Thursday, January 31, 2019

Movie Club - STINK

Yesterday I finally watched the documentary STINK, about the hidden ingredients in products like children's pajamas, perfumes, and more.

The message of the documentary is that brands are keeping secrets about ingredients from their customers. The people in the film call customer service, communicate with overseas factories, and show up at shareholder meetings to try and figure out what might be contained in products they buy and ask whether the ingredients should be disclosed.

One of the most striking things is how little brands actually do know about what is in the products they sell. Justice, the children's brand featured, doesn't manufacture any of the products sold in stores. The product managers don't list ingredient information online, and the customer service teams haven't been trained to understand what is in the products.

Does this look like your brand? Are you purchasing raw materials from suppliers without understanding the ingredients that are in them? Do you have a policy to purchase only products with fully-disclosed ingredient lists? Most manufacturers don't. Would it be an advantage to you to be able to answer these kinds of questions from customers?

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

What is a Spec Sheet?

A Specification tells you the important features of an item you are purchasing. These will vary depending on the item.

For buying raw materials and chemicals, a specification includes the ranges of chemistry, the density of the material, color, and any limits on impurities such as heavy metals.

For finished products, the specification includes measurements such as weight, length and geometry features, and any functions performed by the item.

Some examples of what you may see on a spec sheet:

Glass Dropper Bottle: Blue virigin glass. Dropper with bulb. Dropper holds 1mL liquid. Bottle holds 15mL. Total weight 0.5 oz.

Ground Fine Pumice: 1 lb package. Particle size 149 to 240 um particles.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Receiving Goods

Do you have a process for bringing materials into your studio?

When deliveries show up, they should be checked against the purchase. Did you get what you bought? This includes quantity and product type. Does the item look, smell, taste as you expect it to?

The materials should be cleaned of any dirt or residues from warehousing and placed in the studio where they will be used. Update the inventory counts in your system (whether this is a computer system or a physical system on the floor). File any certificates of analysis and make a note of when the payment is due to the supplier. 

Monday, January 28, 2019

What is a COA or Cert?

A COA is a Certificate of Analysis. Sometimes also called a Cert or Certificate. It contains the results from any testing done on the batch of materials being shipped.

This certificate is different than a specification sheet. The Specification (or spec) tells you what SHOULD be in the material, often reported as a range. The COA tells you what's actually in the batch you are receiving. For example, if purchasing a bag of sugar:

Bulk Density

Specification: 800-850 kg/m3

COA: LOT 12345, Processed 1/28/19, 834 kg/m3

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Book Club - The Bottleneck Rules

The Bottleneck Rules is a fast, easy read about bottlenecks.

Clarke Ching uses real-life examples to show how bottlenecks work and how working on them can help your processes.

Finding bottlenecks in your process and eliminating them is one of the fastest ways to improve.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

What is a Bottleneck?

A bottleneck is the part of any process that limits the total process.

You cannot drink a beverage faster than it can come out of the neck of a bottle, no matter how big the overall bottle may be.
The bottleneck can be anywhere along of a process from start to finish. In chemistry are called "rate-limiting steps". In project planning it's called the "critical path". 
Spending time working on the bottleneck helps improve your overall process speed. Time spent speeding up the other processes is wasted effort if you don't improve the bottleneck. 
Do you know what the bottlenecks in your process are?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Inventory, Cash Flow, and Profit

Inventory sitting on your factory floor is doing you no favors. It can go obsolete, get damaged, and tie up cash. So why have it? Buying more product gets you more discounts, which increases profitability.

Everyone wants to be more profitable, right? There's even a shortcut to being more profitable, and it doesn't require any real work - dump all your cash into inventory. The fastest and easiest way to make a business look more profitable on paper is to decrease costs. The fastest way to do that is to pay less per unit for materials. The fastest way to pay less per unit is to buy in massive quantities. So - the quickest way to look good on paper is to dump all of your cash into inventory that will sit on your floor.


You could keep a careful eye on inventory, turning your cash into product in smaller amounts that keep your cash more readily available. You won't see big discounts in product and your profitability-on-paper might not look as nice. But you'll keep the doors of your business open longer.

Friday, January 18, 2019

End of day studio walk

Right before leaving for the day, take a lap around the studio to check for things that are out of place.

Someday I hope to do this and actually be able to leave! In the meantime, there's always time to out one more thing away to the proper place.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

ProFood Tech - upcoming trade show

Attending trade shows is a great way to get ideas.

The ProFood Show, March 26-28, is coming up in Chicago and I'll be walking around to see how different liquid and solid food products are handled, processed, and packaged.

This gives an idea what my factory could look like in the next several years and introduces me to vendors that might be a good fit for ingredients, packaging, and equipment. Even if you don't make food, seeing how things get made with brand new machines on an expo floor usually sparks some ideas for improvements in your studio.

I don't have an affiliation with the show. I have found that pre-registering is relatively inexpensive, and that usually a free registration code can be found with a quick search or by contacting an exhibiting vendor and asking nicely for a code so you can visit their booth.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Make Problems You Can Find

Major food manufacturing companies are worried about bits of metal ending up in cereal, granola bars, and yogurt. Lots of preventative maintenance is done on the machines to avoid pieces chipping off, but items are also inspected by high speed metal detectors as they are made.

You'd think this means any employee should avoid carrying around or wearing metal, just in case something like a button falls into production. But that's exactly what they do - make sure fasteners or easy-to-break-off items ARE made of metal. That way instead of losing a plastic button in a cup of yogurt, the metal button is easy to find.

What kinds of mistakes are you making that are hard to find? Can you make the mistakes more obvious?

Monday, January 14, 2019

What is Poka-Yoke?

Poka-Yoke is the process of designing in error-proofing.

In other words, make things really hard or impossible to screw up on accident. (making things hard for people that are TRYING to screw them up is a different story).

Your camera battery doesn't fit in your camera if you try to install it backwards. 

Your clothes dryer won't tumble if the door is open.

Your address is printed once, on the electric bill, and is visible through the envelope window, so no one gets mailed a stranger's bill. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Our Lord and Savior, Lean Manufacturing

Lean Six Sigma Manufacturing. Have you heard of it? Have you certified as a yellow belt, a green belt, a black belt? Do you know the Founding Fathers of Lean? Have you named your firstborn after Taiichi Ohno?

It's okay if you haven't. Use the jargon, history, and methods that help your production. Leave the rest.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Colored tape for marking items

The best visual management system lets you identify something from across the room.

A simple, inexpensive way to help with this is using colored electrical tape. is a Colorado-based company that stocks and ships all kinds of tapes in different colors. The tape is reasonably priced, and although the "shipping and handling charge" is a bit much (11.95 for a recent order of 4 rolls of tape), the processing and shipment times are excellent. 

I don't have a relationship with the company and don't know anything about them other than being a very happy customer. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Materials Reserve and Low-Fuel Lights

Having a reserve of critical materials is important so you recognize when it's time to restock.

An annoying dashboard light tells you you are low on fuel; now you have time to plan for filling up the tank or plugging in your vehicle. In the meantime you have some fuel remaining, so you car doesn't simply stop in the middle of traffic.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Drums: closed head vs open head

Drums come in different sizes but a typical size is 55 gallons.

The top of the drum may be closed or open. A good brief video showing the difference is here:

-Open head drums are better for solids and thick liquids. The entire top of the drum comes off. The lid may be solid or have bung holes in it to hold a pump. They are easier to empty and clean out, but they aren't leak proof.

-Closed head drums are sealed except for one or more holes. These holes are typically threaded to accommodate pumps. The tight seals make them leakproof. These are better for liquids, especially those you want to avoid spilling such as hazardous liquids.

Different materials and ratings make the drums appropriate for different things, ranging from acids and caustic liquids to thick liquids and solid and granular materials. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Physical Inventory tip: Handheld Tally Counter

If January is time for physical inventory, here's a great item to have on hand: a handheld tally counter. These may be familiar to you from seeing them in action the door checker at a big box store or a bouncer at a nightclub. Click once to count one. Very simple, and helps to avoid "Agh! I have to start over!" syndrome.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Inventory and Gift Cards

It's tempting to buy lots of inventory so you don't run out and you can take advantage of bulk pricing, but it comes with a downside. Buying inventory is like taking cash out of your wallet and turning it into several different gift cards.

Instead of $20, you now have $5 at Starbucks, a $5 Amazon credit, $5 at the local spice shop, and a single $5 bill left over for any other purchases. If you only actually needed $3 worth of coffee, a $3 kindle book, and $4 in sea salt, then you have $5 sitting around in unneeded product. You could have had double the amount of cash in your pocket to use on a different purchase.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

What is a lift gate?

A lift gate is an add-on piece of equipment for the back of a truck that allows cargo to be moved to ground level.

Standard trucks require a loading dock above the ground in order to properly unload. This dock is 48-52 inches above the ground and often has plates and other equipment to assist in unloading. If you're trying to move pallet items or other heavy items from the height of the truck bed to the ground instead, you'll use a lift gate. The gate unfolds to create a small platform, which you roll the pallet onto. Then you lower the platform to the ground to unload.

Lift gate deliveries are essential if you're not in a location built for industrial use. If you're scaling up a production business out of your kitchen and need to have a large shipment delivered, you'll need to let the supplier/carrier know that you need a lift gate. There is often an added fee of $100 or so added to the delivery cost when this service is required.

Friday, January 4, 2019

What is a PRO number?

A pro number is the freight-related term for tracking number.

If you're getting a pallet or a truckload shipped, to you, you won't have a "tracking" number, you'll have a "pro" number. You can then get the status of the shipment by calling the carrier or sometimes by entering the number on the carrier's website.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Design for Manufacturing pt2

The designers of THIS beer case knew what the case was supposed to look like when it gets assembled. Also, they had probably looked at how cases are assembled in real life and perhaps even seen what happens when they don't consider that assembly in their design. The design works well even when the two flaps don't match up exactly as expected.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Design for Manufacturing pt1

The designers of this beer case knew what the case was supposed to look like when it gets assembled. They didn't keep in mind that assembling cardboard isn't always accurate. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Names for places to make things


Do they mean something different to you?