Project Kaizen: Thursday

Today we’re supposed to write about quick ‘n easy kaizen; improvements that affect the ease of one person doing a job and within one’s authority to make a change. For my project, I’ve selected a poka yoke -I’ve talked about poka yoke before. Poka yokes are little things you can do to flub-proof a task, making it impossible (or at least highly improbable) for one to make a mistake. A good example is a coffee grinder. If the cap is not aligned properly, it won’t grind and if the cap is on, you won’t have coffee spilling everywhere making a horrendous mess. Poka yoke is a great concept to prevent people from making mistakes when they’re distracted, tired, irritable or hungry -because if you think about it, that’s about the only time they do.

To the left you’ll see a sketch of an old vintage pattern which I’m using as my example. What you don’t realize yet is that some of those pieces are rather complex. In production, they’ll have no problem cutting this thing out; the difficulty will lie in when it gets to the fusing department because many of those edges need reinforcement. The problem is, the cutting department just sends stacks of cut pieces over to fusing and fusing is supposed to figure out what pieces get fused and where. Since the fusing department is the low-man on the totem pole production-wise, they get very little respect and not nearly enough direction. Usually, they don’t even get the pattern to look at for comparison so it becomes a big guessing game of what goes where which can be time consuming when you consider the hesitation wrought by diffidence. Uncertainty can be such a huge time-waster, don’t you agree?

Anyway, I came up with the poka yoke you see right. It’s a print out of all the pieces that pertain to the style. You’ll notice that some of the pieces have red outlines. As you know from color-coding, red means fusible interfacing. With this guide, the fusing department will have clear instruction as to what gets fused and where.

By the way, I had no idea the fusing department was having these kinds of problems. I only found out about it after I was banished to the fusing department as punishment for insubordination (with my attitude, the latter should be no surprise to anyone). Even being punished, I managed to make the best of the situation -to their advantage!- which is why they could never fire me as much as they may have wanted to.

Oh, and this is neither here nor there but in sewing factories, it is rare that the average employee is allowed to make any kind of change on their own initiative. It’s tragic, really. You have to get approval from umpteen levels and with so many people having veto power -there’s no cost or penalty to them for saying no- it really mucks up the work for everybody else. On that topic, Grimreader wrote, saying in part

I recognized something that probably everyone who has ever dealt with a large bureaucracy has probably encountered. In the story (sorry, I can’t find the link), they had a design approval process that required something like seven sign-offs. Each person had approval authority, but added little or no value to the process. The form went from out-basket to in-basket, where it might sit for as much as 2 weeks because someone was on vacation. This is the muda of overprocessing. The corrective action after a kaizen blitz (kaikaku) was to remove a few of the signers from the chain altogether, and to change some of the signers from approval authority to advice. For me, this only reinforces my theory that the real secret to lean is to identify and remove transaction costs.

Consider reading the full entry; he wrote it just so I could link to it for this post.

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  1. Gigi says:

    Kathleen, having worked only with home sewing patterns I am always surprised at how much more interfacing is used by manufacturers. For instance, on the shaped opening of the skirt I would have thought to only interface the facing. I can’t help but think that perhaps pattern manufacturers don’t trust home sewers to do a good job fusing to the body of the garment. A lousy fusing job is less likely to show on a facing, after all.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Having never worked for the home pattern companies, I can’t say why they do things that way but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that their pattern makers don’t have any production experience. Also, while it’s common to assign nefarious motivations when one is frustrated or dissatisfied with a product, in-house it may be a situation where they either literally don’t know any better, are hesitant to do things differently than they have in the past (their customers are used to the way things are) or lastly, it takes time to draft those extra pieces to say nothing of the costs associated with printing them and re-writing the instructions to include those things. Lastly, doing things differently now would open them up to criticisms of “errors” in the past, few people enjoy admitting they were wrong.

    For example, if they started to draft patterns to facilitate the production method of sewing zippers, there are costs associated with that in terms of pattern drafting and writing of instructions. They’d also have to print out one right back, one left back as these pieces would no longer be 2-pers and that costs money too. As things currently stand, their printing costs are lower, and for instructions, they can do a basic cut-paste job between styles, keeping costs low -and their customers do like those 99 cent deals and you’d better believe the pattern companies know it. In comparison, I could put out patterns with all of the features of production patterns but with my costs, I couldn’t put out a pattern under $25 and how many people -really- are willing to pay that? And while one could make the argument that the savings are made up in terms of less time needed to sew, it would depend entirely on the consumer taking a chance on buying one and trying it out.

    In a nutshell, I understand their rationalizations although I wouldn’t choose to make the same decisions. In defense of pattern companies, I’d say that it’s easy for me to criticize; I’m not in the business of printing home patterns and I don’t have any shareholders expecting a return.

  3. Cinnamon says:

    I can’t help but wonder if there is a market for the type of pattern you would make for a home sewer. Since I make bags, I doubt I would buy patterns for them since I prefer to make my own and I wouldn’t feel comfortable selling it as “my design” if I hadn’t. However I enjoy making clothing for myself (since off the rack stuff never fits me, most of what is out there is pure crap, and I always want style X in fabric Y.

    But I’ve been so dissatisfied with home sewing patterns that I’ve almost quit sewing for myself because I spend so much time remaking a pattern. But I could see it being a fairly unprofitable venture.

  4. Gigi, I think you’re probably right, but they have their reasons:

    1) Until very recently, I couldn’t find high-quality fusibles on the market at all. low-quality fusibles really do look like crap after only a couple of washings. (btw, everything prim-dritz makes sucks. They’re the Ford of sewing products They could use a little of Deming’s advice right now, or they’ll lose all of their market share to the Japanese company, Clover. Sounds familiar, eh?)

    2) Domestic irons just don’t create the pressure and steam (and probably not the heat) that makes a good fuse. I use a gravity-feed iron, which is 200% more effective, but even that is a janky stand-in for a press. Sewers I know who have a home press report the same improvement over gravity feed I’ve experienced over domestic irons, and even THAT isn’t the same as an industrial press, according to Kathleeen (and I believe it).

    One of the biggest problems in applying industrial techniques to home sewing is the difference in equipment, in my opinion. Even the plain sewing! Gigi, I find it SOOOOO much easier to sew a smoothly curved line with an industrial machine–is that your experience?

    Another great post, Kathleen!

  5. Gigi says:

    Your points are valid. For the record, I think home sewing patterns for the most part are quite a bargain. Some of the independents are pretty badly drafted and overpriced, IMO. But then I proof them anyway and make corrections before I get started so that I don’t end up with any surprises. I guess it’s basically up to the end user to educate him- or herself about the correct way of doing things. A few months ago I was involved in a heated discussion with some other home sewers. Several sewers (mostly beginners) felt that it was the pattern companies’ responsibility to teach us how to sew and fit their product so that we could be successful. Personally, I think that is just a ridiculous thing to expect when you don’t want to pay more than $1.99 for a pattern. Besides, who wants 25 pages of instructions to make a dress? :-)

  6. Gigi says:

    Jinjer, I agree that everything feeds so much better on an industrial! BTW, I use a press to fuse all of my interfacing. I used to have one of those tabletop presses (a huge improvement over an iron) but last year I started using my heat transfer press – a Hotronix 16×20 swing press. Wow, what a difference!

    My favorite interfacings are from HTC and Palmer/Pletsch. I buy my HTC interfacings by the bolt since I can’t buy it locally.

  7. I could put out patterns with all of the features of production patterns but with my costs, I couldn’t put out a pattern under $25 and how many people -really- are willing to pay that?

    Kathleen, check out the market for independent Home patterns nowadays
    $25 is only a little bit more than what’s already out there, and if you really put all the proper fusible pieces in,and write instructions that are even half as good as the ones on your blog, $25/pattern starts to sound competitive. Add that outline of no-ease basis for the pattern so it’s REALLY EASY to alter using your own fitting shell, and I’d pay $30. Add the ability to adapt your patterns for commercial use, and I’d pay $100-$150.

    Kathleen, I think you make the mistake that many of us low-income DE’s make: thinking you have to price your product so that YOU’D be able to afford it. You are not your own market, so don’t make assumptions that stand to limit your income. Your market is SERIOUS sewers–people who’ve turned to patternmaking lessons because they’re frustrated with home patterns. $30 patterns would be about the cost of one patternmaking lesson: digest that. (and use it in your advertising materials).

  8. Carol Kimball says:

    Jinjer (and Kathleen) – on the cost of good patterns:

    Yes, there is definitely a market for well-designed patterns, and people willing to pay 125-150.00 for them.

    The critical questions are:

    1. How many of us fitting that niche are there?

    If only six or seven, then it’s not worth Kathleen’s time to assemble the info, make illustrations, take photos, and consolidate the information.

    2. Is there another format (as part of a teaching DVD?) where more general information might be disseminated, that would allow anyone who wished to take a basic block (either provided by Kathleen, or developed on our own) and morph it as they chose?

    I would definitely be interested in (2). I’ve had ENTREPRENEUR’S GUIDE for years and recently received the companion DVD. Well worth the investments.

  9. christy fisher says:

    I think there is a market for that too.
    I have done some homework on independent pattern production. The biggest hassle for most independents is the printing and folding..McCall’s and Simplicity will both print, fold and bag (envelope) patterns for you. Of course they have minimums..but you are not limited to tissue.. one of them (I don’t remember which) is the printer for Folkwear..
    so you can have them printed on bond paper as well.
    The price runs around $2 bucks a pattern..but it also depends on the number of sheets.
    Isabelle Lott (the person I told you about in another conversation, Kathleen) is the one who turned me onto the printing info, etc.
    It’s something to consider..
    The other option is to digitize your patterns (here’s where Ms. Beers can help) and send then to a plotter and do your own for awhile until you build up enough clientele to handle the minimums for outsourced printing.
    I think the $20-$30 range would have a market.
    It is a product that would also be advantageous to fashion design programs in schools.

  10. Carnival of Lean Leadership #4

    Welcome to the fourth Carnival of Lean Leadership. There’s a lot of material to cover this time, so we’ll get right to it… The highlight of the past week has been the blogfest on project kaizen by The Gang of

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