Low-Hanging Fruit

Oct. 1, 2006
Opportunties for process improvement and better resource utilization are everywhere.

Sitting in a truck-stop restaurant a couple of months ago, I got talking with the truck driver sitting next to me who inadvertently gave me the idea for this column. He commented that he'd just delivered a load of 1,066 tires and had to " fingerprint" every one, a task that added two hours to the job.

Every tire has a U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) 12-character code on the sidewall that indicates manufacturing plant, tire size, special features, and week and year of manufacture. This number is recorded when tires are delivered and sold to facilitate recalls.

Recording this information takes time. Even if you were just scanning a bar code, which wasn't the case here, consider that you would have to do it 1,066 times before a truck could leave. Assuming a very efficient one-second scan, that's 17 minutes. Of course, you can't really achieve that in practice. Since tires are usually loaded individually, during the unloading process you would have to stop to orient the tire, read the bar code, then move the tire off the truck, etc. Here, RFID labels would have saved those two hours as well as the time the salesperson would spend recording those numbers when the tires are sold.

Now, this column isn't really about tires. It's about the fact that the truck and driver weren't being productive for two hours on this one delivery in order to record the DOT numbers. In other words, one quarter of an eight-hour shift was wasted.

Now, ask yourself, what resources— personnel, equipment and materials—are being underutilized in your operations because of inefficient processes, material tracking or data entry methods? Or, borrowing from last month's column, how much time do your employees spend looking for things that move around the facility?

In some cases, you need to improve your tracking technology to learn where you can improve things. There may be opportunities to leverage one process's system to help improve another process.

One company I know of, for example, implemented bar code ID badges and workstation readers to improve job tracking and costing. An incidental benefit was that this allowed employees to "clock in" at their workstation. While this saved only about 15 minutes per day per employee, it added up to thousands of hours of additional productivity per year.

Another company I know of implemented bar code tool tracking and, in the process, "recovered" thousands of dollars of tools that employees had been hoarding to be sure they had them available when needed. This meant the company could actually reduce its tool inventory. In fact, the value of the recovered tools exceeded the cost of the tool tracking system before it was even turned on! They actually had to "fudge" the figures to show a six-month ROI because a "negative timeframe" ROI just looked bad!

These are just two examples to stimulate your thinking. You have to review your own operations and see what opportunities exist to optimize resource utilization, particularly ones that could leverage existing or planned AIDC implementations whether it's bar codes, RFID or something else,

Of course, your employees are among your most valuable resources. And anything you can do to help them focus on their jobs—and not spend time entering data— will certainly show up on the bottom line.

Bert Moore is a 20-year veteran of the AIDC industry. He is director of IDAT Consulting & Education, Alpharetta, Ga.

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