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Evaluating Laundry Employee Productivity (Part 1)

“Automation is growing in the washroom, but employees are essential to the operation. How would you recommend a laundry set productivity standards—and monitor them?”

Consulting Services: Jon Witschy, Spindle, Woodridge, Ill.

Technology enhancements continue to provide new opportunities for automation in the washroom and throughout the laundry, but personnel are still key to the operation. Anyone familiar with Spindle or myself knows that productivity is a topic that is “near and dear.”

Whether you have just installed new equipment or are looking at established processes, setting and tracking standards is a priority. You must then use this vital information to make decisions with personnel, equipment and process flow that will improve the operation.

To create standards, there are several avenues that you can take:

  • There is, of course, the status quo approach. “This is how fast we’ve ‘always’ done this task, so it is what we should continue to expect.”
  • Alternatively, you can obtain throughput numbers from vendors for the equipment they supply. Along with these standards should come the operating parameters that will deliver quality goods at the specified rates.
  • Finally, since no two plants have the exact same product mix, equipment, layout, etc., industrial engineering time studies will provide production standards that best fit your business. Consultants can perform time studies, and, through their experience, also supply input for standard operating procedures that might increase performance, in and of themselves. However, a plant can even perform time studies in-house (research Mikell Groover for the basics of conducting a time study).

Apply standards to as many processes in the plant as possible. Counting pieces on an ironer is straightforward, but extend tracking to those areas where you may not previously have considered doing so. If you can’t obtain a piece count, then count bulk items, such as finished carts, completed routes or bundled goods; performance against the standard may fluctuate when moving from large to small “units,” but the numbers will normalize over a day or week to give you a picture of performance.

The technology to track standards continues to grow, which makes getting input even easier. Photo eyes, limit switches, proximity switches, scales, IoT (Internet of Things) devices, meters … the list goes on and on for ways of collecting data from your operations—take advantage of them, whether included on original equipment or retrofitted.

Software packages are also vital. Let a computer perform the “heavy lifting” in calculating data and presenting the numbers for evaluation. Set standard operating procedures for collecting, entering, reporting and evaluating data, just as you have done with the plant floor processes.

Regardless of the approach taken to set, monitor, report and evaluate standards, make sure that you use the data. When it comes to operator performance, they must be counseled or coached using the numbers to create the motivation for improvement. 

Also, realize that standards aren’t initially set in stone. As the many aspects of your business may change, determine if you should adjust standards so that they fit the current environment to continue to deliver improvements. 

For example, a new product requires different handling to obtain the same quality. The standard should thus be increased or decreased to match the change in processing.

Finally, visibility is extremely important. As mentioned, data must be reviewed regularly with personnel to realize the benefits. For greater impact, a lean manufacturing concept is to create a visual workplace that supplies “the right information to the right people at the right time.” 

Whether using the typical dry-erase whiteboard or a fully automated feedback loop with real-time displays, visibility should extend from the plant floor through the front office. The key numbers can be identified and should be presented at the point of use: performance numbers on an individual process to the operators; target versus actual throughput for a department to the supervisors; PPOH for the entire plant to management; etc.  

An associate in the industry has summed up the visual workplace perfectly: “If there were two basketball games playing, and one had a scoreboard but the other didn’t, which one would you watch?”  

Healthcare Laundry: Charles Loelius, Cleantex, Irvington, N.J.

What gets measured is what gets done. That frequently used quote, attributed to management guru Peter Drucker, is the mantra of performance management. At Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, the catchphrase is: What gets measured gets improved. 

The mere act of measurement increases motivation to perform. Studies have shown that just walking around with a pencil and clipboard can improve performance by 10%. Without a measure, there can be no goal, and without a set goal, there can be no achievement, no victory. It is crucial, therefore, for any laundry to establish productivity standards for every area that can be both measured and managed. This includes all production, delivery and maintenance employees, as well as their respective management. 

The standards need to be sensible, attainable and fall within accepted industry standards. The measurements should be taken regularly and shared with the employees. People typically want to know where they stand relative to expectations, and to each other. 

Good performance should be congratulated, and less-than-satisfactory performance addressed constructively. By taking action immediately and providing real-time feedback, all employees will see the importance attached to achieving the standard.

It is not enough to merely measure, however, as measuring alone will not be enough to ensure an action gets done. Management needs to consistently challenge the team to succeed. Follow-up is the key.

Leadership should instill in the operation a spirit of healthy competition:

  • Our plant motto is “Beat Yesterday.” 
  • Beat yesterday in all you do and you will be successful.
  • We use this motto as a motivating tool, to inspire internal competition, as well as team competition.

As to what we measure, manage, follow up and challenge ourselves with, here is a list:

  • # Days without accident, plant employees
  • # Days without accident, drivers
  • # Soil bins sorted per hour
  • # Soil pounds sorted per hour
  • # CBW transfers per hour
  • # Pounds washed per hour
  • # Loads dried per hour
  • # Flat pieces ironed per hour
  • # Small pieces finished per hour
  • # Blankets folded per hour
  • Fill rate %, by plant
  • Fill rate %, by customer
  • # Clean pounds shipped, by plant
  • # Clean pounds shipped, by customer
  • # Pieces produced, by plant
  • # Pieces produced, by customer
  • # On-time deliveries
  • # Late deliveries
  • # Minutes downtime daily, plant
  • # Minutes downtime daily, per machine
  • # Hours direct labor daily
  • # Hours direct labor weekly
  • Overtime % direct labor weekly
  • # Total plant hours daily
  • # Total plant hours weekly
  • Overtime % total plant hours weekly
  • PPOH daily
  • PPOH weekly

All these measurements are important, and each, when successfully achieved, contributes to the overall success of the laundry.

It is important to remember, however, that while measurements, facts and figures are important, the laundry industry is still very much a people business.

As Albert Einstein once said, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” 

Chemicals Supply: David Barbe, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.

I’ve seen systems that can quantify all aspects of an employee’s daily work. Even down to floor-sweeping time. I’m not a fan of a monitoring program that detailed. Such efforts can be misleading and counterproductive. In some cases, much more time can be spent on non-productive monitoring and evaluation efforts than could be wasted by your employees.

Once in my youth, between college semesters, I worked at a manufacturer that tracked each task performed by the employees. I learned that the manager was reviewing the printouts and noting the “efficiency percentage” when he called me into his office to ask how I had a 400% production number. I had increased the feed rates on the machine I was operating quite a bit to keep from dressing the grinding stones after every production cycle. 

I knew a little more about operating the machine than the supervisor who “trained” me. In addition, I noticed extra machine fixtures on the nearby rack that would fit on the machine table, thereby allowing me to double the parts produced per cycle.  

The problem with their production monitoring system was that the standards were poorly set. I have no idea if other standards meant that some employees were struggling to meet their goals, but the previous operators of my machine had been coasting along for months, getting 100% production ratings while not producing what they could.

This is one problem with such systems: Standards can be poorly set, either high or low, thus giving management false impressions of the production efficiency. Systems can measure poorly, be tampered with, break down, etc. Careful consideration needs to be made how such systems are installed, measure and are utilized. Nothing beats walking around, watching and asking questions.  

All that said, certain production values are inherently valid and easily measured.  

In the chemical supply industry, we can easily record loads produced by each washer or by a tunnel. For a conventional washer, we can also time the period between when a wash load is finished and when that washer is restarted. We can record these times and show the “turn time” between wash loads on our reports.  

It’s up to the management to determine what an acceptable time is. Oh, yeah, this gets back to the standard-setting problem.

My point is that standards, measurements and evaluation of data must be done carefully and thoughtfully to be useful. I think that no data is worse than bad data. There is no substitute for continuously evaluating how such data is collected and being certain your information is valid.   

Check back tomorrow for insight from textiles, hotel laundry and equipment manufacturing experts.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].