SPESA: Trip report on machines and Lean from Lisa Blank
Even though I’m a home sewing enthusiast and not a DE, I really wanted to attend SPESA. Why? The machines! I’ve been using industrial sewing machines since February 2009. While I love my machines, I wanted to get answers to several stitching problems I’ve been having as well as see what else is on the market. What better opportunity to learn about machines than SPESA!
Knowing that I might not be able to fit everything into my schedule, I spent time pre-planning my trip. I used the exhibitor list on the SPESA website to narrow down the list of exhibitors who might be able to help me resolve my stitching problems. I made visiting those booths my first priority.
The other thing I did prior to the show was to make samples that demonstrated the stitching problems. Besides verbally describing the issues, I was able to show samples to the folks I talked to.
The first thing I discovered on day one at the show was that it was not easy to find the specific booths I wanted to see. Even though booth numbers had been assigned, the actual booths were not identified by a number. Fortunately, there were banners hanging over each aisle that made it possible to find the numbers by the hundred (5700, 5800, etc.). These helped some, but individual booth numbers would have been better.
The first booth I stopped at was the Siruba booth. It was one of the larger booths and contained quite a few staff people. Upon entering the booth, I met Richard Gutierrez, a technical supervisor. Richard was a pleasure to talk to, and he showed great enthusiasm for Siruba machines. We talked quite a bit about servo motors, and he showed me the built-in servos that are on many of their machines. Richard generously talked with me about the stitching problems I’ve had on my overlock and coverstitch machines. He gave me ideas for things I can try to improve stitch quality along with pointing out the features Siruba has built into their machines to counter the problems I face with my own machines. I was impressed with the amount of time he spent with me even though I told him I’m not in the market for a new machine.
Unfortunately, I didn’t walk around the entire Siruba booth, so I didn’t see the buttonholer that Kathleen previously wrote about here until Thursday morning just before I needed to leave for the airport. I saw a quick demo but didn’t get to ask detailed questions about the machine. It’s an impressive machine and definitely worthy of more investigation.
I did eventually find the booths on my prioritized list. Those that were most helpful to me were Juki, Henderson Sewing, and PennSew. Sales and technical staff at these three booths talked with me at length about the stitching problems I’ve experienced and how I might adjust my machines to improve stitch quality. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised to receive so much helpful advice. I came home with a list of things to try, along with an open invitation to call for follow-up help if needed.
I don’t want to end without mentioning the Americas 21st booth. It’s one thing to read about how lean manufacturing works, but it’s another to see it in action. Americas 21st had a cluster set up to make tote bags. I spent considerable time watching the three operators. I wanted to see the process when one operator “bumped” another, and I wanted to see what happened when something went wrong. I spent enough time watching that Len Egan, President of Americas 21st, eventually struck up a conversation with me. Len shared a ton of information about how the system works and answered lots of questions.
Len explained that the three operators came from one of his customers in the Atlanta area. None of the three had previously worked together in a cluster, and their day-to-day job was not making tote bags. In other words, three operators familiar with sewing in a cluster, but not with each other, were making a product they hadn’t made before. One of the things that impressed me was the efficiency of the operation. None of the operators was stressed. None was frantic, even when the spool of strapping fell off its peg. A digital display showed the goal and the actual count of tote bags completed. The operators consistently kept ahead of the goal.
I asked Len how transitions go when a cluster is first set up. I had expected him to explain that operators were resistant to change. Instead, he said that operators transition completely in 3-4 weeks and actually prefer the new system for several reasons. Not only do they get to move around rather than sitting all day, but they also see financial benefits due to a gain-sharing system. With greater variety in their tasks and more money in their paychecks, what’s not to like?
Surprisingly, Len told me that those most resistant to changing to the lean cluster system are supervisors. He said that under the batch system, supervisors run around putting out fires. They have to find ways to make things work when conditions aren’t optimal, which leads to a feeling of importance. Without them, work would stop. Under the lean system, supervisors are trained to watch how things are going, to look for weaknesses, and to find ways to overcome those weaknesses. They also do quality control checks. While the supervisor still has a role to fill, some may perceive it as less important because they have fewer crises to solve. Americas 21st works with their customers to train all of the roles appropriately in order to minimize problems under the system.
I’ll close with a tip for how to survive the long days at a show like SPESA. Prior to the show, I knew the days would be long and that I’d likely become overwhelmed with information. I took a small notebook along and scribbled notes as I talked with folks. If I found that I had a lot of notes from a particular booth, I’d find a place to sit and re-write my notes legibly. This served several purposes: 1) It helped me organize the information so that it would make sense when I looked at it later. 2) The review helped reinforce what I had just learned. 3) It gave me an opportunity to rest for a few minutes before trekking off to another vendor.
I count it a privilege to have attended SPESA. It was a wonderful learning opportunity, plus I got to meet Kathleen and many other wonderful people from the F-I community.