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A A Shop Strategies

Creating a time analysis to measure shop floor efficiency

It doesn’t take a huge investment to find out how to eliminate money-losing activities
By Wm. B. “Duke” Whiteside
s a management consultant, I visit shops like these quite frequently. One shop had decided to set up a mini service center. The company set up a counter sales area and increased its inventory to support the service. Material storage for the mini service center was 7,500 sq. ft., added to the 35,000sq.-ft. fabrication facility that housed magnetic drills, a press brake, and a shear. A time analysis showed the company could make some minor physical changes to the fabrication facility that would maximize efficiency and result in a savings of about 8 percent over the first year. More important, though, the analysis uncovered that the mini service center was running at a net loss. The firm was buying steel and selling it for just 10 percent more than cost. Yet the operational overhead for the mini service center was closer to 50 percent more than cost. The company was losing 40 percent on each sale. The shop quickly raised its mini service center prices significantly, but this scenario illustrates why it’s important to stick to what you know in your business. Another fabricating client recently called me, concerned that his job bidding wasn’t very effective in this tough economy. He had two estimators and himself trying to bid work, and he wanted to increase the number of jobs they were bidding on.
The FABRICATOR® | An FMA Publication | December 2009


A time analysis of the bidding procedure showed they were bidding jobs using spreadsheets they had made, but with no real estimating program. I showed him that by just introducing a modest program, they could triple the number of jobs the three of them were bidding. Once set up for their shop, the program would do automatically what they had been doing manually, including checking material prices so the estimator could see at a glance what prices had been in the past, saving cross-checking time. Three estimators now can do the work of six. Now that is using your time wisely. Time analysis in a fabrication business is much more than just a study of labor functions. When done correctly, time analysis considers the total picture of an operation; plant layout, material flow, management practices, shop functions, and purchasing activities are all areas of concern if you want to maximize your plant’s efficiency.

Types of Time Analysis
A fabricating shop has two ways to do a time analysis: 1. Manually, using a stop watch and paper forms to record an activity 2. Mechanically, using time clocks connected to a computer

ployees are assigned numbers, as is each job function. Before an employee starts a job, he punches in with the code of the task he is going to do, such as welding. When he has finished, he goes back and punches the clock again so that the computer knows he has finished the task. This data is collected for at least several days, analyzed, and used to form the time analysis report. Let’s say that since the manual method is cheaper, you have selected to do the study that way. You’ll need a good stop watch and forms for recording the times (see Figure 1). I strongly recommend that the study be done when an actual job is being fabricated. However, if nothing is being fabricated at the time, you will need to get the processes moving. Following is a brief list of some of the material I’ve used for doing an analysis in this situation: •Wide-flange beam—a 14- by 26in. beam, 20 ft. long. This is a good midrange beam that will provide a good baseline for other calculations. •Tube steel—a 6- by 6- by 3⁄8-in. tube, 20 ft. long •Angle—a 4- by 4- by 3⁄8-in. angle, 20 ft. long •Channel—a 12- by 20.7-in. channel, 20 ft. long

Follow this approach for every job done in the shop. Study each job at least five times over several days, at different times of the day, to account for human nature and other factors. If you see an employee stop to talk to another co-worker or to sharpen his soapstone, don’t stop timing the procedure. It’s all part of the process. After gathering data over several days, add it together to get an average time spent doing each function. Then it’s time to do some research on how long certain jobs should take to do. There are several good books on the topic, and Figure 2 shows a set of benchmarks I have compiled over years of performing time analyses. The times listed in the books and Figure 2 should be used as a benchmark, not a goal. If your shop can do the job faster, don’t slow it down to match the benchmark time. However, if the difference is significant between your times and the benchmark times— typically more than 25 percent—you need to look at how jobs are being done in your shop. For example, Figure 2 shows that it should take six minutes to flame-cut and deburr a wide-flange beam. If a time analysis shows it takes your shop eight minutes to do that job, you should try to find out why.

Start in the Shop
Once you’ve done your analysis and know you need to make some changes, the place to start is the shop, where the most dramatic time savings are. The first step is to review your current operation. How do you do what you do? What steps do your employees take to perform the various functions? Do they receive material at a distance from the shop and then have to drag or carry it back to the shop, or do they receive the material at a point close to the shop to avoid wasting time moving the material in? Does your material flow logically into the shop? Is it sent to the cutting station first and then over to the fitting station? The next step—and a highly important one—is to lay out on paper the shop flow and equipment layout. Drawing your layout gives you the opportunity to work out the shop flow. You can change the equipment layout without disrupting actual shop operations. Be sure to get your shop people involved in the process and listen to their ideas about ways to save time. At one

For the most accurate and “real” time results, try not to let employees know you are timing them. When you start the time, be consistent every time. Begin with timing the unloading of material as it is being received. How many people did it take, and how long? While the mechanical choice is Start your time when the first person more accurate, it is also more costly. makes contact with the truck and do Time clocks or computer punch sta- not stop the time until the piece is sent tions are set strategically around the into storage and disconnected from the shop for gathering information. Em- forklift or overhead crane.