by Peter Mate, President of Planit Canada
There’s only one thing that is certain… Change. I’ve seen it over and over again. The companies that set themselves up for a highly efficient rigid production are always the ones that eventually fall. When the rules of the game change or the flavour of the day in demand shifts, the ones that can’t pivot are the ones that fall the hardest. This happened to many shops setup to manufacture stock sized cabinets until designers wanted custom sizes. It happened again to shops that focused their sales to the lucrative US market with a great exchange rate until the rate changed.
There’s no question that this past year threw unprecedented curveballs at us. Most of us never saw something like this coming. So what? As business owners, we know that we will be faced with hurdles and challenges, we just don’t know what or when. It wouldn’t have been such a hurdle if we knew what was coming. The idea that business as usual will be sustained is just not realistic. If you’re in business, you need to be agile and ready to adapt – otherwise you’ll end up forcing yourself into a checkmate. Versatility will always be a key requirement for businesses to stay afloat and prosper.
So, what has 2020 done for the woodworking industry? Well, most residential shops are busier than ever. With challenges in finding qualified workers pre-COVID, last year made it even harder. Some didn’t want to come to work. Some couldn’t. Some shops were forced to shut down for a period. For those shops in commercial millwork, things generally came to a halt.
When your CNC operator with many years of experience is no longer there to run the machine, you need to figure out how to keep that machine running. When your assembly staff is cut in half, you need to find ways to ramp that back up. When business is knocking on your door, you need to find ways to answer the call.
This is why doing everything that you can to make each task as easy and learnable as possible is a smart investment. Whether there are a set of instructions at a workstation to guide a new employee on how to do that job, or a well-oiled MES software throughout the shop with screens taking employees step by step, the time to get better is always now and never ends.
I hate to point out the obvious, but that experienced CNC operator was going to leave eventually and there is never a good time for it. Whether you use technology, or a written set of instructions taped to the machine, get setup to adapt. Make it so that it’s easy to learn a new workstation. Make training new hires easy. Setup your design to production software so that it’s easy to use for new designers. Think your assembly methods through so that it’s easy to assemble cabinets. Let this pandemic be the fuel that accelerates the positive changes in your shop, and enables your business to be better equipped to tackle the next hurdles.