Looking for a Bottleneck? Start at the Beginning (Part 2 of 3)

“I’ve noticed my plant’s production has begun to lag and I believe that it’s being caused by a bottleneck somewhere in the workflow. Where are the problem areas most likely to be and how can I prevent such delays from occurring in the future?”Equipment/Supplies Distribution — Donnie Weiland, Tingue, Brown & Co., Alvin, Texas
An astute manager wants to be sure his plant is balanced in layout and the ability of each department’s equipment and personnel to handle the volume/quality demands. Do you have enough washers, dryers, ironers, folders and other peripheral equipment?
After determining yours is set up properly, the daily grind begins in the form of training, monitoring, training, measuring, training, correcting, training, communicating, training … you get the point!
The most common excuse one makes when inadequacies are found is, “I didn’t know!” Training eliminates that excuse, especially when employees have to sign a statement that they’ve been trained on that subject.
Traveling constantly from laundry to laundry, I can’t help but notice that the most efficient laundries are those with production/plant managers who spend the greatest majority of their time “on the floor.”
[NP][/NP]Oh, you have to have records of incoming soil, weights, piece counts, machine downtime, stains, tears, chemical usage, hours worked—I could go on and on. But there is something magical about getting out into the world where your business is being conducted, namely, you can see what’s going on … or not!
Records are essential—you can’t run without them—but “seeing is believing.”
I shudder when I notice that a production/plant manager is not perspiring. In nine cases out of 10, the plant suffers from lack of supervision (the inmates are running the asylum).
Look for the obvious. Do you have a washer or dryer down, which results in a backup of linen, causing your personnel in flatwork, dry-fold and shipping to run out of work?
Is this because you tried to “save money” by not having sufficient spare parts on hand? If so, how much are you saving now by either having to send some people home (to save money), and then not having people available to do the work when the machine is up and running?
Are your customers suffering? Can your competition supply them with what they need now?
Or, do you have an ironer down because the apron came off and you’re waiting for one to be “overnighted,” since you wanted to save money by not keeping extra stock on the shelf? And, by the way, how much is that freight cost for overnight shipping? Did that save you money?
Remember, there’s never been a business opened for the sheer purpose of saving money. Every single one I’ve ever heard of went into business to make money! Obviously, one should always try to save where possible, but remember the task at hand is to make money.
Losing sight of that basic goal has been the reason for thousands upon thousands of business failures, including laundries.
Management is the steering wheel, engineering is the vehicle, and production is the propellant that gets you where you want to go. It takes a team! Each department must communicate with the others in a congenial way to assure success.
Without adequate management, one never knows where to go. Without adequate engineering, one cannot move. Without adequate production, one cannot reach the destination, even though everyone knows the goal and has the wherewithal to achieve it. The word of the day is “teamwork.”Healthcare Laundry — Dianna Aracich, Wheeling Hospital, Wheeling, W.Va.
The laundry process is a chain, and each step is a link in that chain. If one link fails to hold up its part of the process, the entire chain is weakened.
[NP][/NP]The first link is the linen users. Are they collecting the soiled linen in a timely manner? Most importantly, are they actually sending it to the laundry, or is it sitting around while someone waits for the bag to be full or for someone else to do it? This procrastination will cause your first bottleneck and ripple along the entire chain.
The hard fact is “If we don’t get it, we can’t process it.” A good example is the operating-room scrubs. “Why don’t we have enough scrubs?” typically generates another question, “Did you send them down to be laundered?” If your operation is an OPL, you will find that they magically appear in the chute or collection area soon after you hang up the phone. No matter how many scrubs you may have in the system, if you don’t get them back in a timely manner, sooner or later you will run low.
The next problem with not receiving the soiled linen on a regular schedule is the imbalanced workload. If your full capacity is washing 10,000 pounds of linen per day and you receive it as scheduled, you will be able to keep up. However, if you receive 7,000 pounds today and 13,000 tomorrow, you will have a backup. This affects the rest of the chain as well.
Granted, there will be times when this cannot be avoided due to census, holidays and such. In this case, you may need to make a staffing and shift adjustment to compensate.
The next possible cause of a bottleneck could be drying capacity. Are you able to dry as much as you can wash?
As we’ve grown in census and have undertaken new endeavors, I’ve found that I could wash almost twice as much as I could dry. Although a portion of this was flatwork (sheets and pillowcases), the largest amount was dry work (towels, blankets and so on).
We were getting the linen washed as needed but then getting backed up in drying. And having to choose what was needed most at the time. I compensated for this by having an extended shift with the sole purpose of drying.
I am fortunate to have an administrative staff that is interested in my department, and to have just received approval to purchase two larger dryers to replace two of my older, smaller ones. This will increase my drying capacity and greatly reduce this bottleneck.
Then, of course, there is the human factor. Do you have an employee base that is dedicated to your facility? This is the most important part of any process in the chain. These machines do not operate themselves, and production is a must. I continuously try to impress on my staff the important part they play in the entire process, patient care, and how each area affects the other.
No one area is more or less important than another, and everyone needs to look out for the next link. Teamwork is essential in keeping the chain strong.Hotel/Motel/Resort Laundry — Charles Loelius, The Pierre New York, New York, N.Y.
A bottleneck is simply a resource that is overloaded (more work than capacity) during a particular period of time.
Since laundering, as in any processing environment, involves a step-by-step process, step B cannot be started until the completion of step A. The bottleneck in one area ultimately creates additional overloads, or “moving” bottlenecks, throughout the laundry.
[NP][/NP]Bottlenecks in any processing plant are a fact of life. It is crucial that the root cause of the overload is identified and solved, but this is easier said than done.
Troublesome, unsolved bottlenecks become accepted, as “that’s the way things work around here.” This will create problems with delivery and lead to excessive new-linen purchases to compensate. Unhappy customers and an unhealthy bottom line create a recipe for disaster!
In many cases, bottlenecks at the wash area, for example, are actually caused by an overload condition at the dryers. Conversely, poor wash room scheduling can similarly cause a bottleneck at the dryers. When seeking to identify the root cause of a bottleneck, start at the beginning of the laundering process and work forward:Soil Sort — Is soil sorted according to standard? Is the standard an accurate barometer of efficiency? Is the soil sorted accurately? Is the department properly staffed? Does the shift start at the proper time for optimum workflow? Bottlenecks in the soil-sort process will affect the entire plant and create the most moving bottlenecks.Wash — Is work properly scheduled? Is there enough wash capacity to handle incoming soil? Is there excessive rewash? Does the wash room start at the proper time to maximize workflow efficiency? Are the washers properly maintained?Dryers — Is there sufficient dryer capacity for the amount of washed work produced? Are dryers properly calibrated? Are standards in effect and enforced? Is the work properly scheduled?Finishing — Is there enough finishing equipment (flatwork ironers, etc.) for the amount of washed work produced? Are standards in place and enforced? Are the standards realistic? Is manpower properly scheduled?
Is the finishing equipment properly maintained? Is there excessive rework? Is “tumble” work properly dried? Is there a proper amount of bins and hampers in place to “take away” the finished work?
Bottlenecks can be created by the unlikeliest of causes. I once ran a large healthcare plant where an improper fuse caused a large finishing conveyor to shut down. Since there was no place for the work to go, the finishing process was brought to a halt.
At another plant, a malfunction at the cart-wash station was the root cause of a bottleneck in finishing. The lack of clean hampers created a “take-away” problem, which led to an overfilled conveyor, which stopped the flatwork feeders; the receivers had no place to put the work.
In both cases, the disruption was minimal, as the problems were identified and compensated for quickly.
To avoid these types of production delays, plant and production managers should travel frequently throughout their plants to monitor and survey operations. Ask questions if there are some things you do not understand.
If there is an area that you think may contribute to production delays, seek proactive ways to improve it. Don’t wait for the overload to occur.


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