It is always good to pull back and see the big picture in our endeavors. It helps in how we need to communicate and what course to proceed.At a recent CLMA meeting, I was involved in an exercise, the purpose of which was to examine what it took to set up a CL manufacturing company and what improvements could be implemented in a “blank sheet” approach.The exercise was called “Building the Virtual Lab” and was presented by Al Vaske of Lens Dynamics.
About 50 people were divided into two groups. Within each group about 4 people were assigned to each company department. Assumptions were made about production levels (150 lenses/ day), selling price, and product mix. These all helped to determine the (production machinery and facility) capital needed, expected operating costs and profitability. What interested me most was the break-down of the complete organization into the departments: Administration, Customer Service/Consulting, Regulatory/Government Affairs, Sales & Marketing, Manufacturing, R&D, and Facilities/Telecom. If you have at least one person assigned to each department plus two to three in manufacturing, it adds up to about ten people. That is, about 1.5 to two persons are needed for every production person.As you might expect, in this exercise, I was in the manufacturing group. This was fun because my group could choose state of the art machines.
We also recommended an efficient manufacturing process based on the 150 lenses/day with one CNC lathe turning both backs and fronts (little automation). The groups got together and presented their department structure and operating plan. Each department would have a qualified person running it. Improvements in how a department operates could come from that person, from within the company, and/or from an outside expert. Just like any other department looking for improvement, the production manager could call in an expert to tune up the lens making process or suggest a major manufacturing improvement. Lab managers invite me to survey there operations.
When I look at a process, I look for ways to improve it. In manufacturing, these improvements can be in productivity, reduced reject rate, and/or quality. Looked at individually, improvements to a particular department will have a small effect on the whole company. That is to say, a 10% efficiency improvement in a department may only result in a 1-2% increase to the over-all profitability of the company.
This underscores the need for the company to look at improvements in all aspects of the operation. I believe, for some lab managers, proposed improvements are regarded with skepticism. When I visit CL manufacturers, I am always looking at the whole production setup and process. I stress fundamentals such as collet strain (crimp) and machine/tooling set-up. Often, I find a simple improvement to suggest, be it tooling, blocking process, polishing, etc. That is why I and the labs regard these visits as productive whether they buy machines or just clean the collets more often. There has been many a time that the lab manager allowed half an hour to meet with me that has some how grown into a 2-3 hour consultation. The problem solving continues as the lab manager keeps finding things to talk about. So, I encourage lab managers to take advantage of the time I spend with them. Sometimes, a 10% improvement in productivity is realized which looks great on the production report. This translates into an increase in profitability.
The CLMA used to hold a Business Enhancement Seminar in the 90’s. It covered similar topics like above. Of course, my focus was on productivity. The labs filled out an anonymous survey about their performance. The range of lenses/person/day was 20-70! The conclusion was that the “Those people at the extremes of the range must have not understood the question” according to the survey person. “Did they count all the employees in the company or just those in production?” By then, I had been in enough labs to know that these numbers were accurate based on the number of people actually making lenses. The telling thing was that the few labs that were making 60-70 l/p/d were in a great position to grow (and still are). This productivity allowed them to channel resources to all of the departments. So the profitability these companies enjoy makes the “Big Picture” look very good.