CHICAGO — Peter Drucker, who wrote 39 books on business management, produced the following, well known quote: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
Jon Witschy sales manager for Spindle, a technology company that builds infrastructure for operations to measure and improve productivity, puts a little different spin on that quote: “What gets measured gets managed.”
Performance measurement is critical in all phases of a laundry/linen service operation—staff productivity, equipment efficiency and utility consumption—says Brendan O’Neill, general manager of London Hospital Linen Service Inc. in London, Ontario.
“Understanding where the operation is running effectively, and where there are opportunities for improvement, is the basic function of management, and without the measurement of key performance indicators in each phase, these decisions are a ‘shot in the dark,’” he says.
P.J. Dempsey, president and CEO of Dempsey Uniform & Linen Supply Inc. in Jessup, Pa., agrees that performance measurement and improvement are critical for laundry/linen services today.
“In a business as competitive as textile rental, with customers demanding higher quality at a lower cost and Dempsey’s mission of paying the most competitive wages with the best benefits we can afford, it is imperative that we achieve the highest levels of productivity that we can sustain,” he shares. “Like most businesses, we believe you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
“You improve profits by maximizing output (pounds or pieces) while minimizing input (labor, machine and process hours), thus lowering operating expense,” shares Michael Dodge, production consultant for Gotli Labs (GLOBE), a company based in Switzerland with an objective to create a new system that can manage all resources in a laundry. “Measurements are needed for these output and input operations.”
IN THE PLANT
Dempsey puts the need for measuring in practical terms: The company is only paid for product that ships. That product is measured by machine throughput.
The cost of a new plant and/or equipment increases every year, and it gets more expensive to maintain as well, he adds. By maximizing machine throughput, the service increases asset utilization and minimizes operating cost.
“Again, this helps us keep our costs low for our customers and pay our employees the most competitive wages and benefits,” shares Dempsey.
Measurement of equipment performance is critical to any laundry operation from a number of perspectives, according to O’Neill. On the wash aisle, whether measuring washer efficiency (pounds per hour) or loading efficiency (load turnaround), understanding the basic efficiency of a washer is critical to ensuring the wash floor is meeting the productivity target.
“Measuring wash-floor productivity also ensures equipment is available at specified intervals for preventive maintenance, scheduled maintenance and where inefficiencies are identified in productivity, it helps identify opportunities to take equipment down to optimize washer efficiency through regular maintenance,” he adds.
Measuring utility consumption to a baseline (water consumption, steam consumption or natural gas consumption per pounds processed) on the wash floor and for dryers will also identify where there are leaks, bad valves, faulty seals, flow meter failures, bad float switches. All of these can lead to increased costs in lost utilities, he says.
In the finishing departments (uniform processing, ironers and dry fold), O’Neill says that measurement of equipment performance through a productivity monitoring system (PMS) is a critical component of any laundry, whether it is done manually, or by an automated PMS.
“This helps set the standard for efficiency for each machine, for each product type, based on the manufacturer targets, and sets the pace for production through put (pieces or pounds per operator hour),” he says. “Further measurement of utility consumption through the use of equipment based metering, can provide real-time, relative data to identify opportunities for improvement.”
O’Neill goes on to say, like Dempsey, that measuring finishing equipment productivity also ensures equipment is available at specified intervals for preventive maintenance and scheduled maintenance, and where inefficiencies are identified in productivity, it helps identify opportunities to take equipment down to optimize efficiency through regular maintenance.
“The machine downtime and changeover time must be measured as well,” Dempsey points out. “It is misleading to show high levels of employee productivity if they were only performing at that level for the time when the machine was running.”
When it comes to laundry production workers, Dempsey says his company utilizes the production management data to find the best position for an employee.
“Some are naturally better at small-piece feeding, others at large pieces and still others at garment hanging,” he says. “It is also useful for new employees to get up to standard in a shorter period of time, or to recognize they aren’t a good fit for the production environment.”
O’Neill agrees that understanding how employees are performing on all equipment, with all styles of textiles, can enable a balancing of the strength of the team. Further, it allows for analysis of underperforming staff where coaching, reinstruction and development can be measured, and achieved.
For the staff members who are meeting and exceeding the standard, it assists the manager to review what the successful operator is doing and use those tactics in the training and development of new staff.
“We believe that by utilizing an industrial engineer to set a fair production standard, we can achieve the desired balance of productivity and quality,” says Dempsey. “This would be pointless if we did not measure performance against this standard. By achieving the standard, we are able to keep our costs low for our customers and pay our employees the most competitive wages and benefits.”
O’Neill adds that it is critical to understand how each employee is performing (pieces, pounds per operator hour), to ensure the overall operational KPIs (key performance indicators) are being met.
“The data is used for coaching purposes, not directly for disciplinary purposes,” he explains. “It is an indicator, in real time, allowing supervision to focus on those in need of assistance, achieving department success. Accountability is critical in any operation, and seeing how each employee, or employee team, is performing over the last week and last quarter opens the eyes of all our team members, and visitors, alike.”
Check back Thursday for the conclusion on tools for measuring production, strategies for improvement.