks to account for variance in lumber dimensions.

While talking with experts about advanced automation, it became clear to me that the first thing you should do is evaluate your current practices to see what can be done to maximize existing operations. Yes, you may need new machinery. But you may be surprised what can happen if your team learns from somebody who knows how to run your equipment better.

So, where do you get this knowledge? The answer is to find other companies in another part of the country that may be willing to share their best practices if you return the favor. You want to contact non-competitors who are running the same equipment as you have. Your machinery supplier may know who you can approach. If you can come with some of your lumber to use for the demonstration, that can help improve the learning process.

A great place to find other pallet companies who may be willing to share production experience is trade shows and meetings, such as those put on by the National Wooden Pallet & Container Association or the Western Pallet Association. Once you develop a network of 2-3 pallet companies that can share experiences, you can use these as benchmarks to help motivate and inspire foremen, production managers, and even machinery operators.

If you want to boost your efficiency, maybe you should shut down for a day or just take key staff to see how a few others do it. Yes, a road trip may be exactly what your team needs to find the next gear. While you can bring back video or some tips, there is nothing like seeing a quality team operate in person.

Consider things like how production is tracked and measured. What is the process flow through the plant? What maintenance is done every day before operating machines? Where is lumber and nails staged? Who monitors quality in the process? What lumber requirements are maintained and how is lumber unpacked and prepped to ensure that the proper lumber is used in each order? What standard does the operator follow to decide if he/she will use a board? 

How are orders communicated to the production staff? What about the changeover process? How do operators work to improve changeover times and learn from each new design required? What type of lumber and nails are used? The list is almost endless in what you can discover by watching a team. How do they communicate to prevent jam ups and quickly solve problems?

While new machinery can open up a new level of opportunity, better trained and resourced people are truly the key to getting the most out of your equipment.

If you don’t have time for a field trip, you should consider making time. It may be the best time off your workers spend to discover their untapped potential. Don’t just go to the biggest player either. Look for different types of operations so that your workers can learn what to do and what not to do. Identify companies featured in the Pallet Enterprise who may have similar equipment. Many pallet companies welcome visitors who are not direct competitors.

So, let’s say you really can’t take off a day or so with production workers. What about sending a supervisor? Another strategy is to just start weekly production meetings where you spend 5-10 minutes talking about any issues, discussing how you can shave some time off runs, and getting direct feedback from operators on how they can optimize their work environment. This would be a great first step if you can’t truly make time for a field trip or two this year.

Sometimes, the best way to do more is to take a break and ask, “Is this really the optimum approach to getting the most out of our process and machinery?” If you never stop to do this, you may be working right past your breakthrough.

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