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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 1 (May 1, 1930)

Method in production

Method in production

So far we have discussed in a relatively nontechnical manner some of the factors as they affect the worker objectively. By this we mean the worker considered in relation to the job by the employer; how output is affected by certain physiological or phychological processes, and in the last article, a detailed consideration of some social relationships within the factory as well as those that are the result of interaction between workroom and leisure. Before we leave the subject of the employer to examine that of the employee, it is necessary to investigate what is but another aspect of scientific management.

The main factor in successful business is the ability to deliver orders when they are promised. In New Zealand, unfortunately, it is not possible to admit such as a general axiom. That the employer is, as yet, too haphazard, is proved by the report of the Boot Commission, where it was admitted that no adequate system was in vogue for routing and timing. The employer, too often, thinks he knows. Long association with his factory breeds, shall we say, contempt? Hardly that perhaps, but it certainly is something akin to ignorance, since it is very often good guess work. In many factories “rush” orders mean entire suspension of stock work, and a concentration on new work so that it may go out “on time.” It is a surprising fact, but, at no period of production, can many employers say where the order is or how far it is on the road to completion. This is one of the factors which retards production. The maximum production is reached only after tremendous output of energy, instead of our first postulate, minimum of effort.

Because of this obvious shortcoming in our industrial system I propose to write upon method in production with definite reference to the Railway Shops, where this aspect has been introduced. It is still on the way to final polishing by those who are analysing, but for all that it is sufficiently complete to warrant citation. To the man in the street any Government Department is synonymous with light labour, short hours, and all the accompanying factors of “an easy job.” This, however, is not so. In the workshops of the Railway Department a high standard of efficiency is set.

The Timing of Operations.

The first essential is the shop lay-out. This has been treated in detail in previous articles, and a passing word only is necessary. There must be continual progression in a forward direction. It is wasteful, economically unsound, and liable to increase “overhead” if this lay-out is not made. Within the shop itself, provided the machinery is properly set out for economic routing of jobs, each operation should be “timed.” If the best workman is taken the time may be too short for the average workman, or conversely, the average workman may be “rushed.” Larger jobs may be reckoned in some other unit, say an hour. A day as a unit is too loose for scientific purposes, besides which, one cannot be certain that a “day” has the same meaning to all concerned, and science abhors what cannot be “pinned down.”

As each part of the job is “clocked,” a “sum-total” time can be reached for the complete production of one or fifty articles. But is should not be merely noted. Definite permanent graphs should be made up for each type of work undertaken. This is necessary, for two reasons. The first is because “repeat” orders of standard lines can be worked out upon a definite “time” basis, and the second is that given “time” cost, “overhead,” and “initial material” cost, the factory cost, with a safe margin of profit, can be checked out in a few minutes. As a matter of fact I heard one manager give a definite price within page 35 three minutes over the telephone. But he had his production sheets in a drawer, together with relevant cost details, taken out separately and completely. There is the additional convenience too, that the production can be checked off at any one stage by reference to detail sheets. These are general facts which we shall now examine in detail.

Analysing and Planning the Work.

Methods of work will be treated in a subsequent article, but the main thing is to analyse the “job” into units. Each process in the manufacture must be shewn graphically. Moreover, there must be a continuous stream of labour poured out the moment the initial process is set in train. As an example, consider the manufacture of a passenger coach. This falls into three aspects, namely. steel work, woodwork, trimming. These again make a schema, involving considerable thought, something likes this:-

Modern Handling Appliances. Midway gantry crane for the conveyance of wagons in the Otahuhu Workshops yard.

Modern Handling Appliances.
Midway gantry crane for the conveyance of wagons in the Otahuhu Workshops yard.

This is but an outline of the labour involved. The next work is to “plan” the details so that labour on Sections A, B and C can be commenced concurrently. The time involved for each operation is known, so that while the steelwork is carried on the work of preparing the trimmings is in very active preparation. In point of fact the new Rotorua “de luxe express,” the construction of which I was privileged to see last January, through the courtesy of Mr. Sampson, Workshops Manager at Otahuhu, was built on these lines. At the same time as the bodywork was proceeding apace the brass-finishers, upholsterers, and painters, were all working at the job.

The Use and value of Graphs.

Further analysis of the work indicates the use of graphs. At the end of each day the work is checked up to show a ratio of work done.

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Suppose the graph for total time is 12 days, then, after eight days, approximately two-thirds of the work is, or should be, finished. The “planner,” or schedule officer, calls daily conferences. At these, each of the chief foremen shows how far his work is behind, up to, or even beyond the schedule, if this is possible. From these daily reports the schedule officer is able to advanced the work is. But it tells even more than just that. It indicates the other vital factor, namely, cost. If, for instance, the painters have completed a section of the work quicker than was expected, or even the opposite; if certain paints do not dry or “firm” as quickly as expected, then there is in the first case a saving in production costs. It shows the materials which give the best results under certain conditions. As a case in point, consider the painting of carriages. The time allotted for this was nine days. During one period, work fell behind schedule because of unusual climatic conditions, combined with a slowness of “firming” in the first coat. Such an experience will not be repeated, because the paint shop has graphs for such an events, and work can be modified accordingly.

As the work in the various shop is completed, it is assembled in the main shop on the schedule day. The need for intensive planning is here most apparent. Just as a puzzle is dependent upon its many parts for completion, so too is the work in a factory complete only when all the component parts dovetail into place on time. It is here that production costs enter the realm of” ultra-expensive,” for the inability to complete a job because of the minor fittings means the initial heavy outlay is merely adding to that mysterious “overhead”—actually a potentially interest—earning job losing money. For that reason, as the job nears completion, the schedule officer is most assiduous in his attention to Section C, where this is relevant to “real” finishing.

The Place of the Schedule in the Modern Workshop.

It must not be imagined that schedule working is merely a “fad,” as one manufacturer once told me. If the factory manager undertakes the production of a certain range of lines, he find that careful tabbing of time often bring about a reduction, in two ways. Not only does it mean a reduction in time, but more often it means a reorganisation of work. At Otahuhu it was found that the renovation of a passenger car, from the time it was lifted off the bogies till its restoration to service, was practically a nine-day working unit, which has been adopted for this type of work. It was discovered that the ideal team for the actual painting was seven, a smaller team than the previous one, while at the same time the work unit was not relatively longer.

Where Electric Travelling Cranes Do Useful Work. A view of the wheel section of the Machine Shop, Hutt Valley Workshops, Wellington.

Where Electric Travelling Cranes Do Useful Work.
A view of the wheel section of the Machine Shop, Hutt Valley Workshops, Wellington.

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Where repair work is undertaken, planning out schedules is even more useful, in that a continual stream of work is passing through. In shops where “timed” processes are carried out it is possible to give actual times at which “repairs” can be put on the road. This enables the works manager to regulate the intake as well as to ensure a steady working effort. the psychological effect of this letter aspect is enormous, although perhaps but dimly realised in many shops. Factory workers actually cover more by a steady effort than by long efforts alternating with comparatively long workless periods—times just “filled-in.”

Furthermore, it enables the raw material store to arrange supplies upon a more reliable basis. In the case of a small factory, where the “store” is supplying a steady demand for certain standard lines, such demand can be met with certainty because it is foreseen. Where the demand varies, where the graph for demand indicates peaks and depressions and irregular periods, “overhead” in the from of idle stores, makes production costs heavier than they ought to be.

The Function of the Stores Department.

There is, of course, another view. Where work is to be undertaken “on contract,” as in the case of oil-tanks or specialised work of a similar type, the store must work into the schedule by being in a position to the supply the necessary raw material. It is for this resaon that “stores” must not be overlooked. The foreman must have a definite knowledge of all stores at a moment's notice. Effective tabbing of stores is another noticeable feature of the Railway Shops. Withdrawals are immediately noted on a tab system, which is, thus, brought up-to-date automatically—a glance at the slip tells just what is on hand, as well as the size of the demand and its destination. This ensures a proper supervision over the “danger line.” When the store drops below a certain quantity the storeman is able to restock so that no work is held up by lack material which he can supply.

Such is, very briefly, the management of the shops. It is a tribute to them, in that they have become highly organised and very efficient. Next month I shall consider “Work Movements”—the next step in Industrial Efficiency—on a psychological basis.