Precasters can realize greater profitability with a few simple steps.
By Evan Gurley
The most efficient precast plants produce more concrete with less wasted material, less downtime, lower repair costs and fewer disruptions in employee productivity. However, there may be times when plant personnel feel pressure to skip steps in production, finishing or storage that can cause problems down the road or even cause major issues that incur costs far exceeding initial corrective action. The ideas mentioned here may help increase your plant’s efficiency and in turn save some costs.
Not all plants are alike, of course, so some of these steps may not make sense for a particular plant and may actually take more time and effort than they are worth. But precasters should always be looking for ways to improve their processes to enhance the efficiency, quality and economy of their operations. So let’s take a look at some possible cost cutters.
Preventive maintenance (PM)
When precast plants have some type of formalized inspection and maintenance schedule in place for machines and equipment, the chance for breakdowns and lost production time decreases. By recognizing the importance of regular and consistent preventive maintenance and continually communicating this to employees, the chances of detecting worn belts, inaccurate scale readings, worn lifting devices/apparatuses, noisy bearings and clogged filters before they break down greatly improve.
Keeping replacement parts in stock for your batch plant, such as boots, water parts, bin signals, dust cartridges, solenoid valves, air cylinders, bearings and various repair kits can help minimize down time in case something breaks. This is especially true for parts that are hard to find or take weeks to be shipped. If you aren’t sure which spare parts to have on hand at your plant facility, consult your batch plant supplier to determine the best plan for your plant.
If you do stock parts for your batch plant, keep the storage area as clean and organized as possible.
Some statistics have shown that more than 70% of all injuries at a facility are directly related to housekeeping issues. Keeping a precast plant clean is a constant battle but one worth addressing and tackling head-on. A plant’s actions or inactions in maintaining a clean work area greatly affect its employees’ safety and health and the environment, and that ultimately affects your bottom line.
It is neither complicated nor impossible to keep a plant clean and tidy. Housekeeping is a practice that is well within the employer’s and employees’ control, but it involves teamwork and effort. By looking into the events leading up to an injury and the injury itself, you may find it was due to a housekeeping issue. Grease on the floor or on ladder rungs, bags of materials or supplies stacked too high, tools and hoses left scattered about, walkways or travel ways blocked or obstructed, dirty tools and machinery, spent welding rods rolling across the floor, cluttered work tables or work space, blocked fire extinguishers and water accumulation on work space floors can all cause slips, trips and falls. All are related to housekeeping practices.
Once you analyze past injuries, take a look at current conditions. Are there similarities from past incidents? Are these same poor housekeeping practices still an ongoing issue? Now is the time to take corrective action to prevent future occurrences.
Take a look at historical data and your past OSHA logs. If you had any injuries in the past two or three years, try to determine if they were a result of a housekeeping issue. Then dig out your workers’ compensation claims costs for the same timeframe. Most likely you will find a deductible that you paid before workers’ compensation kicked in. This is money out of your pocket and off your bottom line. If you’re self-insured, this cost is all off your bottom line.
Now you can determine how much production, services and sales must be made to break even with the injury cost. It would be wise to disclose this information to all employees to show how everyone shares the cost of an injury, not just for the company itself but for workers, co-workers and families. Workers often do not realize how an injury affects others or how a good housekeeping plan will make everyone in the plant safer and less likely to be injured.
Quality management system
According to Phillip Crosby (1980), quality is free. He explains that it is actually all the “unquality” things that are costly. Every cent not spent doing the wrong thing is a penny sent to the bottom line.
Plants can avoid manufacturing subpar products by implementing a quality management system. The National Precast Concrete Association offers the “NPCA Quality Control Manual for Precast and Prestressed Concrete Plants” to aid the precast concrete industry in developing plant-specific programs. This manual, when used in daily plant operations, allows management and production personnel to understand and meet the requirements for manufacturing quality products. It provides practical information on adherence to accepted industry standards that helps provide consistency throughout a plant’s operations. Specifiers and users of precast concrete products are constantly seeking ways to identify high-quality products. The NPCA Plant Certification Program is based on the premium quality control program outlined in the NPCA Quality Control Manual and is intended to assure that precast and prestressed concrete plants are capable of manufacturing quality products.
Continuous improvement is one of the fundamentals that is often neglected in the day-to-day grind. Most industrial management experts estimate that the cost of poor quality typically amounts to 5 to 30% of gross sales (Archambeau, 2004). Some of these costs related to poor quality are easy to spot while others may be more difficult to pinpoint.
In terms of dollars and cents, repairs to a poorly made product cost money in materials and labor. When the piece is not repairable, you must dispose of it, and then you lose the value of the raw materials in that structure. Disposal itself also costs money, and then there is the cost of making the product again to meet the needs of the customer. But even these costs can’t compare with the losses that come when customers lose faith in products that are of poor quality. Scrap, underutilization, lost sales, rework and warranty costs are all components included in the cost of poor quality.
A common recurring example of an inefficient process is repair of concrete products. Due to improper pre-pour, production, post-pour, stripping and/or handling procedures, products sometimes become damaged in some way that requires repair. If proper procedures are not set up to prevent damage in the first place, after a while it may become a routine task in the manufacturing process. The cost is then absorbed by the plant as a cost of doing business, when in reality the company should find and resolve the root of the problem. The following items should be addressed to prevent recurring damage:
• Inspect forms prior to casting (repair or adjust forms, leakage, surface defects)
• Use the correct type and application of form release agents
• Use proper vibration equipment and techniques
• Inspect all lifting devices for safety and capacity
• Use proper handling techniques for cured products
Once all of these items have been addressed, implement a plan to ensure that any repairs are handled efficiently and don’t require repetitive motion.
A closed-loop corrective action system involves identifying and eliminating the root causes of problems. Here are the steps to a closed-loop corrective action plan:
• Clearly define the problem
• Determine the extent of the impact it has on the process
• Identify and eliminate the root causes
• Objectively evaluate the effectiveness of the action taken
When evaluating this model, materials, machines, methods and people should all be investigated to determine the root causes. Once eliminated, you will likely prevent recurrences of the problem. This in turn will improve your bottom line.
Evan Gurley is a technical services engineer with NPCA.