Category Archives: Capacity

5 Signs that you may need a new shift schedule


Shift schedules rarely fail overnight.  Typically, there are plenty of warning signs; signs that tell you to take action before it’s too late.  Here are the 5 biggest warning signs.

#1: You have idle equipment while still not producing enough to meet customer demands.  There can be a lot of reasons for this; nearly all of which point to a schedule that does not have the right people in the right place at the right time.  Product flow, staffing, maintenance and production order variability can all be addressed with the right shiftwork structure.

#2: Maintenance is blaming equipment availability for a downward trend in equipment up-time.  You can’t fix something while it’s running.  The result is often and solution like “We’ll wait until the weekend to fix it.”  This is fine until you find that leaving too much to the weekend ends up with an overly fatigued maintenance group with not enough hours on the weekend to fix everything.  Scheduling equipment, like scheduling people, can improve maintenance accomplishment while still getting the production hours you need.

#3: Absenteeism is going up as overtime starts to wear down your workforce.  As overtime goes up, two things will happen.  First of all, your workforce will start to get tired.  Secondly, they will notice that they are now making a lot of money and can afford to take time off.  This is a “death spiral”  situation in that it is self-perpetuating and will only get worse.  Staffing will impact overtime but to do so effectively, you must have a shiftwork structure to support the newly resized workforce.

#4: Local competition for labor is causing problems with recruitment and retention.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something like “Amazon just opened a mega-facility down the street and is hiring all of our employees away from us.”  The right schedule, one that is a good fit for your workforce as well as your business can help with this.  If wages are a concern, look for ways to get overtime to that 20% of your workforce that wants all they can get.  Overtime costs your company about the same as fully loaded straight time.  This means when you pay overtime, your employees make 50% more but your cost per hour is virtually unaffected.  Don’t lose your workforce because of wage pressures or quality of life issues.  The right shiftwork structure can help.

#5: Productivity metrics are dropping as equipment runtime-hours are on the rise.  If you are running more an more hours with the same old schedule, then you are probably seeing an increase in overtime.  While overtime is not a bad idea in many instances, it can eventually lead to worker fatigue.  This is especially true if you spread it evenly across all shifts.  Remember, not all employees want the same amount of overtime.  As fatigue goes up, so will accidents, quality issues and absenteeism.  You make find, for example, that running 6 days a week yields more output than running 5 days.  However, if you didn’t change schedules, a 20% increase in runtime will yield significantly less than a 20% increase in output.

In summary, don’t underestimate the impact of having the right shiftwork structure.  Fixing this issue is often the most expeditious and cost effective way of improving your overall operations.

For more information, call me, Jim Dillingham, at (415) 265-1621 or drop me a line at

Shift Schedules for the Food Manufacturing Industry


Shift work – The more you learn about it, the more you find out how much you didn’t know.

I have friends that know very little about what I do for a living.  When I say “I evaluate, design and implement shift schedules,” they will respond with “Aren’t all shift schedules basically the same?”

I will respond with something neutral like “sometimes” and leave it at that.  They are laymen who are not involved in the business of running a business that needs to cover something other than Monday through Friday, day shift.

However, if you are in that business, the business using shift work, then you know what I’m saying when I tell you, “There is far more to shift work than schedules.”

To this end, I have decided to write a series of blogs that talk about how shift work varies from one industry to the other.

I will start with the Food Manufacturing Industry.

The one thing that sets the Food Manufacturing Industry apart from all others is the need to sanitize.  Depending on the nature of their product and process, this can mean shutting down weekly or even daily for several hours to clean.

Most companies over-clean.  They do this because their shift schedule makes them do it.

Over-cleaning creates overtime.  It increases costs and eats into valuable capacity (it’s not unusual for a food production line to cost well over $10 million.)

How does the schedule make them do this?

Following a typical growth pattern for most industries, they handled expansion through a combination of capital acquisition and the addition of afternoon and night shifts.  They plan for 5-day operations and base their capacity on that.

Now, let’s take a 3 typical sanitation requirements and see how a schedule affects them.

  1. You must clean when you shut down.  This requirement has nothing to do with periodicity.  So, if you shut down every day, then you must clean every day.  If you shut down once a week, then you must clean once a week.  If you never shut down, then you must never clean due to this requirement alone.
  2. You must clean when you change products, especially if allergens are part of the equation.  If you are running, for example, 5 lines Monday through Friday and you need to convert one of the lines over to peanut-free, then you must shut down that line and clean it.  This takes that expensive line out of the production mode which means (assuming you need the production) either weekend work or the need to buy more capital.  If you had an idle line, you could simply set up that line and then shift to it when needed.  A better schedule can make this happen.
  3. You must shut down based on a biological emergence rate.  Bacteria become a hazard in a very predictable time frame based on conditions.  The same is true for a number of other pests. The schedule being worked has no impact on this.

Let’s suppose that in you operation, you are running 7 lines for 5 days.  This means you are using 35 line-days a week.

Suppose you went to running 5 lines for 7 days a week.  This still gives you 35 line-days a week.  However, this also addresses the first two issues above.  Running 24/7 on a line means you no longer have to clean a line weekly just because you are shutting down weekly.  It also frees up other lines so you can switch from one line to the other without experiencing lost production time.

So, just looking at sanitation alone, we can see that just changing from 5 day operation to 7 day operation can save capacity and eliminate over-sanitation.

Freeing up extra lines also allows maintenance to work on equipment without having to wait until the weekend (where they now try to do a week’s work in 2 days.)

Freeing up extra line also allows you to do setups on one line while the other line is running.  You can then shift to the newly set up line without losing production.

Does this mean that you should be running your operation 24/7?

It’s never that easy.  Food Manufacturing has a lot of moving parts, schedule-wise.  Sanitation aside there is also seasonality, new product introduction etc.

The best schedule is one that carefully considers everything from both a business and an employee perspective.  Every industry is unique.  Every company is unique.  Every facility is unique.

It should not come as a surprise that every shift work solution is unique as well.

My name is Jim Dillingham.  If you have any questions, please call me at (415) 265-1621 or send me an email at

How many people does it take to staff your schedule? (Part 2)


There is a short answer and a long answer to this question.  Here is a link to the short answer.

Now for the long answer:

Take a look at the “short answer” in the previous blog post.  That is a good place to start.

The following should be considered to refine the number you get using the “short answer”:

  1. The cost of full time labor matters.  How much does it cost you to pay someone for an hour of straight time?  How much does it cost you to pay for an hour of overtime?  I am not talking about “how much an employee receives.”  I’m talking about cost-to-the-company.  If you do the analysis correctly, you should find that the two costs (overtime and straight time) are within 10% of each other.  This is important because the amount of overtime you use will play a big factor in staffing levels.  For a fixed workload, the higher the overtime, the lower the staffing level you need.

  2. How much training does it take to qualify an employee for a position.  It is likely that there is a wide variance on this with regards to different positions.  Do Not use and “average”.  If you need an astrophysicist and a box stacker, an average will give you a bad number (4 years of post-graduate study for the physicist and 5 minutes for the stacker = about 2 years, on average, to train an employee).  Long training times lead to an increased use of overtime and less reliance on other labor options such as temporary help.  If your workforce is staffed with highly  skilled people, whose skills are easily transferable to another nearby company, then you will have to bend a more towards compensation scheduling and employee preferences for overtime so as to not lose these people.

  3. How variable is your workload?  If your workload level is flat, you will still have some fluctuations in staffing as people are on vacation or FMLA etc.  When staffing fluctuates, you have have extra staffing available or you can use overtime or you can reduce production.  Cost, degree of variability, employee preference and the nature of your operations will all play a role in determining how you staff for variability.   Its worth noting here that the most expensive option is to over-staff or staff for peak production as this leads to frequent over-staffing which is costly. A highly variable workload tends to mean lower staffing and higher overtime.

  4. How available are alternative sources of labor?  It your workforce pro-overtime or overtime-adverse?  Is temporary or part time labor available? If you are in Memphis and need temporary, highly skill forklift drivers, there are temp. agencies that can give you all this type of labor that you want.  However, if you need those same temporary skill in San Francisco, you may need to “grow your own.”  Can you scale back with seasonality by using shorter work weeks or voluntary layoffs?  Note: If the answer is no, the staff to the lower end and use overtime when things get busy.

  5. What about support activities?  Things like maintenance, engineering, quality shipping/receiving and administration all need to be staffed appropriately as you grow (or shrink).  There is no simple formula for how to staff these as there is often not a “straight line” relationship between staffing numbers in operations and staffing numbers for support areas.  For example, a 30% increase in operation staffing does not mean you need 30% more CFO’s.  In some areas, you may actually find that you need fewer support staff.  For example, maintenance struggles to fix everything on the weekend but if you go to a 24/7 schedule, maintenance can now take place any time in the week; including weekdays where it can be performed more efficiently.

  6. Are you LEAN?  It’s “old school” to think you should stockpile between cells in a value stream ensure you never run out of product either upstream or downstream.  Instead, just-in-time is what modern operations strive for.  Many companies can maximize or throttle production using staffing alone.   This may mean you staff an area below its maximum capacity to enure it does not outrun its value stream neighbors.

  7. What is the opportunity cost of lost time?  This must be a consideration if you are going to staff with as few people as possible.  You may save a lot of money by having fewer maintenance specialists but then you might lose even more money if you suffer downtime because you are understaffed.

Staffing is at least as important as that next piece of equipment you are considering.  The right number of the right people will impact your cost structure at several different levels.  It will impact labor costs.  It will impact quality.  It will impact volume.  It will impact turnover and absenteeism.  It will impact your ability to respond quickly to your customers.

If you have any questions, please give me a call.

Jim Dillingham, Partner

(415) 265-1621 or

Overtime: Fact V. Fiction


It is not unusual for a company to contact us with the following idea: “If I can just put in the right schedule, I will save a ton of money on overtime.”

There is really just one condition where this is absolutely true.  If your current schedule has too many people at one part of the week and not enough people at another part of the week, the right schedule will correctly redistribute these people and you will save a ton of money.

Then there are times when this is partially true.  If your operation is expanding and the size of your workforce is fixed, then overtime will go up.  When overtime goes up the following happens: (1) The workforce makes more money, (2) The workforce becomes fatigued, (3) Productivity per person will drop, (4) The accident rate per hour will go up, (5) Quality will decrease and absenteeism and turnover will increase.

The perfect schedule will allow you to keep these from happening.  It does this by allowing you to add straight time hours to “replace” overtime hours.

Note the use of the term “replace.”

In most cases, reducing overtime means adding straight time.  From a cost perspective, the two are nearly identical.  Straight time costs include wages AND benefits as well as taxes.  Overtime costs include a premium rate and taxes.  In the end, they typically cost the company the same.  What this means is if you say, “We can eliminate $1 million a quarter in overtime costs with a better schedule!”  It is very likely that your next sentence should be “However, we will also spend $1 million a quarter in additional straight time costs.”

This is not to say you should not keep a handle on your overtime.  Too much will certainly cost you; often in disastrous ways (as noted above).  However, overtime should not be seen as the “low hanging” fruit on the road to reduced costs.

If you want to reduce your costs – increase your volume.

There is no simpler way to do it.

By the way, most companies, with level production levels find that an overtime rate between 5% and 15% is just about right.  Keep in mind, in a typical workforce, 20% of your workforce avoids all overtime.  20% of your workforce loves all the overtime they can get.  The remaining 60% will work what they feel is a fair amount.

If you want to know how your workforce feels about overtime…

Ask them.  Don’t guess.





Use Your Data — Know Your Business


Over the last 20 years I have evaluated the operations of hundreds of manufacturing, processing, mining, and service organizations. Three things I have learned from that work:

  1. Companies know their business, but their knowledge is incomplete. They shoot targets, monitor KPIs, and compare their performance to their plans and budgets. But they don’t have time to actually think about their operations and performance.
  2. Companies have lots of data. It is not unusual to ask for real data and have a management team laugh heartily and say: “Oh, we have tons of data. So much data that you will be drowned in data.”
  3. Companies do not look at their data very much. Unfortunately, when asked what their mountain of data tells them about their operations, they go back to their targets and KPIs. They have data, but they use very little of that data because they believe there is too much data to understand what it is telling them.

This lack of data analysis represents lost opportunities to compete more effectively within their industry. Some quick examples:

  • A world-wide, leading mining company was experiencing lower productivity on weekdays than weekends, resulting in more than a 7% (overall) loss in production capacity. Approximately 2% of this lost production was due to necessary operational and maintenance downtime, and the remaining 5% was unexplained. Why was it unexplained? The majority of lost production mid-week was attributed to the planned downtime. Since the available operational data had not been analyzed, there was no way to know that there was a potential to increase output by 5% by understanding and correcting the weekday operating problems. Instead, the problems were seen as insignificant.Imagine the value of improving an operation’s performance by 5% just by implementing procedures that are already in use within the organization.
  • An electronics manufacturer was experiencing over 25% lost capacity, resulting from shutdowns at lunches and breaks, on a board assembly line. In addition and for unexplained reasons, the line productivity ramped up as a day progressed, peaking mid-day on day-shift, and then fell off again as the remainder of the day was completed. This ramp-up/down phenomenon resulted in a 40% additional loss in capacity. In other words, the line capacity could have increased by an additional 65% just by operating continuously at its demonstrated peak productivity level yet no one knew the opportunity existed. Once again, imagine the impact of increasing capacity by 65% without additional investment This may push new capital investment off by years, not to mention the improved labor cost per unit impacts.

In this age of computers, these types of opportunities seem surprising. Yet it is not unusual to run into a management team that does what I sometimes think of as “managing by cocktail napkin”. Each day they face a set of problems indicated by their performance tracking measures but not really understood. They discuss possible solutions over lunch, take some notes on their cocktail napkins, finish lunch, and throw the napkins away because they still don’t understand the cause of the problems. The next day, they go through the same process all over again, never once looking at the underlying data from their operations.

With some effort and the willingness to scale a mountain of data (hundreds of thousands of data points in the cases above), the opportunities are clear. The data is available, but time for the analysis is not invested. The magnitude of these opportunities suggests that investing in this analysis will often result in a very real and fast payoff.

The bottom line here is that companies that do this type of analysis gain a competitive advantage in their industries. Since we do some of this analysis as part of our shift schedule evaluation projects, our clients benefit when they evaluate schedule alternatives. But you don’t need to be changing your schedule to do the analysis. You do need to know how to do the analysis or hire someone that knows how to the do the analysis. And you should do that soon, because your success is at stake.

I will be writing more about this topic over the coming months, including:

  • Looking at some example data sets and sources.
  • What questions should be asked of the data.
  • Answering these questions using some of the analysis tools already on your computer.

Of course, we are happy to help you if you would like outside help. Please call us today at (415) 763-5005 to discuss your situation.