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Squeezing the last drop

The head of a successful window company, concerned that the rate of productivity improvement in his factory had slowed, asked me how to squeeze the last drop of efficiency out of his factory.

  • “We have been working very hard on improving factory efficiency and reducing our costs. Unfortunately we seem to have 'hit the wall' and improvements are now hard to come by. Can you offer some advice on where to look so we get improvements flowing again?”

The encouraging thing was that the company was not prepared to accept 'good enough'. I know from previous discussions with this company that they realise times will get tougher and only the most productive fabricators will prosper.

I suggested that the company focus on five points:

  1. Waste: Almost everyone I speak to says that waste is not one of their problems. One fabricator I visited recently had worked hard on reducing waste by using every piece of profile. Up for the challenge I looked into bins and found screws that had fallen on the floor swept up and discarded. We improved the work place and designed catch trays enabling the recovery of screws. But also look for the less obvious such as:

    • In process scrap (off cuts) and damage. Spot increases in scrap by measuring and get to the root cause of the problem. Also keep a tight control on incoming materials to avoid finding a problem with a suppliers part during fabrication.

    • Make sure that your machines are in tip-top condition (irrespective of age) so delays, breakdowns and errors are minimised. Adopt Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) techniques.

  2. Quality: Look at every error and mistake. They may be few but it is one of the key areas to squeeze more efficiency. Look carefully at:

    • Minimise order input errors by training people doing the inputting. Remember not everyone understands the intricacies of all the products you make. When in doubt go back to the customer for clarification and always have every input checked by someone else.

    • Often fabricating mistakes occur because the operator is not well trained. Train operators on as many operations as possible.

    • Delivery mistakes. Use checklists to ensure that a customer's order is complete, loaded and unloaded complete at the customer's premises.

    • Transit damage. Carefully study how you protect your products during delivery.

  3. Stock: There is always the chance of damage wherever parts are stocked so seek to reduce the stocks held before, during and after manufacturing. Look to reduce production batches and make orders as near to the delivery time as possible.

  4. Cut out non-value added activities: Study your processes in a systematic way. Don't confine your attention to the factory but also look at administration. Every organisation develops practices that may not be necessary. Study:

    • Absence and poor time keeping.

    • Too much fetching and carrying.

    • Unnecessary paperwork and phone calls. Extend the use of e-mail.

  5. Production work flow: However refined a production operation may be (and whether a company uses sophisticated machinery or more conventional methods) there is always scope to improve workflow. Improving workflow benefits productivity by increasing utilisation and performance. To 'squeeze the last drop' requires attention to detail. Use 'lean techniques' including pillar charts, process sheets, flow diagrams, bottleneck analysis and layout charts.

Sales growth may not always translate into profit growth. But improving efficiency and productivity invariably results in better profits. Time to work on efficiency? If you are looking for help or want to know about some of the techniques mentioned call Helen Ahern or myself on (01453) 521621, or e-mail me at



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