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Dream shop layouts

Feature, Graphics | May 1, 2013 | By:

How work processes inform shop layout.

When a graphics company moves to a new facility, it’s a chance to start from scratch. With more space and a blank slate, printers can lay out the shop so that it truly reflects their work processes. That’s what Moss Inc. got a chance to do in 2009 when it shut down its Belfast, Maine, operation and consolidated two Chicago-area plants into one larger space.

“That was a big opportunity to set things up,” says John Cooper, manager of Moss’ Elk Grove Village, Ill., plant. “We went from a smaller shop that was broken up into smaller rooms into a big box here, so we were able to set up the flow. We have printing, frame building, stitching, and setup. Everything ends up in setup, so we set that up in the center of the plant so all the feeder shops feed to it.”

One of the advantages of the departments converging on a central finishing area is that workers can see their projects getting completed. “A stitcher stitches a cover and it goes into a fabric bin,” says Cooper. “A frame builder builds a frame. Then they can see it come together into a full assembly, so the stitcher can see how the fabric reacts to the frame and the frame builder can see what the stitching needs. Seeing it go together really helps the quality. That’s helped out a lot from a training standpoint.”

But you don’t have to wipe the slate clean to realize an improved return on investment from your shop layout. Sometimes a minor adjustment in an existing shop can streamline your processes.

“We had two laminating mounters outside the i-cut [laser cutter] room, and they were feeding towards the middle of the room, in the direction of the loading dock,” describes Paul Glynn, vice president of operations at Designtex, Portland, Maine. “Then we had a series of tables that we could put our work on and stack them up for boxing and shipping. All of this happened in a linear fashion. So in the early fall, we turned the tables 90 degrees, creating alleys and giving us room for longer tables, so that [there was room for] various sizes and imagery that had to be separated on the tables. We could move more stuff out, so there was a big efficiency in doing that.”

What goes where

In a small shop, it’s not too hard to keep track of tools. Gary Teich, partner at Color X, Inc., New York, N.Y., says at his facility everyone is responsible for their own tool set. Tools are stored in boxes, with the most commonly used ones (such as cutting, trimming, hemming, and sewing tools) actually sitting in the open, at the ready.

But in a larger shop, tools can have a tendency to migrate, or to wander off altogether. To prevent this, Moss has color-coded its departments and all the equipment that belongs in them.

“Tools and equipment, where possible, are color coded,” says Vincent Marler, vice president of operations. “There’s a map in each shop that has the areas. And then equipment in the shop is taped off. We have shadow boards and taped-off areas on the floor for different pieces of equipment.”

“We try to have a visual plant,” agrees Jason Ahart, plant manager at Moss’ Salt Lake City, Utah, facility. “We don’t really have walls in either of our plants. It’s a very open feel. So we have a lot of these visual cues and visual coding and visual mapping, so you know what goes where. It helps on cleanliness, and also, if things get put back in place, it helps the next time you use it.”

In general, stock is stored closest to where it is most commonly used. For example, Ahart says, zippers are stored in the stitching department, and roll goods are stored near the printers that use them.

At Color X, only the most commonly used media live in the print room. “Other than that, we store them in a warehouse, rolls of it,” says Teich. “But on the floor there’s probably a good half dozen to a dozen rolls in each different department—solid vinyls, poplin and satins.

The best of all possible worlds

Digital printing is a cutting-edge business. Successful shops don’t try to make do without the equipment they need to get their work done in a competitive timeframe. They have the best printers and finishing machines that a shop their size can afford, and they are constantly upgrading.

“We recently found that the mounting area was getting a little bottlenecked, so we added workstations,” says Teich. “We’ve just upgraded two printers to new VUTEks, and that doubled the capability, the speed. You cannot miss a deadline, saying ‘We had a lot of work.’ The client doesn’t want to hear that. We know the volume that we have and we know what’s in the pipeline, so we pull the trigger and just get whatever we need to, within reason.”

If you ask these companies what they’d change about their shops if they could, they tend to talk about logistics, not the physical space or the machines. For example, if Ahart could change anything about his Salt Lake City facility, it would be to make all surfaces quick-cleaning and to banish all debris from the shop. He’d also like to make the operation more eco-friendly by installing alternative-powered lighting, something he’s already doing by swapping out regular bulbs for LEDs.

If Marler could add anything to the company’s workshops, it wouldn’t be equipment or physical space—it would be ninjas. Seriously, ninjas.

“One thing we’ve talked about is employees who are efficiently able to cross functions,” he explains. “An ideal for us would be if somebody could be there for print, and then if we need him in sewing, send him over to sewing, and then to frames. I guess we’d call them ninjas. We haven’t really been able to get that far with it. But, say, in our pre-production area, we’re looking at training one or two out of the group so they can do all of our pre-production functions: designing the frame, designing the fabric that will go on it, and manipulating the customer’s art and getting it ready for fabrication.”

Jamie Swedberg is a regular contributor to Fabric Graphics.

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