• You know you’re in trouble when the boss reads your blog and asks you to cover an additional point or two.  So out of a sense of self preservation (and I really do want my next paycheck), here’s some info building on my June 8 post “Working Together to Make Schedules Work.”  Seriously though, I happen to agree with what he’s suggesting, which makes everyone happy all around.

    One other major (and it truly is bigger than that word “major”) constraint that manufacturers face in meeting project schedules is the roller coaster of how much work is on our plate vs. the available resources required to execute any new incoming work.  The buzzword we’re using in trying to fine-tune the machine into leaner and meaner is “capacity planning.”  To us, it means how much work comes in, how many of our resources does it take to do that work, and how is one particular project moved through work centers in conjunction with all the others.

    For example, say there’s X number of new orders placed today, Y number of jobs in engineering or on submittal, Z number of jobs in production, and a varying number (ran out of alphabet…) of jobs are shipped.  And the great unknown is: how many will enter the pipeline at any one of these points today?  See the previous blog about the predictability of THAT number…

    The roller coaster analogy is fitting in that the work doesn’t flow in on a regular basis.  Be it engineering or manufacturing, work is entered into the process and has to be produced.  This is applicable to shop drawings and fabrication drawings in engineering and to sawing and machining metal on the production floor.

    If on any given day, 0 jobs enter into either of these processes, followed by 10 jobs the next day, by 0-30 jobs the next day after that, you can well imagine that if all the jobs have to be in the same cell, say submittal engineering or machining on virtually the same day, there’s going to be some one-job-gets-put-ahead/behind-another job.  You think it would be fair to say, “first come, first served,” but that’s an over simplification, too.

    Consider if there’s a saw running 20 hours/day, but there’s a backlog of 40 hours of saw time, it’s going to take 2 days for all that material to be cut before moving to machining.  Where this complicates things is that on day 2, while still cutting the material from day 1, the new orders that came in on day 2 can’t start being sawn until day 3.  Granted, you catch up somewhat when a day comes that 0 new projects enter the pipeline.

    And the requests do come, regardless of the project size, asking for expediting the schedule.  The requests do get a lot of consideration.  Please remember, there’s another factor here.  Any one company may have multiple projects in a manufacturer’s pipeline.  Or they may have just one.  Every project, regardless of the size, is important to us; we want to get every one right and shipped on time.  And it’s tough to maintain schedules on projects already in process if one project gets moved forward.

    Now, we can work more overtime, and eventually, if this persists, we may have to add another shift.  Decisions about equipment have to be dealt with, too.  We can buy more equipment, and the economies of capital outlays, what the rate of return is, all that fun stuff they teach business majors and accountants, will the economy support these types of decisions long enough to justify the expense?

    It also has to be based on what the talent pool looks like for new hires.  And while there may be a lot of skilled people out on the street right now, there’s also been a lot of dead wood cut from a lot of companies.  And when training on how a specific company does things, there’s always a learning curve.

    This is a ball we juggle daily, if not hourly, or minute-by-minute.  Maybe this is all a little therapeutic venting, but it underscores the point in the previous blog that the more manufacturers, architects, contractors and glaziers can coordinate upfront, the better we all can help meet a project’s deadlines.

     

  • Being born and raised in Philly, I’ve been a lifelong Eagles and Phillies fan, and adopted the Flyers when they came to town. The championships that came were few and far between. The bane of my existence was moving to Dallas where my firstborn, a couple of his brothers, and now a grandson (I just KNEW I should have said no when he asked for my daughter’s hand!) have become Cowboys fans. But I digress.

    Back before there were playoffs, there were no divisional or league championships in baseball: the best team in the National League played the best team from the American League in the World Series, which started only two days after the regular season ended. We snuck transistor radios into school, trying to hide the wire, listening to the afternoon games – there were no night games in the World Series – you talked about the games at the dinner table.

    And then the Phillies had the team of my youth. Dick Allen won Rookie of the year in ’64. Jim Bunning (recently retired Sen. Bunning of Kentucky fame) pitched a perfect game. Name the position; I’ve got the whole starting line up memorized.

    The team went into September with a lead. The National League gave the top three clubs permission to print and sell World Series tickets, which the Phillies did. They had that lead into the last week of the season – when they collapsed. Big. They had a 6 ½ game lead with 12 to play and blew it. They lost 10 of the last twelve. Bunning and Short pitched on two days rest during the streak. It broke my heart.

    Grandpop had Eagles season tickets, and we watched the Eagles game that last day of the baseball season. The Phillies were already out of 1st place, but the Cardinals, eventual WS champions, needed to lose to the Mets one more time on Sunday to force a playoff. My brother, cousin, and I still fondly recall the “Lets Go Mets!” cheers at Franklin Field (before the Vet) when the NY Mets – St. Louis scores were announced during the Eagles’ game. We went to the airport that Sunday night to see them back into town. The players were grim, to say the least. But they were our Phillies.

    This year, for the first time in 58 years, my dad’s not around to celebrate Father’s Day. One of my most cherished possessions is shown in the image at right.

    Dad taught me to be persistent, to stay the course, to persevere, through any thing that life has thrown at me. He went to night school when I was a kid to get his degree. He encouraged my mom to go to school full-time to get her degree with four teenagers in high school, which she did – and she finished a year or two before him.

    He told us all one time he’d consider his life a success if we could go out and make it on our own in the world. Look at us, dad. We’re doing pretty good. And now your grandkids are starting to make their way in the world, too, and they’re meeting with their own successes. I hope you’re proud of it all.

    For all those lessons we learn from our dads, most go unspoken. They can bury me in Texas if they want to – I’ll come back and haunt my kids if they do! My heart will ALWAYS be with my folks (and with the Phillies and Eagles) in Philly. It’s these and 1,000s of other lessons I’m not about to put aside or lose in my old age. Thanks, dad.

  • One of the things many manufacturers work hard to get right is schedules. Ok, if you’re the GC or a sub on a project waiting for a shipment days after the deadline, that may not always seem to be the case.  A company might make a whale of a product, but if it can’t deliver on time, that’s a real hardship on the customers.  It’s a fair complaint.  But frequently, there are factors that go into the equation that are outside the manufacturer’s control.  Keeping schedules in line requires strong commitments all around.

    First, please understand Knickerbocker’s Immutable Law of Construction Scheduling:  Contracts will always be awarded so that the subcontractor is already running late before they actually start their work.  The Corollary:  Regardless of when the contract is awarded, and no matter what happens in between, the end date cannot be and is NEVER changed.

    When it comes to material fabrication, there are several things that directly impact the schedule.

    First, there’s often a lot of final design done on shop drawings – final tweaking of issues that either came to light as a result of preparing the shop drawings, or trying to clarify issues that were not clear in the architectural drawings.  All products have limits, both real and intangible:  what’s physically possible, what’s practical from a manufacturing perspective and, last but not least, whether there’s enough cost in the budget to do it that way.  And since we’re talking about schedules, let’s just deal with that for now – none of the others occur ever anyway (yeah, right!).

    Second, first submittal drawings rarely, if ever, come back truly “approved,” with no other changes required.  We all know that two submittals typically are going to be needed.  That’s ok; it’s expected in most instances that a minimum of two submittals are required for anything but the simplest of projects.

    Manufacturers have little or no control over how long the drawings are out on submittal and the amount of time it takes to make the necessary revisions dependent on how much the architect “bleeds” (the amount of red ink) on the drawings. This can be a schedule killer.

    Obviously, we all (suppliers and subcontractors combined) have to make the general contractors more aware of the critical nature of returning the shop drawings.  It’s as crucial as making the submittal on time in the first place.  Getting the GCs’ help can expedite the drawing review through the design team.

    Also, finding a way to cut down on resubmittals can help keep the schedule on track.  Have more conference calls about the comments the architect wants to put on the drawings before they’re due to be sent back.  Web conferences make this even easier.   On a larger project where the schedule is even more critical, and when the cost can be more easily absorbed, isn’t a plane trip a cheap ticket to keep a job on track?  Meeting with the GC and architect before the drawings come back “Revise/Resubmit” allows everybody to be in the same room at the same time to resolve any concerns, whatever it takes to get the drawings either “approved” or “approved as noted.”

    Lastly, the dreaded “request for information:” What is the best way to get these answered in a timely manner?  Manufacturers try not to ask frivolous questions, but sometimes there are issues that the customer can’t answer or give direction, and so have to rise to the designer’s level.  Where this gets bogged down is in the weeks it sometimes takes for issues to be addressed through a normal RFI process.  Rather than run the risk of guessing wrong on the answer, manufacturers tend to want to hold completing the details in question waiting for the response.  If we have to complete a submittal by a certain date, and have open, unresolved questions, one approach would be to cloud the area in question, and write the RFI right on the drawings.  When the answer is given on the returned submittals, the update makes the RFI officially responded to, and will be shown in the next submittal.

    Rarely is it acceptable to move the end date (see Immutable Law above), so a tickler email 7-10 days prior to a scheduled return date to a GC that the drawings are due back on a specific date can’t hurt.  Should manufacturers be flagging this to our customers that drawings are due back?

    Manufacturers typically try all we can to compress, expedite and generally improve on the lead times it takes to fab to get the material shipped on the date we all thought was agreed upon at the time the order was placed.  But in reality, it’s tough to fit X weeks of fabrication into a window that’s shorter (didn’t someone try this already, putting 10 lbs of whatever in a 5 lb bag?).  The same stuff they tried to put in the bag rolls downhill to the manufacturer, and we do all we can to meet deadlines. I’m open for other suggestions on how to make this happen.  What’s worked well for you?

     

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