Ask a simple question, and sometimes the answer is anything but simple. During our search to assemble a collection of practical tips and tricks used by some of the industry’s most experienced fabrication experts, we discovered that “tricks” extend far beyond clever things to do with hosiery, and “tips” can include more complex advice than which type of rivet to use in a brace.
This article covers a wide range of fabrication issues, from the timely to the timeless and from the philosophical to the mechanical-all from professionals at the top of their games. We’ll start with overviews on efficiency, education, and tooling, and then we’ll give you more than 35 elegant ideas for addressing common fabrication problems.
Efficiency Means Money
Scott Wimberley, CTPO, Cornerstone P&O, Bellingham, Washington, and COO of Fabtech Systems, Mukilteo, Washington, believes that the virtual “mother tip” for fabricating wisely and economically boils down to applying simple common sense and careful waste control.
“We’ve been working with a Japanese consulting group out of Toyota for about 10 years for lean manufacturing, which has increased efficiency, productivity, and profitability through reduction of waste. Our business has grown anywhere from 14 to 20 percent annually for ten years-although I am operating with the same staff level I had ten years ago.”
Sometimes “waste” isn’t obvious and demands careful scrutiny of traditional time-honored methods/habits and willingness to change them. Here are some pointers Wimberley shares:
- Use downtime wisely. During production downtime, people typically kick back because the workload has slowed down, and they should instead use the time to prepare for a future busy time by fixing broken equipment, addressing known problems, and organizing the shop.
- Neatness pays. During downtime when you’re organizing the shop, dispose of unnecessary items, surround workers with things they need to do their job effectively, and find a place for those things that are not immediately needed.
- Don’t save everything. In the name of thrift and saving, typically workspaces in O&P become cluttered with excess and remnants from previous jobs. And while it does seem thrifty to save each little nut, bolt, and screw, this actually creates clutter that causes confusion and problems that cost you much more than you ever saved with that particular part or product.
While you might have $3 worth of used hardware in a bin, if a technician or practitioner spends 15 minutes digging around looking for something, effectively they’ve just bought what they’re looking for-two and three times over-with the cost of their lost time.
- Regulate your workflow. Too much work-in-progress will kill your business. If you have 30 jobs halfway started, you have absolutely nothing you can deliver to a customer, yet you have the expense of 30 jobs sitting in bins, and the confusion of 30 bins’ worth of parts. You’re eating up thousands of dollars worth of supplies, you’re completely filling up a space, and you have more work to manage and to look at. While you’re working on these jobs, there’s nothing completed for six or seven days, then suddenly, you need to deliver 30 jobs all at once-which isn’t possible.
It’s much better to see one job through to completion and keep your work-in-progress very low. Strive for a regular flow of work that does not exceed what any part of the process can deliver.
- Improve communication. During slow periods, I recommend that people work on work orders and business documentation. If you look at a company’s books, one of the most expensive line items on the account is payroll. That means that your people are your most expensive asset, hands down. Nevertheless, a lot of businesses don’t have work orders; they don’t have due process for how they do their business. Every single job has many levels of communication to clarify details so that the job can be done correctly. If your communication isn’t effective, you’re reworking jobs or delivering substandard product.
- Discover what your customers want. If you’re delivering your idea of service and value without surveying your customers, you’re probably over-delivering. For years, we made a really nice leather strap for every single AFO that went out the door. We probably spent 12-15 minutes making each one of these straps…. Our patient surveys showed that no one noticed it…. We consequently changed to a much simpler strap that probably saved $4,000 the first year. The product was the same, and our customers were just as happy.
- Don’t overstock; instead, purchase more often. Don’t stock anything you don’t have to. Create a purchasing process that is easy enough that you can place one or two small orders a week, just to cover your needs. OPIE’s purchasing software makes purchasing very straightforward and helps track inventory.
A lot of people don’t manage their inventory, so when it gets to zero, they have a knee-jerk reaction and order 100. When so many items come in the door, they must be stored piecemeal anywhere they’ll fit. Since the items are scattered and no one’s monitoring inventory, before they know it, they’ve used the last one and they’re at zero again, and the overstocking cycle continues.
- Don’t sit on dead stock. If something you order doesn’t work for a patient, send it back and get it out of the way, even if it requires a restocking fee-even if you take a loss. If it winds up on a shelf, it will probably never be used.
If you’ve been carrying inventory on your books for two years and you’ve got a stockroom that’s worth $60,000, you probably can do some evaluating and get rid of some of it. Donate it to a charity, do what you’ve got to do with it. You’re losing money every day it stays. If your warehouse is full of only what you need, you are much more likely to stay on top of it.