Having trouble getting the most out of your component shop employees? Think there is room for improvement when it comes to efficiencies and productivity output at your shop? If you answer yes to either of these questions, you are not alone. As demand for manufactured roof trusses, floor trusses, and wall panels continues to rise, component plants across the country are struggling with how to increase the overall efficiency and productivity of their facilities and get the most from corps of employees that often are already keeping plants buzzing with three-shift, 24/7 action. With a basic understanding of lean manufacturing principles, however, component shops often can increase productivity by up to 42 percent, simply by implementing some basic motion and time standards along with additional shop metrics related to material and product volumes, costs, and sales.

Most component shops usually keep track of metrics such as board footage, linear footage, material cost, and sales dollars. This is great information to have, but often does not show the larger picture of shop output in terms of improvable productivity and efficiency ratios. Board footage, for example, does not take into account the complexity of a job, and could be the same for employees cranking out pole barn trusses as it could for a more intricate, labor-sensitive hip truss system. The same holds true for linear footage. Obviously, common trusses are much easier and speedier to build than some of today's customizable profiles with multiple pitch breaks. And when it comes to costs and sales, it's pretty clear that the fluctuation of material costs due to market conditions or the price of an individual sales order has little, if any, effect on the ease of manufacturing and consequently the rate of your shop's productivity and/or efficiency.

Of course, when we use these metrics to measure productivity, we all try to make allowances for the given complexity of each order. We try to factor in whether there are numerous setups or the board footage changes based on cord size; however, can we say with any honesty that we are consistent? Then we compound the problem by adding up all the orders in a given time period, figuring out the average and then measuring individual jobs and employees against the average. Intuitively we know that none of these measurement tools really work on the individual level, but that is all we have had to work with.

By applying time standards to each and every order on your shop floor, however, you can quickly develop a consistent measurement tool that will allow you to accurately gauge productivity, identify top performers and deal effectively with poor performers, and increase your total fabrication. Quite simply, a time standard is the time required to produce a product at a workstation that is manned by a qualified, well-trained operator working at a normal pace doing a specific task. By establishing baseline time standards for all the product variations coming out of your shop, you can easily measure on a job-by-job, employee-by-employee basis the real-time efficiency of any given order, shift, or staff member in your shop. What could you expect when this is implemented properly? How about an average gain of 40 percent in overall production increase.

Todd Drummond, President, Todd Drummond Consulting Sunapee, N.H.

By establishing time standards and keeping accurate, ongoing records of the time in motion for all your manufactured products, you can set clearer and more realistic production goals, track results, and compare actual performance against those goals, discover and report variances larger than accepted limits, and have a foundation for taking corrective action to eliminate causes of poor performance. The initial investment required to establish standards is only a stopwatch and a pencil and paper to keep records.

The old adage is true: Time is money. There's no better time than the present to get started on this simple way to improve the efficiency of your manufacturing facilities. —Todd Drummond Consulting is a lean manufacturing consultant for the wood component industry. www.todd-drummond.com.