It looks like we may be on the road to recession again. The industry needs stability for investing and financial order and we don’t seem to have either right now, so be prepared for some belt-tightening, yet again.

Working “on” the business is just as important as working “in” the business and when things go quiet, as they will, it’s time to get to grips with all those ideas we had, but lacked the time to explore. There is nothing quite like a good sort out is there! That stock that the FD refuses to clear out, tidying up work procedures, squeezing more storage space out of the same location by faster stock turn, clever packaging, faster throughput, and better equipment. These are just a few of the things we will get time to fix.

For Example – Yale in Italy in the last 2008/11 recession totally changed their production information systems and absolutely smashed quality standards for their industry by empowering its workforce to benchmark new standards in manufacturing. The one that really blew me away was so ridiculously simple and yet it transformed their steelwork from chore to joy in a few short weeks.   They call it “Don’t pass it down the line”.   It was an initiative, which started on the shop floor from skilled technicians tired of having to fix, and fettle, which is time-consuming correction work, before they could actually do their jobs.  Forklift trucks need straight channels to elevate loads; rolling mills can only do so much. The more tolerance that is built-in, the greater the wobble at higher elevations. The mere act of cutting a steel section releases energy, which is very unwelcome in precision work because it must be corrected. This is not that easy, so they made a proving machine, which took the workpiece, precision rolled, and de-stressed it, producing the exact tolerance required for forklift truck masts. It didn’t stop there either.  Using the same strategy they went through every department to make absolutely sure that any order had production reviews, which prevented delays, rework, and the type of time-consuming inspections, which produce nothing but cost the earth. Well done Yale, hats off!   What a great way to spend your time. Instead of laying staff off, double down on making your business perform better than ever, so when the recession is over, as it inevitably will be, you are back behind the wheel of a brand new model and bursting with enthusiasm to take it out on the track, put it through its paces and win and excel at what you do.

If Yale can do that in 24 months, we all can. We all spend time looking for things that are not where they should be or sorting out issues that are dragging when they should be racing. All businesses are only as good as their worst performance because it distracts from their best ones.  Here are a few fundamentals, which anyone can see if they look around their workplace, which may help. 

Workshop Operations

Whether you have machine tools, assembly operations or CMT (Cut Make and Trim) textile activities, all workshops need the same set of things:

  • Space
  • WIP facilities
  • Tooling in good working order
  • Accessible stocks and supplies
  • A marshalling place to direct finished work
  • An internal or external distribution operation

The 4 P’s of producing the goods:

  1. Process control: What it is you are actually providing for your customer and the key things that occur during the process.
  2. Productivity: Is it as smooth as it could be and flow well? For example, you might buy a piece of board or steel at the standard size but the full implications of remnants, handling, sorting, storing and removal are a burden to operations. It may make buying blanks far more economical since you are not having to remove the unwanted excess which simply adds waste, cost and invariably contributes to AGW (Anthropological Global Warming), a hidden burden of overbuying.
  3. Priority Stock Control: Remember that everyone in your supply chain is trying to stop defects.  However at the end of the day tolerance is not just a measurement, it’s buying one part that does multiple jobs that raises the standard whilst ironing out errors on part fittings, order process, spares and processing. The most expensive stock is the stock you don’t have followed by stock you don’t need. It just leads to bottlenecks caused by shortages and finally nowhere to put the stock you do need and overuse of space.
  4. 3 PLs and Standardisation: Nobody will ever deliver as well as you, ever. Why? Because they are not you. But just putting your product in a box, makes it easier to handle, less likely to be damaged and saves space. You create a standard, strip out time, returns, carrier damage, overhead and carbon footprint. Thinking like a 3 PL can help, using one saves a warehouse.

Kanban is a great model as a starter.
   There are 6 rules, which are normally deployed:

  1. Don’t pass problems down the line or import them.
  2. Don’t overload the workspace by taking necessary quantities (panic raiding stocks).
  3. Produce exactly what is needed and remain accountable.
  4. Deal with bottlenecks.
  5. Deal with integration issues, so you don’t overbuy and under deliver
  6. Aim to achieve consistent output through the whole process.

Here’s how this works.

Just like Yale had problems with their steel quality, they invested in a very simple and not expensive machine which ensured a key and critical component was in place at the outset that would not foul production later in the process.   Staying with that thought, the next process can slim down because it only needs to do the job earmarked for it and doesn’t clog due to assembly delays. The time originally allocated for the workflows is now correct and other supplies can be improved or decreased as the flow adjusts to normality.

Storage systems, tools to hand, work in progress stocks in ready to deploy format, visual systems, calibrated equipment, and quarantine storage all release space and save legs, with accountable compact work stations monitoring progress. New overhead and floor-based handling systems efficiently push work ahead to where it is needed. Well-labelled and managed warehouse space is the icing on the cake because it turns transport round more quickly so it keeps costs lower.

The materials handling industry is the backbone of well-organised businesses and the equipment every day is saving millions of hours, vast labour and establishment costs.

There has never been a better time to ask our industry to help yours. Often designs are free; there are systems integrators, specialised logistical experts, and engineers all of whom are only too willing to help you.


Here are 18 examples of manual equipment, which are low cost, achieve high returns, and improve productivity.


Why not email us with your project and see if we can help.