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So You Bought A New Piece of Equipment

Diana Vollmer |

You went to the Clean Show in Las Vegas in June and spent some of your hard-earned money. You visited all of the appropriate booths; you weighed the advantages and disadvantages of each piece of equipment. You considered the cost, the maintenance and the quality of the output it might produce. You made a decision. Congratulations.
Now you’re impatiently awaiting the equipment’s arrival. You’re ready to install it and begin reaping the benefits that the manufacturer and distributor promised. The advantages of this new piece of equipment may be real, but for you to even get the slightest benefit from your purchase, you’ll have to do a lot of work before it arrives and after it’s installed. Get ready.
Where should you put this new piece of equipment? It seems like a simple question that should have a very simple answer. How often have you visited a plant that you were told had a professional layout, and found that it may have had a logical flow at one time, but the equipment had been placed wherever room could be found over the years? Today, it’s hard to see any organization to the workflow at all.
Each new piece of equipment must be thoughtfully positioned on the plant floor to reap the greatest benefits. Before placing a piece of equipment in a workstation, consider how the work arrives at that piece of equipment, when the employee is going to use it and where the work will go when it leaves.
The next question is how close the new machine needs to be to your other pieces of equipment. Maintenance personnel usually place equipment, and they often install it in the position that offers them the easiest access for repairs. This is understandable, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best place for the equipment.
Repair personnel may work on a piece of equipment on an annual, quarterly, monthly or weekly basis, but an employee is expected to use it every hour of every day. Position equipment for the maximum ease and efficiency of the employees assigned to it.
Once you’ve settled on placement, use chalk on the floor to mark the exact position where the installers should put the new equipment. This means less guesswork and fewer last-minute adjustments from people who aren’t as close to your business as you are.
They may argue that the steam lines are too difficult to install with the machine where you want it — and that’s okay. You only have to pay them once for a difficult installation, but you’ll have to pay your employees every day for a poor decision you make the same day. If you think all of this too difficult, wait for the second part — it’s harder and even more important.
You probably conferred with a few employees before buying the new equipment; they may have helped you pick it out. Often, the employees who helped select the equipment are not the same ones who will be using it day in and day out, though.
Those people — no matter how much they complain about their current equipment — may find it difficult, if not impossible, to adjust to a new unit. The risk in this transaction is that you won’t use the new machine after investing a lot of effort in picking it out. Worse still, you could lose a good employee; the machine wins.
Have you or some of your friends in the industry ever bought a new piece of equipment, only to move it into a corner where it gathers dust? We’ve all seen equipment that gets purchased, installed and used for a brief time, then loses favor with employees and gets moved off the floor due to lack of use.
The explanations range from blaming the owner for poor equipment selection to faulty equipment design to changes in customers’ wardrobes. But the most common — and least admitted — reason a piece of equipment doesn’t get used is that employees were unwilling to see its benefits and adapt to it. They forced the equipment to be moved aside in favor of the status quo.
Putting the new unit in the proper place from a workflow perspective is a good first step toward adoption, but it is not the only step you need to take. Management must engage the employees who will be using the new unit in the decision, and help them learn and understand the new machine.
Trying something new (and perhaps failing) is frightening to most people. Introducing something new — anything — can produce fear and often rejection instead of a willingness to learn, understand and persist. You can take every step possible to involve the individual in the process, and failure can still result.
Newer employees are often not as ingrained as those who have done the same work on the same equipment for years. Newer employees may not have decided, for example, what the “best” way to finish a garment might be. Management needs to tell them.
Learning a new piece of equipment is no different than learning any other piece of equipment. This is why many new employees accept new equipment more readily than long-term employees who have decided upon the best, most efficient way to do a certain task. Training new employees on new equipment and avoiding confrontation with established employees offers a good chance of success.
Change is difficult for most people. The more you involve employees in the initial decision, selection process and workflow design — not to mention the testing and acceptance phases — the more successful the outcome will be for the entire operation.

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at dvollmer@mfmi.com, 415-577-6544.

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