During a summer in my younger years I was a tag-along for a company that would install home theater systems. We would install big screen televisions on walls, stereos and speakers, satellite television systems, projectors, lighting systems, and so forth.
Our day would consist of multiple scheduled installation trips to homes and businesses – we would come to the shop to pick up supplies of wires, harnesses, connectors, work requests, components, customer specifications, and information on the electronics companies that subcontracted the installation work out to us. As needed, we would go out to job sites and based on the work we were projected to do we’d select necessary components from the van or make trips back to the shop or local electronics store if there were components we were missing. The van would generally be very cluttered with leftover components from previous jobs or scrap materials from cutting components and walls to size.
Our types of jobs would vary greatly – some jobs were simple installations, some just required technical assistance, and others required busting out some heavy tools and machinery to drill through structures. Thusly, the components required would vary greatly and the time commitment would too. We were paid by the job (not every job paid the same), so the more jobs we completed the more financially lucrative it was for us. The jobs were scheduled as they came into the shop, with first-come-first-serve as the scheduling process. In addition, we would sometimes get calls about emergency jobs that would alter our schedule.
We found that we spent a lot of time driving around unnecessarily back to the shop or the electronics store for missing components. We were also ending up with way too many of certain types of cables or components in the van that simply would not get consumed fast enough to necessitate their presence, thereby creating additional clutter. The clutter extended our installation time because we had to dig through it all.
My installation partner/supervisor/driver and I put together an organizational plan with the intent of reducing the amount of time we spent driving/searching unnecessarily so we could do more installations and make more money. With the cooperation of the schedulers, purchasing department, and shop owner, we went about changing how we operate.
– We made a rough sketch of data on the most common types of installations we were doing and the attributes of each of those installations (estimated times for each install, tools required, components required) in the form of a very rudimentary Pareto chart.
For example, let’s say 25% of our installations were for satellite television service. This typically required the satellite provider system components (dish, receiver box w/remote) and coaxial cable with hardware. On a typical day where we might do 4-5 installations, it was a fair bet that we’re doing at least one satellite television service installation. With this knowledge, we were able to plan accordingly with pre-stocked components.
We also asked the schedulers to identify installation attributes that might add to the complexity of our work. For example, if hardware already existed in the walls of the installation location or the material the walls were made from (drywall, brick, concrete, etc). Anything that would help us better plan for upcoming installations and time investments would keep us from having big scheduling fluctuations because of unknown circumstances.
– We identified frequently-used components with estimated rates of consumption and developed a small cabinet system or cable rack that could easily be replenished as needed.
To save space in the van for important and frequently-used materials we put together a component replenishment process to refill drawers on a daily or as-needed basis. We set quantities for each component that we might consume in 2-3 days but were commonly used and included infrequently-used but minimal-space-consuming parts as well. This way we had the most common pieces ready to go but also minimized the frequency by which we had to make emergency trips for less-common components simply because we did not know we’d need them ahead of time.
The cabinet system was easy to manage, reduced clutter, and made finding materials easy.
The cables were a little more cumbersome since we couldn’t really stock pieces – they came in spools. However, we knew the lengths of cable (be it coax or stereo wire or ethernet cable or whatever) on each spool and could easily determine how much length of cable was available on the spool rack we put in place. We ordered spools large enough to get us through a couple of days of work but small enough to pick up an extra spool at the shop to hold in the truck when the spool on the rack ran out – we could quickly replace it as needed.
– We separated the commonly-used and basic tools from the special case, infrequently used tools.
This allowed us to tote a smaller batch of tools more frequently and not have to drag every tool we have into each installation location, saving us wear and tear. We kept the special tools in the truck and would pick them up as needed. We designated cabinet drawers to those tools but kept the common tools in a small tool kit that wasn’t very heavy. We didn’t go so far as to label drawers or put down 5S foam pads to keep tools separated, but we knew where everything was and where tools were supposed to go once we were done.
So what were the results overall?
When we got used to the new system of organization and planning, we saved enough time to add an additional installation to our regular schedule. In the same amount of time during the day we got more done and it was more lucrative for us.
Our consumption of materials was more predictable, and we had less loss of components due to breakage or damage (getting crushed by heavy equipment or falling out of the van). The company was tying up less money in inventory because ordering was easier to forecast. This made the purchasing agents happier.
Scheduling our jobs was easier and more predictable as we had less variation in installation times. This made for happier schedulers. More predictable schedules also meant customers had installations done sooner and were not subject to wild swings in daily schedules (“Oh, we’ll be at the house between 9 and 4 but don’t know when for sure”). Customers were happier.
Because customer satisfaction went up, our reliability went up in the eyes of the companies subcontracting us, our component loss figures went down, and our profitability went up…the owner was happier. He was so happy, in fact, that he instituted our ideas into the other installers and their vans – a sharing of a best practice.
The overall investment in improvement was minimal – just some time to sketch out the plan and the money to create/install racks and cabinets. However, the payoff was impressive overall and made a big difference in the company’s overall performance.